I am an English teacher, but have not studied phonetics much.

The sound əz is the same sound we find in "houses" "causes" "ages" "beaches". The dictionaries say that the word "scissors" contains the same sound – /ˈsɪz.əz/

However, I believe it should be this sound – ɜ:ʳz – which we find in "hers" "furs" "acres" "brothers" etc.

Am I missing something?

  • 3
    The sound at the end of houses, causes etc is not /əz/ but /ɪz/ (at least in British English, which you appear to be asking about :) )
    – psmears
    Sep 22, 2021 at 13:37
  • 1
    Vowels in unstressed syllables vary greatly. Sep 22, 2021 at 14:36
  • In American usage, it does rhyme with "hers." youtu.be/QC3FiTtYeuE (though that video seems a bit weird for both UK and US, with an exaggerated "-ors" to rhyme with "bores.") Sep 22, 2021 at 17:11
  • 1
    The dictionary transcription given is for British English. The transcription for singular scissor has a final superscript /r/ because, in standard British English, the /r/ will only be pronounced if followed by a vowel. For this reason there will be no /r/ in Standard British English in the regular plural form scissors where the /r/ is followed by a consonant (although there will be in rhotic varieties of English. In standard British English the plural suffix -es is pronounced /ɪz/, and it's possible to find minimal pairs such as Rosa's / rəʊzəz and roses /rəʊzɪz ... Sep 23, 2021 at 15:12
  • ... where the difference between the /ɪz/ and /əz/ endings is clearly audible. The Original Poster asks whether the vowel at the end of scissors is not the same as the vowel in nurse. The answer is that, specifically in terms of vowel quality, schwa and the NURSE vowel are exactly the same for most speakers. There is no qualitative difference. However, a realisation of NURSE will be longer than a realisation of schwa in the same environment. So we can find contrasting pairs such as forward and foreword:/ˈfɔːwəd/ and /ˈfɔːwɜːd/ respectively. Sep 23, 2021 at 15:20

1 Answer 1


However, I believe it should be this sound – ɜ:ʳz

Unfortunately, that is not how language works - vox populi, vox dei - linguists and grammarians merely record what is happening and try to explain it. They have no power to change things.

OED Pronunciation:

Brit. /ˈsɪzəz/; U.S./ˈsɪzərz/

See also "rhoticity" at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rhoticity_in_English

The upshot is that both pronunciations are unremarkable, although the movement against the "r" sound is gaining ground.

  • 1
    It's really interesting. On reflection perhaps it is sometimes said with a very minor r sound in the UK. However I am fairly confident in saying it's always there. Thanks for your assistance, this certainly proves that the IPA is not the be all and end all. There is variation that it can't account for. Sep 22, 2021 at 12:48
  • You should hear how they say 'scissors' in Bristol. Sep 22, 2021 at 15:11
  • @JonathanFarningham - Do you think it’s really a shortcoming in IPA or is it just that dictionaries don’t show all pronunciations that occur in the wild for every word they contain?
    – Jim
    Sep 22, 2021 at 17:39
  • People brought up with Recieved Pronunciation often speak dismissively of regional English accents as being "lazy" because some sounds are omitted. However in many cases RP sounds quite "lazy" to speakers of regional accents. The pronunciation of "scissors" is one of those cases, at least for me.
    – BoldBen
    Sep 23, 2021 at 4:05
  • My first impression of the IPA was that it must present an exact science, now I realise that words are often written with slight variations in their phonetic script and so actually the IPA presents a strong guide as opposed to an absolute rule. Of course language and sounds vary from place to place, so I suppose perhaps that is the way it must be. Thanks all for the comments Sep 24, 2021 at 8:22

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