A Conversation for Oddities of English


Post 1


There is one English word the pronunciation of which (or whose pronunciation, if you prefer) has always baffled me. It's "equation".

As far as I know, it is the only English word in the "ti" family where "ti" is pronounced as if it were "si" (I mean, as if the word were spelt "equasion").

I have two questions for the community:

1. Are there any other such "ti-si" quirks?

2. Why does the discrepancy exist? (for there must needs be a historical reason).

This is my first contribution to the forum and the h2g2 site as a whole. I am Italian and if it is any help, the Italian word "equazione" does not differ in sound or spelling from all other words in the family. It's not a quirk.

Have a nice week-end.



Post 2


Wow, Claudio, this is a difficult one.

It’s difficult because I can’t completely answer it, and I can’t explain the bit I do understand in this forum very easily, because I can’t write the letter “e” upside down.

As far as I can tell, “equation” is unique among “ti” words. The difference is that it’s pronounced “ZH”, a vocalised “SH”, just as “V” is a vocalised “F”, and “B” is a vocalised “P”: the same shape in the mouth but with the vocal chords vibrating (hope that’s clear).

I can’t write this out in phonetic script on h2g2, but my Chambers dictionary gives the phonetic spelling of equation as “z-shwa-n” (schwa is written as an upside-down e and is that funny half-vowel you get at the end of words like “equation”). “Abbreviation”, “punctuation” and all the other words I know that end in “tion” are given the phonetic spelling “sh-shwa-n”.

You mentioned the letter “s”. In words that use “sion” rather than “tion”, most words with the “s-shwa-n” pronunciation are spelled with a double s. Examples are session and admission.

And most words with the “z-shwa-n” pronunciation are spelled with a single s. Examples are “abrasion” and “persuasion”.

However, this is not completely consistent. For example the word “suspension” has a single s and the “sh-shwa-n” pronunciation.

There’s a similar phenomenon with English plurals ending with “s”. “Kits” is pronounced with an unvocalised s, “kids” is pronounced with a vocalised z.

English-speaking people know this instinctively; it’s consistent, and it’s relatively easy to explain. The z sound follows a vocalised consonant like d or b, and the s sound follows an unvocalised consonant like t or p.

“Kids” and “cabs”

“Kits” and “caps”

People who learn English as adults sometimes find this difficult. Abba, for instance, sing:

“There was something in the air that night
The STARSS were bright

Where native English-speakers would sing “STARZ were bright”

I tuned in to watch the tribute band Bjorn Again on TV a few months ago, just to see if they copied the incorrect pronunciation, but they didn’t sing Fernando so I couldn’t tell. Have any researchers heard them?

Anyway, to get back to “equation”, Chambers Dictionary says the word can be pronounced either “z-shwa-n” or “sh-shwa-n”. I certainly use the
“z-shwa-n” pronunciation, and so does everyone I’ve ever discussed mathematics with.

As far as Claudio’s second question goes, I can’t help. I simply don’t know why the rule changes with this word. “Equation” has a Latin origin, but then so do many of the words that end in “tion” and have the common “sh-shwa-n” pronunciation. English has German grammar with a lot of French and other borrowed words; there are often historical reasons why a word is spelled in a particular way, or why two words with the same pronunciation have different spellings, but I don’t think history explains everything.

To me, the vocalised pronunciation feels comfortable in the mouth, and the unvocalised version feels strange.

If anybody else can throw light on this, I’d be as grateful as Claudio.

Pronunciation of 'equation'

Post 3

Researcher 188007

Since the English language has always been unregulated, it has been subject to habits and fashions of pronunciation (for example, this is why the Southern English copied Parisians and started saying 'ah' in Bath). I would suggest that the voiced sound of the 'ti' in 'equation' is just one of these quirks.

Things are not completely random, though. For example, '-sion' is only pronounced 'zhuhn' when the preceding sound is a vowel, as in 'fusion'. The sound is unvoiced after consonants, as in 'suspension', and a word like 'prevention' would never have the voiced sound as in 'equation'.

And by the way, the Swedish language has no [z] sound, hence 'the starss were bright'. As far as I can remember, Bjorn Again and other Abba impersonators use the [s] sound throughout. Hope this helps smiley - smiley


Post 4

Researcher 191145

dont have a clew what your on about r u a rocket scintest`or summert
ha ha ha ha

Rocket Scientist

Post 5

Researcher 188007

Yes, how ever did you guess? That gubbins I wrote may look impressive and technical but it's not really.

Rocket Scientist

Post 6

Researcher 188007

Well done mate. What's the point in just bimbling onto a comversation, half-reading it, making an inane comment and then p**sing off? I really don't know if I can be a**ed with this anymore.

Rocket Scientist

Post 7


Hi Jack. smiley - smiley One of the hardest things on h2g2 is knowing who to reply to and who to ignore.

I was busy ignoring Researcher 191145, when I should have been thanking you for your intelligent contribution to my original Entry on the Oddities of English.

I haven't spent much time on h2g2 since the BBC took over, but there are still good things and intelligent people around. Thanks for your comments, and hope to see you around. Cheers. Eeyore.

Rocket Scientist

Post 8

Researcher 188007

Cheers for that, Eeyore. I guess I threw a couple of toys out of the pram there smiley - blush. Still, that's Monday mornings for you.

Rocket Scientist

Post 9


smiley - smiley


Post 10

Researcher 191934

Remember the old gag about the newly-arrived Polish student of English who saw placards announcing "Cavalcade - pronounced success" and went back to Poland.


Post 11


This must be a British oddity. Here in the US we pronounce "equation" with the SH sound for ti, not a z sound or an s. I think most of the other words mentioned as having a z sound were also streamlined into an sh sound as well. This may be a function of my living in Michigan, but I am rather certain that it applies to all of the US.

Not that it makes any difference. Just thought I'd mention it.


Post 12


Fair enough. smiley - smiley

Do you live in Mishigan, by the way, or is it pronounced Mitchigan?


Post 13


Just to chip in at the end-

I have seen in certain older books (Problems of Philosophy springs to mind) the word "connection" spelt "connexion". Apart from reminding me of a certain south-eastern (and, indeed, south-central) train company of a similar name, it strikes me as odd given that most latin-originated words that sound that it are spelt "tion".

Does anyone know if there are any other words that can be spelt that way, and how the different spellings arose? And what does everyone think of the last general elexion result?




Post 14


I have just noticed that this thread is 2 weeks old! Sorry if it is boring the socks off anybody.

What's the connexion?

Post 15

Ron Bacardi

Hey, I've just moticed that this thread is nearly four years old. But what the heck: get ready to lose your socks.

-xion is the usually accepted ending in British English for the words:


The following words *can* have -xion, though -ction is more frequent:


I seem to remember that 40-50 years ago the Oxford English Dictionary used to prefer "connexion", and that it had something to do with there having being an actual Latin noun "connexio", formed using the past participle stem "nex-" (cf. "nexus") and not the present-tense form "nect-".

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