I've run into a lot of sources that indicate [t͡s] is not in GA. While this might be true phonemically, I don't entire believe this to be true for the actual phonetics.

By the definition of an affricate, a stop released as a fricative, I would argue that with the exception of the "t" and "s" being split across syllable boundaries, [ts] as a consonant cluster is might be rare. In words like "cats," I find releasing the stop before pronouncing the sibilant a bit unnatural*. While releasing the stop as a fricative feels easier. The only difference I notice between this and languages that phonemically have /t͡s/ is the duration of the fricative release.

Another example is that in casual and "lazy" speech, some people contract "its" and "it's" to "'ts" (which oddly enough is unaspirated even at the beginning of a sentence). I think that "'ts a car," would be phonetically written as [t͡s ə käɹ].

*While I am a native GA speaker, I'm from British Columbia. The only differences from the GA dialect I can say I have conclusively are slight vowel shifts. I think it would be very unlikely that would cause people just outside the US border to speak with a unique phoneme, but I feel I should mention it all the same.

1 Answer 1


Phonetically, [t͡s] does indeed exist in General American. In every dialect of English I'm familiar with, [t͡s] is the realization of /ts/, both within a syllable and between syllables.

I don't know of any sources that claim that [t͡s] doesn't occur in English. A more reasonable (and common) claim is that /t͡s/ doesn't exist. In other words, when [t͡s] appears, it's two separate underlying phonemes /t/ and /s/, and almost always across morpheme boundaries ("cat"+"s", "it"+"self", and so on).

/ts/ [t͡s] is also forbidden in onsets in English, but that's not particularly noteworthy: English doesn't allow any consonants before /s/ in an onset, as a general rule.

  • If it is present phonetically, I wonder why so many English speakers struggle with saying loanwords featuring [t͡s] (e.g tsunami).
    – Nicholas
    May 27, 2018 at 22:14
  • 4
    @Nicholas I'd assume it's because consonants before /s/ are forbidden in onsets. Compare how Greek words starting with /ks/ and /ps/ lost their initial stops in English: xylophone, psyche.
    – Draconis
    May 27, 2018 at 22:21
  • I suppose, though I think it's not uncommon for languages to have phonemes occur exclusively for loanwords. Many francophones use [ŋ] despite it not being a phoneme within the French language.
    – Nicholas
    May 27, 2018 at 22:27
  • @Nicholas True, though there's a difference between lacking a phone and forbidding it. /#Cs/ in English is actively forbidden, in that loanwords are even adjusted to remove this combination.
    – Draconis
    May 27, 2018 at 22:32
  • Late comment is late, but I would qualify that ‘forbid’ – there are definitely people who pronounce tsetse fly and tsunami with initial [ts] and (in Graecian contexts) xi with [ks]. There are also lots of people who reduce them, and to those people there is probably a blanket ban on /#Cs/, but it’s at least not a universally complete ban. On the other hand, I have met English speakers who not only couldn’t produce initial [ts] when trying to say German Zehn, but couldn’t even hear the difference between initial [ts] and [s]. Sep 22, 2023 at 15:04

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