Alright, I'm pretty sure it is not.

sh in pinyin is a [ʂ] in IPA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voiceless_retroflex_sibilant), while sh in shampoo in English, is a [ʃ] in IPA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voiceless_palato-alveolar_sibilant).

Although it sounds pretty close and as a near-native speaker of Mandarin Chinese I use the SH in shampoo to pronounce [sh] in pinyin. Still I don't think the listed entries in the wikipedia is correct on this one. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Transcription_into_Chinese)

So what do you think? I'm near-native in Mandarin Chinese but no professional linguist.

2 Answers 2


The problem is than pinyin x also sounds "like" an English sh. I'm pre-embryonic at Chinese but I've been an armchair linguist for years and I'm in China trying to pick up Mandarin right now.

Both Pinyin sh and x are different from English sh.

In English sh your tongue is at the ridge just behind your upper teeth.

In Pinyin sh your tongue bends backwards at the tip toward your palate. It curls upward.

In Pinyin x the middle of your tongue is at your palate and the tip of the tongue is at or near your bottom teeth.

But even knowing this and usually being good at mimicking speech sounds I must get it wrong constantly because people don't understand most of my efforts at Chinese. Also as I move from place to place I'm sure people don't all pronounce these Chinese sounds alike.

So what you might find is that maybe many Chinese hear your "English sh" as a "Pinyin sh" but perhaps some others might find that to them they hear a "Pinyin x", or hear a strange sound they don't immediately associate with either Chinese sound.

  • 2
    A supplementary note: sh and x are complementary, for instance, there's no shin but only xin, and there's no x+/u/ but only shu
    – user58955
    Nov 17, 2013 at 6:21
  • In this respect, they do not contrast with each other; the initial consonant (whether it's sh or x) can be viewed as determined by the following sounds. So I think if one gets the vowels right, mixing the initial consonant as the English sh isn't really a problem for understanding
    – user58955
    Nov 17, 2013 at 6:22
  • 1
    I think these are cases where Pinyin strives to be mroe efficient for people who already know how to speak Mandarin, at the cost of making it harder for people trying to learn. Nov 17, 2013 at 7:45
  • 1
    Still, if given a list of various common pronunciation problems, I would put x/sh distinction quite far down the list. Most students have way more serious problems than that!
    – Olle Linge
    Nov 17, 2013 at 22:51
  • 1
    There are several different opinions as to what the palatal sibilants and affricates ([ɕ t͡ɕ t͡ɕʰ]) are allophones of. Historically, they arose as a merger of the alveolars [s t͡s t͡sʰ] and the velars [x k kʰ] before high vowels/glides; but they are often now seen to be allophones of the retroflex series [ʂ t͡ʂ t͡ʂʰ] (or indeed either the velars or the alveolars). Doubles like [sa] ‹sa›, [ʂa] ‹sha›, and [ɕa] ‹xia› are then taken to be /sa/, /ʂa/, and /Sja/ (where /S/ is the underlying phoneme of one’s choice, either /s/, /ʂ/, or /x/). Dec 6, 2013 at 14:34

Technically they are close but very different sounds, as you may are already aware of. The difference is not as obvious on the word Shampoo though. I think the reason is that the tongue position is somewhat affected by the vowel 'a'. But you'll definitely notice the difference if you apply those two sounds on the word 'shoot'.

However, nowadays many people do bother to curl tongues that much, so for them, the pronunciation of ʂ indeed sounds very close to ʃ.

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