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Bossy R and Zh – Phonics


Phonics: Bossy R and Zh

we discussed Digraphs and Diphthongs in episode three. Before we move onto Bossy R and /zh/, let’s do a quick recap of what we learned in the last episode, as digraphs and diphthongs are pretty difficult.


by Brendan Bense

April 11, 2019


This is it! Our final episode for Phonics is underway. Today we’ll be tackling a tricky digraph (we aren’t done with them just yet), and Bossy R! Last time, we discussed Digraphs and Diphthongs in episode three. Before we move onto Bossy R and /zh/, let’s do a quick recap of what we learned in the last episode, as digraphs and diphthongs are pretty difficult. As we know, the prefix di- means two. So right away we’re dealing with a combination of two things.

Digraphs are two letters that combine to form one single sound, and a unique letter combination in written form. Some examples include ch, sh, th, and ck. Remember that putting together two letters changes their sound. When their sound changes, it is completely different from what the letters would sound like on their own. C and H, for example, sound different than they would when they combine. Diphthongs are also combinations, but they form unique vowel sounds. Some common diphthongs include /aw/, /oo/, and /oi/. Remember that these also sound differently than if the letters were by themselves!


We’ll start with something that looks more familiar: /zh/. This is a special digraph that we wanted to save for the last episode, because non-native English speakers have a lot of trouble with this sound. In truth, you won’t find /zh/ in a lot of words. While it is important to know how to pronounce, it doesn’t come up often in the dictionary. However, when you do come across it eventually, you should be prepared! That’s why we created this special little category to help you ace the /zh/.

You might not be able to come up with any examples of /zh/, because there aren’t any words that use the letters zh! /zh/ is simply a sound that the letter s sometimes makes, in very special cases. Our first example will be treasure. Do you hear how it almost sounds like a soft z when treasure is spoken out loud? That’s the elusive /zh/! Another great example of this would be in the word vision. Notice that the letter s can pair with different letters to create this unique sound. It’s pretty uncommon to hear this combination in English, though this sound is found in plenty of other languages. So, maybe you are apart of the lucky ones who have no trouble with this sound! If it is your first time seeing the word measure, you may be tempted to use the /s/ sound (a soft s). However, this word too uses the /zh/!

Bossy R

To show you how often Bossy R appears in English, we’ve bolded every Bossy R combo in this section. For our very last category in phonics, we’re going to take a look at the Bossy R. Why is the letter r so bossy? Well, when r is by itself, it’s not bossy at all! It makes the /r/ sound, which we learned a bit about in our second episode on consonants. However, when we put r behind any vowel, it starts to get bossy. Bossy R is so bossy because it changes the sound of whatever vowel it attaches to. /ar/, /er/, /ir/, /or/, and /ur/ all behave quite differently than if they were by themselves. We can look at a few examples, but remember that there are many, many different combinations of Bossy R.

Let’s start with ar. First, say the word cat out loud. Notice how it rhymes with the word at, and your mouth opens wide and then your tongue touches the roof of your mouth when you say this word (especially for the letter t). Now, say the word car, which has the Bossy R in it. Your tongue instead curls backward to say the r in this word. The sound changes from AH to AR. Now let’s look at er. Gem is a word with a soft g at the beginning, and a short vowel e. What happens when we add a Bossy R? The word becomes germ. It makes an /er/ sound! How about the word fist? This has a short vowel i in it. When we add the Bossy R, it becomes first! This is very similar to the sound /ur/ which happens when you add r to u. Think of words like fur and turn! Lastly, we have /or/ which comes from o + r. The best word to explain this sound is word or born!

Bossy R can make some other weird combinations, such as air. Since there are so many combos, we’ll leave the rest for you to find! They come up pretty often, and the best way to master them is to experience them more and more on your own. If you want to practice these new skills, and gain the confidence you need, head over to our FactSumo decks!

We’re so happy you decided to join us for our final episode on Phonics! Remember, confidence is easily gained through lots of practice! What better way to practice than with FactSumo? Find our decks here! If you still need to read more on phonics, that’s okay too! Check out previous episodes, and our master post all about phonics.