Why Do the British Pronounce “Z” as “Zed”?

Jack asks: Why do the British pronounce “Z” as “Zed”?

Now You KnowIt’s not just the British that pronounce “z” as “zed”.  The vast majority of the English speaking world does this.  The primary exception, of course, is in the United States where “z” is pronounced “zee”.

The British and others pronounce “z”, “zed”, owing to the origin of the letter “z”, the Greek letter “Zeta”.  This gave rise to the Old French “zede”, which resulted in the English “zed” around the 15th century.

As to why people in the United States call “z”, “zee”, it is thought that this is likely simply adopted from the pronunciation of the letters “bee”, “cee”, “dee”, “eee”, “gee”, “pee”, “tee”, and “vee”.

The first known instance of “zee” being recorded as the correct pronunciation of the letter “z” was in Lye’s New Spelling Book, published in 1677.  There still was a variety of common pronunciations in North America after this; but by the 19th century, this changed in the United States with “zee” firmly establishing itself thanks to Noah Webster putting his seal of approval on it in 1827, and, of course, the Alphabet song copyrighted in 1835, rhyming “z” with “me”.

Because of the alphabet song, the pronunciation of “z” as “zee” has started to spread, much to the chagrin of elementary school teachers the English speaking world over. This has resulted in them often having to re-teach children the “correct” pronunciation of “z” as “zed”, with the children having previously learned the song and the letter the American English way from such shows as Sesame Street.

Naturally, kids are often resistant to this change owing to the fact that “tee, u, vee, w, x, y and zed, Now I know my A-B-Cs, Next time won’t you sing with me” just doesn’t quite sound as cohesive as “tee/vee/zee/me”.

Because of the problem at the end of the alphabet song with “zed” not really fitting, a variety of other endings have been created to accommodate this, such as this one:

y and z
Sugar on your bread
Eat it all up
Before you are dead.

Other pronunciations of “z” you might hear in the English speaking world include:  zod, zad, zard, ezod, izzard, and uzzard.

Bonus Facts:

  • The alphabet song is based on the French “Ah, vous dirai-je, maman”, which popped up in 1761 and a couple decades later Mozart used it in his Twelve Variations on Ah, vous dirai-je, maman.  This tune is also used for such children’s songs as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star and Baa, Baa, Black Sheep.
  • The letters Z and Y are the only two letters Latin borrowed directly from Greek, rather than getting them from Etruscan.

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  • Classic American attitude that other people are wrong and they are right. American English was adapted from the centuries-old English language and it is Americans who have changed the pronunciation

    • At least we still speak English with a proper pronunciation. The non-rhotic British accent started popping up in the colonial days. Shakespeare sounded more like modern Americans than modern Brits.

      • No, you clot. Shakespaere sounded more like a cornish or westcountry person than an American.

        • Actually, the closest English dialect to Shakespeare would be the hill folk of Appalachia. They migrated into the mountains and had very little outside influence. They even still use many words that are archaic in most of the English world but were common then.

          Swing and a miss.

          • Actually, the closest dialect to Elizabethan English is found on Tangier Island, off the coast of the Eastern Shore of Virginia.
            I suggest YouTube and patience, because unless you are from here, you probably wont be able to understand much.

      • That’s simply not true. If you want to hear how Shakespeare spoke, listen to interviews with Alan Moore, or members of Slade (Birmingham) accent, albeit with different pronunciations.

        American English has been developed by the German brain that has to draw a red line under everything. Why has guitar player become more popular than guitarist, and horseback riding rather than horse riding?

        I am all for a PROPER spelling revision it was a good idea, but it was flimsy as it made the language no more phoenetic.

        The grammar spoken by Americans is arse. How can one ‘work out of’ a place? And where did ‘based off’ appear (of course public schools, and lack of funding is no excuse as there are pretty well-educated Nigerians whose schools get less funding).

        • its actually an irrefutable fact that American English is hardly changed from what English was when Europeans migrated to the america’s and the modern English spoken in the UK has changed far more. its an irrefutable fact that if you want to hear what Shakespeare sounded like it would be an east coast american sounding accident

        • arse? haahahahahah what does arse mean? is that like when u add r’s to the end of words that terminate with A? or better yet z vs zed please kill this BS about how zed is correct those who preach this crap say oh americans say zee we say the correct zed no no no we say Z you say Zed we dont say zee this is the euro warped global mind coming into play love you all love england love english all in good fun

    • Well, then… by all means, let’s do things correctly! If it’s origins that you want, you should immediately begin to spell and speak and construct literary documents made up entirely of TRUE “Olde English”. We can’t have any CHANGE in spelling or pronunciation, now can we? I mean… you’d hate to alter your TRUE language format, right? So, read this for me;

      Ealle fīras sind boren frēo ond geefenlican in ār ond riht. Hīe sind gifeðe gerād ond ingehygd, ond sculon dōn ongēan oðrum be feore of brōþorhāde.

      That, old bean, is original Old English. Now go drink your tea and quit being a pompous Brit.

      • All this coming from a septic tank

      • Old English is more related to low German (from Angeln and Sachsen)

        Then the French came. French influenced English with a lot of non Germanic loan words.

        Today English vocabulary is about 40% Germanic and 60 % romantic (French and Latin)

        Being Swedish (Germanic language) and reading English you understand about 40% words from Swedish, the rest you can almost be sure figure out if you know French, Spanish etc.

    • Classic antiamericanism… No such thing was said or implied.

    • I’m glad you got that off your chest.

    • Yes, but for once it makes more sense the way the Americans do it, why would z end with a consonant when no other letters do?

      • This article literally explains why it ends in a consonant you dolt.

        • But it doesn’t explain why it STILL ends in a consonant when other letters have changed to be more congruous. We don’t say “beth” or “beta” – we say “bee”. “Zed” is a holdover that doesn’t really make sense in the modern alphabet. But hey, at least it still has phonetic reasoning for existing, unlike those selfish Qs and Xs that just steal sounds from other letters.

      • What about f and n?

      • That is rubbish…. f finishes in a consonant as do..haitch, Jay, Kay, ell, emm, enn, arr, ess, Exx, why, zed, or ….

    • So pronounce T as Tet or Thet. Or B as Bet. Why pick ONE letter in the alphabet to pronounce more like it’s Greek roots (doing so by following the example of a different language)? When practically every letter in the alphabet is pronounced more of phonetics of the language. People (prior to the existence of the US) fixed a stupid mistake and people in the US are one of the few groups of people to follow basic logic. Unlike arrogant morons who hold stupidly to out dated traditions that make no sense.

      • You’re talking about the rest of the world using out dated traditions, while you Americans have not yet moved to the Metric System.

        • 1) Americans using American customary units of measure doesn’t refute the notion that pronouncing “z” as “zed” because the letter is derived from the Greek “Z” (zeta) is inconsistent with how other letters in the English alphabet are pronounced e.g. how we pronounce “b” as “bee” instead of “bed” when “b” is derived from the Greek ß (beta).

          2) Is might undermine the further argument about how people started pronouncing “z” as “zee”, bringing it in line with how other Greek-based letters are pronounced in English, and how official American English is one of the few that didn’t stubbornly stick to tradition. However, one can also argue that emphasizes the point; Americans won’t switch to the metric system but even we were willing to switch from “zed” to “zee”. 😉

          Oh, and there’s actually a semi-decent explanation for why the U.S. hasn’t officially switched to metric, about which the Today I Found Out channel on Youtube posted a video. Might be a written version of it on this site as well (I don’t come here much). The real answer involves piracy… and I mean the kind involving boats!

        • Because metric is stupid and had to understand. I read a book and it said a guy was 1.6 meters. Like, what is that? I had to waste time Googling it when everybody knows 5.5 feet is average height. Europeans are stupid and refuse to change even when they’re wrong.

          • The only reason why you think metric is stupid and hard is because you weren’t taught it. I’m an American and don’t know it, I wish I did because it’s something different but that doesn’t make it stupid because I don’t know it. A lot of people outside of America think our system is hard and stupid, because they don’t know it. Also, a whole group of people aren’t stupid because they pronounce something differently, that is just you being judgemental and rude.

    • Are you dumb? Z is pronounced as Z. Not “zed”. Every other letter has 1 letter, not 3. Europeans are just fucking stupid.

  • Yeh, I have to agree with money Boz. People in America tend to ignore that their society is based on that of the European nations and as a result, in an effort to give themselves an identity they changed letters and the names of foods. Sorry guys but you WEREN’T first…there is a whole lot of history that went before you and some of it is Indian. It always makes me laugh when I read about people bewildered as to why the English don’t pronounce things properly… perhaps Americans need to be taught about more than America at school? They might not think that the world revolves around them then? It’s not their fault…its the way that they think

    • Europeans always seem so entitled. Americans don’t think we’re all first. That is something you made up in your head. If you wan’t to talk about first’s though. The internet you’re using to shit talk us, well we kinda made that. 😀

      • Daven Hiskey

        @Derrick: But they made the Web! 😉 See: Who Invented the Internet and The First Website Ever Made

        • It was a Brit who had the idea of the web, BUT he did it once he migrated to the USA, on US soil backed and funded by people of the United States of America because the Brits largely ignored him and didn’t see the potential like Brits are so good at doing.

      • Describing British people as Europeans as if there is a unified European culture is a certain sign of ignorance. The Spaniard is as different from the Swede as an Nigerian from a Chinese.

        It is the absolute conviction in the superiority of opinion that the yank has that we have an aversion to (refering to British arrogance). As long as your mouth is moving, then it’s the truth; you did not take a few seconds to research who invented the Internet, but I will grant that you developed the idea. It was created as a safeguard against American stupidity, as nuclear war was actually considered a viable option and information had to be protected between computer hubs.

        We invented the English language. The average American is not aware of what to a moderately educated Brit are COMMON WORDS.

    • the reason it should be zee not zed is because its the only other letter other than “doubleu-w” that has 2 consonants so it makes sense it would be zee not zed. So maybe your not always right just cuz you came first.

    • Or you could stop being a pedantic twit and actually learn to read. The question was simply why the difference. No sense of superiority was stated or implied. This is just your own inferiority complex shining through.

      • You’re the one being obnoxious. No one said the Brits were wrong…they just were curious as to the difference.

    • No, Europeans are just wrong and stupid. Z is obviously pronounced as Z like every other letter, not a made up thing called “zed”. They also add an unnecessary “u” to color when it is not pronounced with a u.

  • Zed is the right way its the bl oody yanks who say it wrong. Bloo dy Americans always think there right they are always wrong more like. Same with right night etc its not nite its night and its not rite its right blo dy wan ker americans

    • Check out the word ethnocentrism. Language is constantly evolving, and always will be. You just need to accept that fact. If we’re being REALLY technical, the correct pronunciation is zeta or zede, since zee and zed evolved originally from that.

      Also, I took the liberty of proofreading your post:

      Zed is the right way. It’s the yanks who say it wrong. Americans always think /they’re/ right. they are always wrong more like //Butchered too badly to be fixed//. Same with right, night, etc. It’s not nite it’s night, and it’s not rite it’s right. Bloody Americans.

      Also, nobody in America spells night or right as nite or rite. At least, educated people don’t do that.

      This is comical to me. To fish out the bigots, just make a post about something trivial like the pronunciation of the letter Z.

      • Your reply makes no sense to me. I’m British and I have never heard anyone say coloeyr or neighboeyr.

        And I hardly think that the free American colonies decided to drop a u to stick it to us Brits. They’d just won a war, their independence and freedom. It’s hard to conceive of anyone thinking “Hmm, that’s not enough – you know what would really be the cherry on the cake…?”

        There are indications that American English didn’t drop the “U”, but British English adopted the “U”. During the 17th century British English went through a Europeanisation whereby spellings were adopted to look more French – hence color became colour, harbor to harbour, etc. The same is true for the British English use of “s” instead of “z” in such words as analyse (not analyze).

        This trend didn’t cross the Atlantic and so what was British English on the east coast of North America stayed true to its original form (but eventually became known as American English) while British English evolved to that which we use today.

        Now, can someone tell me if beta is beeeta or bayta?

        • You are correct. Another one of these errors is that soccer is actually an English and not an American word. It was adopted by the Brits to differentiate association football from rugby football. It wasn’t until WW2 thzt the Brits dropped soccer in lieu of football to avoid “american” influence.

          • Nah…completely incorrect. There has NEVER EVER been any soccer clubs in the English Football League. The English FA is The English Footbal Association and always has been.

        • That’s the best answer yet, Jeremy. It’s too bad that most of the commenters seem to be unable to appreciate all the rich variations of English that there are. Oh well.

        • I am British and 71 years old. I’m almost sure in my younger days that I spelt “analyze” and other similar words with a z and not an s. So much so that in later years I found myself constantly looking the words up in a dictionary.

          I have just looked in my oldest dictionary (which is falling apart), titled Words The New Illustrated Dictionary edited by Charles P. Chadsey, William Morris and Harold Wentworth with a staff of Language experts published by Spring Books, London. It has no date on it but it must be at least as old as me as it belonged to my parents. It first lists analyse and its definition given as “variant spelling of analyze”. Further down the page analyze has its own entry listed as “analyze, analyse” and the correct definition of the word after this!

          To this day I still find myself using z and not s and then correcting it to s lol.

      • “it’s not rite it’s right”… “it’s not nite it’s night”… My entire eduction was spread around the states and we have never spelled right as rite or nite as night. If I ever did see it spelled like that, I thought it was a typo.

        • So far as I remember, “rite” for “right” and so forth started in advertising.

          So we Americans think throwing in a consonant when no other letter of the alphabet is pronounced that way is odd–get over it.

          And for you people who get worked up that we call ourselves Americans: It’s part of the name of our country. It’s United States of America, not just United States, and we’ve been called that from the very beginning.

        • What? If you’re going to condemn someone over spelling, you could at least use the proper form of “they’re”

    • Yeah because the language you speak in England has NEVER changed through natural progression. Imagine what the early Brits would think of the language you speak now if they heard you. Classic Brits stuck in the old times and refusing to change.

    • Another question you kinda alluded to..
      Why are they called “Americans”
      Mexicans, Canadians, Brazilians, Peruvians, etc. are also in America.
      It would be akin to calling people from Spain “Europeans” to distinguish them from Italians or Germans.

      • They are called Americans because that is what they’ve come to be called over time. You can whinge about it all you like, but it has stuck, so you might as well get used to it. I get a kick out of Brits (it’s usually brits who do this) claiming that Americans calling themselves American is arrogant. As if some anonymous Brit commentor on the internet deciding what 320 million people he doesn’t know are allowed to call themselves isn’t the height of arrogance itself.

        • Well, I’m a Migaloo* citizen of Straya#, and I never refer to the people of the U.S.A as ‘Americans’. My preferred terms are ‘Seppo’^ or, occasionally, ‘Murrrcan’~.

          * White – from the word for ghost, given by local Indigenous Nation to the pale skinned invaders in 1788.

          # slang for Australia

          ^ Derogatory slang (inspired by Brit rhyming slang) for visiting U.S. military servicemen during WW2 (polite, cashed-up and on leave, they attracted interest from Strayan women, while their men were fighting on other theatres of war)

          Yank > septic tank > seppo

          ~ inspired by the derogatory term some Seppos have for their southern states compatriots, like the doltish, language strangling Dubya.

          • America the beautiful

            add successful to your ‘pale skin invaders’ line

            its not Americas fault England let Europe ruin its culture

        • This is false. Americans were called Americans all the way back to when the States were colonies. The british began calling THEIR citizens who lived in the colonies, Americans. So it is originally a british term for people living in what is now the U.S.

          And regarding soccer. Soccer IS a british word. Soccer clubs WERE called SOCCER clubs. The word comes from a trend in british “public” schools (that aren’t public), from the early 1800’s when people in those schools were adding “er” to words. So if your name was Ted, you would be called Tedder. Soccer comes from a football (soccer) association which at the time was referred to as the “Assoc”. Eventually the “A” was dropped and the “er” was added and you had “socc” and “er” for soccer. The other poster was correct that the british went back to “football”, but it was in the 1970’s when, for who knows what reason, soccer started becoming popular in the U.S. Mostly for girls.

          Amazing how little the british know about their own language. Of course, they mispronounce nearly every word with the letter “r” in it too. (Another trend from the 1800’s that for some reason caught on and affected their pronunciation permanently). Let’s not get into their inability to pronounce “th” correctly.

      • The area commonly known as “America” (ie – The United States) is the only nation on Earth that has the word ‘America’ in its name. It was the first country established as an independent nation on either the North American or South American continent. It was called ‘America’ in honor of the Italian-born explorer and cartographer, Amerigo Vespucci. Therefore… we (The United States) are ‘America’. Deal with it.

        • Lorraine Marion Orkusz

          Well I’m Canadian and I live in North America. We say Zed, you say Zee and who cares? What a ridiculous thing to argue about. As if there’s anything offensive in how we each pronounce it. You’re not correct in saying “Zee” and we’re not correct in saying, “Zed”. It just is what it is. When you live here you say Zed and if you live in the United States you say Zee. That’s the end of it. Everyone in here needs to find something more important to argue about. I happen to like the British too so stop trashing each other people!!

      • Because it’s what we chose to call ourselves a long time ago and no arrogant twit who thinks they know better has a right to tell us what to call ourselves.

        Why it’s simple. We were the first independent country in the Americas. We chose to call ourselves the United States of America for reasons that are probably too complex for you to follow. But there it is. Now with that name what do we call the people? United Staters? No, we’d be confused with the Netherlands! USers? United States of Americaers? American was the only logical choice and as we were first, we had dibs on the name.

        Well, why don’t you call yourself United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelanders?

        Referring to the people of your country, Brits is prejudicial. Northern Ireland isn’t on Britain!

      • The name of the country is “United States of America,” thus its citizens are Americans. Had Canadians chosen to name their country “United Provinces of America” then they would be Americans as well. But they didn’t. I believe they are quite content to call themselves Canadians. Citizens of the U.S. and Canada may both refer to themselves as North Americans.

    • When you try to be British so hard but you fail

    • I’m American, and I’m sorry I do not know anyone that spells night as nite or right as rite.

    • Oh more whiny antiamericanism. We don’t spell night nite. You get it in brand names and the like but that’s it. And rite is actually a word…look it up.

    • Europeans are just fucking stupid. B is pronounced B, not bed. C is pronounced C, not ced. Zed isn’t a real thing, and they are just trying to act all cool and fancy. Fucking tea-drinking Queen worshippers.

  • ^Typical Yuros being pretensious.

    But the real question is why do the British and others spell certain words with the letter u?

    Sometimes t makes sense, but a majority of the time it just does not. I mean do you really pronounce the word color as, col-OUR or color; another one being neighborhood or neighb-OUR-hood.

    Also its funny you complain about american on an american site, dont see many british owned sites do we now…

    • “Nobel_Guy” That is the stupidest comment I’ve seen in my whole life… British owned sites? Are you THAT ignorant?
      I do believe the language is ENGLISH! When we say “colour” we pronunciate the second half of the word differently to the first half… as do American I believe. Thus, usually, In Britain, coloUR is pronounced more like col-eer, but with an “oey” sound to it. As for Neighbour, if that’s the case why not just write naybour? Also, we write bour, because it’s pronounced our, NOT OUR like hour, but like the U in curse with an oey sound to it, we don’t say neigh-BOR.
      The dropping of the U by the Americans was just to make a statement that they were free of the British… FACT! Get your own language! ahaha I joke
      also, if one in to make the assumption that one is pretentious, it may be necessary for one to learn how to spell PRETENTIOUS! :/ YIKES that was awkward….

    • And if not for the invention of the telephone by Mr. Bell (a Canadian), the Internet would not have a medium to exist on.

      • Alexander Graham Bell (March 3, 1847 – August 2, 1922)[4] was a Scottish-born[N 3] scientist, inventor, engineer and innovator who is credited with patenting the first practical telephone.[

      • Whats with all the Canadians thinking A G Bell is canadian he’s scottish. He left Scotland in his 20s his parents were Scottish, so what part of him is Canadian just because he moved to Canada, I moved to USA in my 20s I’m not an American I’m irish…..

        • When you move to a new country and become a citizen of that country you will, from that point forward, be considered to be from that country regardless of your age and the fact that your roots and ancestors may be from somewhere else. You may may label yourself as an Irish American or a Scottish Canadian if you so choose but the country you are a citizen of will also become a part of your identity. As for Bell, he lived and worked a great deal of his life in Canada. He died and is buried at his estate in the Cape Breton area of Canada where he spent most of his time during his later years but he was ever officially Canadian. He was born in Scotland and moved to Canada shortly after Canada became a country. At the time he remained a British citizen as that would have been all that was required. He worked took him to the US and he divided his time between the two countries; however, he chose to become a US citizen and reportedly considered himself to be an american.

    • I’m sort of with you but it’s English… spelling is really irrelevant. “Four” is written with “our” and clearly gets the or sound. That’s really a non issue. What is an issue is the Brits say we do everything wrong and call us obnoxious in the same breath and don’t even see the irony.

  • We inherited both “zee” & the English language from England. Why we chose the less common “zee” over “zed,” I don’t know. Zed is said to derive from Greek Zeta. Apparently no one says “bed” for “bee” from Beta.

  • The lyrics to rhyme with zed are scary! Say zed or you’re going to die!

    • Ah, the ignorance of Americanism.

      “[…] W, X, Y and Zed
      Now I know my abc’s
      Now it’s time to go to bed”

      Funny how Sesame Street could get it right when broadcast in Canada (a certain percent of the show had to be made with Canadian content or linguistic correction), but Americans in general can’t.

  • “… Now I know my ABC’s”. Ergo the letter ‘C’ and not Zed is what is rhyming with ‘me’. Why don’t you people just start pronouncing it properly and while you’re at it switch to the metric system like the rest of the world? 😉

    • We DO pronounce it properly…another arrogant United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelander. You pronoun ce it properly, so do we…get over it. No language is monolithic, especially such a large one. English is full of dialects. There’s some right on your island you can’t even understand.

  • Uhm, Just as the British, “we” were brought up to learn this language you call “stupid” or “ignorant” seems to me by these comments this is more racial than anything who cares how to say whatever it is you have to say. Who cares whos RIGHT or who won the war lol you people are a bunch of judgemental selfish creatures thats why the war began in the first place. (this including america) And all countries lie, steal, and cheat each other GET OVER IT. What makes you so special where you can act as victims? Hmm? And some of us didn’t choose to be here anyway ( African-Americans) so deal with it.

  • A Disgruntled Brit

    “The first known instance of “zee” being recorded as the correct pronunciation of the letter “z””

    >is one of the only countries to pronounce it this way
    >still thinks it’s right and everyone else is wrong

    • I have a feeling that idiotic word “murica” in all its bizarre spellings, was invented by a Brit. It kinda reminds me someone trying to mock the general Enlgish accent by imitating Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. He sounded nothing like an Enlgishman, so trying to use him to mock the English is just like trying to mock America by writing “murica,” being that no American, in any part of the United States, has ever pronounced the name of his country without the first syllable. Even Americans with speech impediments say A-merica, never Merica, so it’s not only dumb, it’s ineffective.. .

      • Yup. Only rednecks who ain’t got none idear haw ter speak and foreigners making fun of the US say ‘murica.

      • They’re not really Brits. Britain is an island…they complain about US calling ourselves America. However, they ignore their subjects in Northern Ireland.

        The proper name for someone from that country is United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelander.

  • A Simple Irish Solution

    The English language by definition originates from England, I am sure that we can all agree on that? English is also the “international” language of the world that we live in.

    In my book there is no such thing as “American” English, there is only English. e.g. “Organisation, colour” and many other words have only one correct spelling, as is the case with todays English language.

    However, believe it or not, replacing the S with Z is not an American thing at all. The origin dates back to the early 1700s and actually came out of rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge Universities – the Americans adapted the use of Z and decided to leave out U’s.

    But this actually goes further, for some unknown reason Americans do not have a ground floor e.g. the 1st floor becomes the 2nd floor, another unknown!

    Although I am Irish, to me English is the language of England and we should respect that and follow along those lines.

    • Fortunately or unfortunately depending on your view, England cannot claim any sort of guardianship or stewardship of the English language [any more]. Not only because of how long it’s been since the split leading to Americanish and English English, but because of all the ex-colonies that speak it too, as well as the new wave of second-language speakers. More people speak English as a second language than speak it as a first.

      And of course there is no harmony within England itself either on how to spell and write things.

      On the other hand, my criticism at Americans is the general ignorance toward the language they have acquired.

    • Umm what? Usually elevators are either G (ground) 1, 2, 3, etc. or they’re G, 2, 3, etc. Sometimes there is no G, just 1, 2, 3.

      Also IDK if this is common or just an American thing, but many elevators and buildings will not have a 13th floor. You’ll see 11, 12, 14, 15, etc.

    • English DID NOT “originate” in England.

    • absolutely wrong. plenty of buildings in America have Ground floor in the elevator and what not.
      moreover most of the words that have A u in it in most English originally didn’t have a U in it example is that Colour was not originally Colour it was originally color and as such an american writing out Color is actually correct

  • Actually, the British adopted the “s”s and the “u”s while America was still a couple of colonies. The change just didn’t pass over the Atlantic.

  • While it is amusing to watch the “mighty” Americans getting ‘bashed’ by their “co-brothers” over who owns this language called ‘English’, I, a non-native speaker of ‘your’ language would like to gently draw the attention of the both of you to the following two pertinent facts, which obsolete your squabble:

    1) Native speakers are now substantially outnumbered worldwide by second-language speakers of English

    cited from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English-speaking_world

    2) India has the largest number of second-language speakers (see Indian English)

    also cited from the same source as above.

    A map showing this is available here http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-top-ten/countries-with-most-english-language-speaker-map.html

    (I am unable to figure out how to insert the graphic in this reply, hence, I have just posted the URL).

    From another direction, there is the threat to English itself receding to ‘Second Language’ status with the rising numbers of Spanish speakers contra the declining numbers of English speakers, in the U. S.

    In light of such development, it may be very likely that white English speakers throughout the world will encounter the Indian accents – there are many – and, maybe, even adopt one, for wider market reach or other reasons, whether they like it or not.

    Guess, the ‘real’ Indians will be having the last laugh – in English, mind you.


    • Well I certainly haven t seen the same arguments as you as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelanders, just shout their superiority while claiming we Americans are obnoxious. They claim they are right and we are wrong…not us…read the question…no one ever expressed the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelanders were wrong…they jumped to that conclusion out of their own inferiority.

      And as far as the language is concerned, this isn’t the first time that huge waves of non English speaking people immigrated to the US and people predicted the loss of the language. What happened? Two generations in and they’d lost their old languages. Same phenomenon is happening now. Second generation kids if they speak Spanish at all, do so only with the older generation. My cousins are all “Hispanic”… They don’t speak a word of Spanish.

  • I love seeing this kind of thing on websites like this… Humans, arguing for years over petty and insignificant ordeals. You people fail to realize that we all live on this Earth. It shouldn’t matter how one set of people handle something and whether or not it’s different than the way you or anyone else does it is. Generalization and stereotyping are a hindrance and should be abolished from modern society. We all have out own idiosyncrasies.

    You Europeans always bash Americans for being inferior and having a superiority complex about themselves, always thinking they are better than everyone else but in doing so unwittingly become hypocrites because you yourselves are speaking through your own superiority complex. You are trying to prove how much better you are than they by doing the same thing they are which in the end makes you no better.

    You Americans take anything said negatively about your “culture” as an attack on freedom itself when you fail to remember that your culture is an amalgamation. Decades worth of cultures from around the world combining on a central location to create what you know and love today. Most people defend The country through extreme patriotism but that same patriotism has blinded you with delusions of grandeur. You say America was founded on freedom but the cost of that freedom was genocide and slavery and that’s a fact you seem to forget.

    This comments sections proves that both sides have ignorance. To hate and berate people solely basen on where they live and how they talk or type is a prime example. Just because someone makes a mistake spelling or doesn’t spell something the way you were taught doesn’t make them uneducated and inn the same light you aren’t intelligent just because you talk big game and spend to time of day to correct someones ignorance by showing your own. We (Humans) are all guilty of it and in the end it all points back to us being the same. We may live on in separate continents, speak different languages and live completely different lives but wise or not we are all homo sapiens sapiens. Embrace that fact and try getting along for once.

    On a final note I’d like to point out that any hypocritical statements (especially those that are stereotypical or generalize) made on my part are deliberate, facetious and should be taken as a point of reference for examples. I do not put myself above anyone else.

    • “You Americans take anything said negatively about your “culture” as an attack on freedom itself”

      No, we do not. That claim is utter hogwash.

      • “Hogwash.” That is one heck of a British defense to America lol.

        We don’t take it as an attack on freedom, we just acknowledge that America has a different culture than the old world in almost every way, whether politically, racially, dialectically, etc. Very little is the same in the US as it is in Britain (or most of the world for that matter). And we’re proud of that and want to make sure it stays that way. Therefore anytime insists they are better than us, regardless of whether they’re better, we’re better or we’re fairly equal, we take time to point out the differences that make America a great place. Yeah, a lot of bad shit happened along the way (slavery, racism, etc.) but that happened in Europe too, so it’s not right to run around with the political correctness hammer pounding America all the time.

        Anyway, you’re talking about both Europeans and Americans in 3rd person. What continent are you from?

  • how very american to take something which directly derives from something MUCH MUCH older than you, thousands of years older and say “nope sry you’re all wrong, its ZEE kay thanks”.

    Άντε γαμήσου βλάκας!

    • Yeah, except that, really, nobody in America says that. We just say Zee and are fine with the English saying it another way. We don’t generally waste time thinking about why a word is said the way it is said. The Brits, however, spend an enormous amount of time telling Americans why we they are wrong about this word or that word, among other things.

  • I don’t know any British children who say Zed as Zee.

  • I’m Canadian, and like the article states, I am one of the countries that pronounces it “Zed”. Which I always found kind of funny because of our proximity to the States. I have heard some Canadians pronounce it “zee” but they’re not the majority. Funny how language evolves. Canadians still spell a lot of words like our British counterparts: centre, theatre, colour, favourite, yet we feel a closer connection with the States… for the most part!

  • It is Zee or just Z should never be said as “Zed”. Americans Improved upon it, as we do everything. A letter in the alphabet should not be said as a word which makes it sound totally different from the letter itself.

    • American here. “W” would like a word with you.

      • As do F, H, L, M, N, Q, R, S, X, and Y.

        If I was making names for the letters today, I’d standardize the consonants to all proceed a schwa sound – so you’d get Feh, Heh, Leh, Meh, Neh, Queh, Reh, Seh, Weh, Xieh, and Yeh for the names of those letters (in addition to renaming the various Consonant+Vowel-named Consonants as Beh, Ceh, Deh, Geh, Jeh, Keh, Peh, Teh, Veh, and Zeh).

  • Proud Canadian here and I pronounce it “Zed”, but mainly to avoid confusion.

    I have never understood why anyone would want to have two letters of the alphabet pronounced the same When I hear someone say “Zee” I think of the letter “C” not “Z”.

    • As an American, I am confused as to how you think we pronounce “C” and “Z” the same. We don’t. “C” is pronounced like “sea”, and “Z” is… I’m not entirely sure how to convey the sound through writing… Uh, take the word “buzz”, then take the “zz” sound and follow it with “ee”. Maybe when it’s said aloud, the difference is subtle to someone not from the States. But to me, someone who’s lived in the States all my life, they sound distinctly different.

      • The buzz, called in phonetics as a voiced consonant, is a distinct sound formation used throughout the alphabet. It’s the difference between a P and B sound, the difference between a K and G sound, the difference between a T and D sound, the difference between an F and a V sound, and of course the difference between an S and a Z sound, as explored in this issued.

        There are many languages, as well as some dialects of English, that have more difficulty distinguishing the two, due to various reasons, such as a lack of important phonetic difference.

    • Then you need to get your hearing checked. And how often do you hear people say zee? Do you confuse cany and zany? That Monty Python movie was very cany!

  • To Zee or not to Zee? That is the question.

  • Just in the interest of accuracy: I don’t think it’s correct to say that “[t]he vast majority of the English speaking world” pronounces Z as zed, as the opening paragraph of this article does. About two-thirds of the world’s native English speakers are Americans, and a large percentage of non-native English speakers use the American dialect due to American creations like the Internet, Hollywood, etc., which, for better or worse, have propagated the US version of the language.

    So while it might be accurate to say that the vast majority of English-speaking *countries* (i.e. countries whose official or predominant language is English) pronounce the letter as zed, that’s probably not true for the majority of English speakers.

    I’m not saying one pronunciation is better or worse than the other; that kind of argument is just silly. People say things the way they say them because of what they’re used to. We should consider ourselves lucky to be able to communicate easily with such a large portion of the world and not squabble about petty differences.

  • I think what’s really odd is that USAvians spell ‘president’ with an s while clearly it’s a zed-sound and they use zeds in so many other places (e.g. capitalize) 😉

    • Far more odd that United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelanders spell analyze with an s!

      How about the word ‘as’ …as a fine English speaker do you confuse ‘as’ with your gluteus maximus?

  • This has always been an interesting topic but as an Australian I say “Zed”, as stated by a Canadian above, when I hear “Zee” I tend to think of the third letter of the alphabet.

    Personally, I write in both types of English due to my work, if I’m writing specifically to American clients I’ll use words like “neighbor” and “organized”, to Canadians I’ll write “neighbour” and “organized” but to people in the United Kingdom I’ll write “neighbour” and “organised”. Neither are wrong in the local area so I try to adapt to their standard. If I were to write a generic e-mail to all groups, personally I would use British English, as I view it as a more accurate way of spelling.

    What annoys me though is when people from their own country (and I mainly find this from Canadians and Australians) can’t spell words their localised way, i.e. many people in Canada/Australia spell these following words like the Americans: flavor, meter and traveler. However, in their respective country it really should be spelt as flavour, metre and traveller. To be honest they more than likely do this because they have the English (US) spell check on, either way it amazes me that most people don’t check their spelling before they send something.

    As for a comment above, from a British person about Americans spelling words as “rite”, “nite” and “thru” I can assure you RIGHT now, that most Americans will tell you that these words are not the correct way of spelling in any area of the English speaking world, it’s rather an alternative way of spelling these words in a phonetic sense. Like how you see the words in Australia all the time “Lite Milk” or in the United Kingdom “Drive-Thru” anyone that has the slightest bit of education would know that these are almost like phrases than actual words.

    There is actually only ONE word in the whole English language that annoys me how Americas spell it, which is the word “cheque / check”. Spelling it the latter way gives that word many meanings then for no reason, whereas to me the word “cheque” specifically means “a form of payment.” I feel the way the Americans spell it their way is ultimately confusing.

    • For a long time the word cheque literally meant nothing to me. Now I live in Texas so signs/menus/whatever are always in spanish, and to me cheque looks like a spanish word. It never occurred to me until several months ago I looked up the word check (don’t remember why) and found the british spelling cheque. It is one of the few british words that irritates me. I can deal with defence/defense, neighbor/neighbour, color/colour, so on and so forth, but to this day it drives me crazy when I see cheque. In my mind it’s just wrong because it’s such a wierd phonetic way of spelling something straightforward. Not saying one way is better (let’s be honest, check is better :P), but it just bugs me.

      Another difference is not so much about spelling as it is word forms. For instance, I noticed you used the word spelt, which is grammatically correct. However if you dictated that comment to me, I probably would have written down spelled which is also grammatically correct. Again, not saying one is better (to be honest I think spelt sounds more sophisticated), it’s just that I’ve always heard spelled and only very rarely heard spelt, so spelled will come to mind first and that’s probably what I’ll use.

    • Trust me, check as a form of payment isn’t the slightest bit confusing. Have you ever heard of context? Loads of words have multiple meanings.

      The check is in the mail. What else could it be? Duh?

      And no, British spelling isn’t more accurate. You must remember that most of these difference occurred before spelling of English was standardized. Samuel Johnson and Noah Webster chose different forms as the started the process. But neither is better. Once again, it’s ethocentrism coming through as AusE is closet to BE than to WE.

      International practice is when writing to a group, that you write in your native dialect as that favors one group the least and is natural and not contrived.

    • check is actually the older and closer to the original way of spelling the word.

  • I’m an American, so I pronounce it as Zee (In fact it’s my nickname because my last name starts with a Z), but honestly I don’t think an argument can be made at all on what is right or wrong. Fact is that just about all modern language is derived from some other ancient languages. So if you want to go by the rule that whoever was first is speaking correctly, it would be anyone who actually speaks an ancient language fluently. That aside, each country is entitled to their own language and grammar guidelines. We call our language English simply because it started in England, not because it’s still exactly like that language, but once America became its own country any derivation to the language is entirely up to it, just as it’s up to that country.

    Now on the point of the metric system, yes we should switch to it lol.

  • If I’m talking about something British, I say Zed (like the ZX Spectrum, for example). Otherwise, I say Zee. But it really doesn’t matter. All language is just a human construct, and will die with the death of the last human. Stop worrying about dumb nonsense.

  • People just need to be quiet Americans pronounce it zee and British pronounce it zed what does it MATTER!!!

  • Wow!
    Sure fires up the discussion doesn’t it.
    Uhhm, someone else can dig the research if they wish, but I read, a long time back, that the last letter was actually originally pronounced as Zee in middle ages or sometime Britain. How or why it became ZED I can’t recall, nor why our US cousins adopted the “archaic” form rather than the current.
    Bit as others have pointed out, does it matter?
    Maybe it does, eventually, once we have worked out how to live harmoniously together, in peace despite gender, race or religion. THEN we can start to navel gaze at Zed V/s Zee.

  • I think that ‘zee’ makes more sense, because none of the other pronunciations of letters end in hard consonant sounds. It is strange to break the consistency of pronunciations to make this one letter different than the rest. Unless there is clear, logical reasoning for a difference, of which there is none in this case, then consistency should be upheld. ‘Zee’ is consistent, so ‘zee’ is better.

  • Well being a true Brit I of course say Zed. Zee just sounds odd to me but that is because I haven’t said it before until now. But as stated below the fact Britons understand Americans better than they understand us and the majority of the world to that matter simply says that the Brits have a good understanding of the English language.

    • “the majority of the world to that matter simply says that the Brits have a good understanding of the English language.”

      Id so, the majority world view of Brits, seems to be sadly mistaken. Many Brits express the opinion that being British means that they are automatically experts on the linguistic history of their own country and that Americans are always (or almost always) wrong in any opinion they express. All one needs to do is google a question like “why do Americans say so and so when British say a different so and so? The responses will be filled with declarations from self-identified British people insisting that the Americans say or spell or pronounce the word in question differently because A, Americans are stupid, B. Americans are pretentious, C. Americans are just trying to upset the poor put-upon Brits by deliberately misspelling, mispronouncing, etc. The logic (if you can call it that) is usually that since they are English, their sweeping pronouncements about the English language MUST be correct, regardless of the facts. It is seen in every comment section of this website that deals with varying pronunciations or spelling differences between British and American speakers of English. Even regarding this article,, which clearly states that the Zee pronunciation dates back to at least 1677, Americans are accused of fabricating this non-British spelling.

      The problem is that a majority of the words or idioms that British commenters routinely criticize as nonsense created by stupid or jealous Americans are in fact Britishisms that Americans had nothing to do with creating. The British simply do not know the history of their own language and have no interest in learning it because, apparently, they have convinced themselves that they are incapable of being wrong. Just search out a few responses to any discussion regarding the British versus American pronunciation of a word like “herb.” Over and over again, Brits will claim, with absolute certainty, that the word has always been pronounced with an H at the beginning, and declare that Americans “dropped the H” in order to try to look smarter, or because Americans are naturally pretentious, etcetera. The whole idea that Americans know the correct way to pronounce “herb” (with the H sound of course) but mispronounce it on purpose is idiocy. The fact that the original pronunciation of the word, with a silent H, has been used in England since the 13th century, and continued to be used right up until Victorian times in the UK is ignored or denied. It’s the height of hypocrisy to accuse Americans of changing the word when there is ample proof that, in fact, the British are the ones who changed it, not the Americans,and it all happened relatively recently.

      The word “herb” is just one small example. In the annual list of “annoying Americanisms” published every so often by the BBC and others, the words being complained about are, more often than not, simply old Britishisms that you Brits have forgotten about, Speaking of forgotten,” gotten” is a good example, too. It’s taken directly from British English but since Brits have stopped using it, they no insist they NEVER used it. “What kind of word is gotten?” they will ask. It certainly couldn’t be English. But of course it is the past participle of get, used by Brits for centuries, then discarded (for some unknown reason).. There are literally hundreds of examples of this sort of thing. Any linguist worth his or her salt, will tell you that British English has changed more in the last 300 years than American English has. Clearly Brits do not know their own language nearly as well as they think they do, and if they would only learn to use google, or open the Oxford English dictionary, they would see how uninformed they are and perhaps make fools of themselves less often (not directing this at you BTW but at Iinterweb Brits in general).

      • Quite possibly the best, and most well-informed, reply I’ve read in a very long time. Thank you, Ell. You’ve made my day.

      • Cry me a river ….. then tell me it’s pronounced ‘Rye-ver’

      • The Spanish speak Spanish, the Germans speak German, the French speak French and Americans speak shite.

        • It is bizarre though, because it’s actually the British that decided to add all of these intentional affectations to the language in the 1800s. It affected America as well (transatlantic accent) but has since mostly receded in the US and really taken hold and continued to branch out in England.

          Anyway, unless you’re a petulant child or an idiot, you should find the differences interesting, not threatening.

    • You can get off hour soapbox. I u understand Brits just fine unless they’re from a dialect that you don’t understand either.

  • I once heard a British child sing the alphabet song as “W, X, Y, Zed, you see,” before going into the “Now I know my ABC’s” part. This preserves both the rhyme and the traditional pronunciation. Has anyone else heard it this way?

  • lol stupid brits

  • I don’t want to go anywhere near all the childish name calling but I do have a comment/question for those who say the alphabet song requires a zee pronunciation. Why do you think the song ends
    sugar on your BREAD
    eat it all up
    before you are DEAD

    • That’s a morbid song and we (Americans) don’t want to be associated it. That’s why Zee is correct and Zed is not.

  • Actually the American pronounciation of the letter ‘z’ is closer to the where it is derived from. The Greek letter z is pronounced “zeeta”. The single e spelling should have had the symbol denoting it is a long e and not a short.

  • This doesn’t really explain anything. Why retain the Greek pronunciatiom for one letter? Out of 26, it’s the only letter (aside from ‘W’) that uses 2 consonant sounds. Why isn’t ‘A’ pronounced Alpha or Alph, etc etc?

  • I see your point. But from a practical standpoint, ‘zed’ makes more sense to me – avoids the type of confusion that m and n make.

  • There has been much mention of the alphabet song here, the one like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. When I was young, I learned the alphabet to an entirely different tune. I can’t find out anything about its origins. I will try to get it across using solfa. Tempo approx 76 bpm, 6/8 time signature:
    M – M|D – R|M – M|D – R|
    M – M|F – M|R – – |- – Tv|
    R – R|T – D|R – R|T – R|
    S S S|F – R|D – – |
    One letter per note, the R in the second line being emm, doubleu spread over the three Ss of the last line. Thus the end of the 2nd line, emm, has a vowel rhyme with the end of the 4th line, ZED! The alphabet fits the tune better as if the tune was specially written for the purpose.

  • British misspell allot of word like tyre is tire Z is not Zed it is simple Zee Z its not hard. Britian is Great country not allot wrong in the school system and how allot is done. But different cultures do different things but as far as this explanation of the letter Z of course some of you find it easier because that all you know but it is still longer to deal with Z is just Z. This Great country of England if wrong in allot of areas but who knows could be right in some. Just like the word CENTER England spells it wrong CENTRE Cen~tray OR Cen~tree? Make no sense CEN~TER not arguing but this country is not totally right nor is American.

  • The argument here about the correct pronunciation of the letter Z is quite ridiculous. We should be grateful that there is at least a common language that the peoples around the world can communicate and understand. Whether is is spoken with a British, American, Asian, African (or whatever) accent there is. However, correct me if I’m wrong, but the way I understand the article, and I quote,

    “The first known instance of “zee” being recorded as the correct pronunciation of the letter “z” was in Lye’s New Spelling Book, published in 1677.”

    Thomas Lye was from Somerset in England and an author (as per wikipedia). The pronunciation “zee” for the letter “z” had been documented since 1677. But native English speakers tend to pronounce a particular word sometimes differently from one another or spell differently for the same word. Does that mean one is wrong and the other is right in the way they speak or spell? I always think the English language is a very flexible and adaptable language, and yes, there are standard English dictionaries to “standardize” spellings and pronunciations. However, it has evolved in many ways throughout the years. Based from documents, even the nobility of England before tend to change the words and “french–ize” them and made them more French sounding to distinguish the way the “elite” speak from the rest of the populace (very discriminating, weren’t they). And even the spellings were change to make them more “french”. Why? Because they thought the French culture in every way was the culture for the elite. Maybe, blame it on William I or William the Conqueror from Normandy who French-ize England.
    My point is, the English language is not a stagnant language. It is a very dynamic language and native English speakers whether from Europe, the Americas, or from down under should not be arguing who is more correct. There are more important issues to be argued about than the correct pronunciation of a letter.
    Another point, even the native English speakers of the USA, UK and other places, they have their own accents or way of speaking English depending on where they are from within their own country. Not all Brits speak like their queen and not all Americans speak Ivy League. So, why don’t we just chill and accept and enjoy the reality that English is dynamic and will continue to be so. Thank goodness or it would be such a boring language. Peace all 🙂

  • Izzard FTW

  • Professor Cornelius Wotherspoon

    It really doesn’t matter if “Z” is pronounced like zed or zee because the educational system in the whole English speaking world is abysmal and people are less able to be able to read and write anyway. One day, even knowing about the existence of the letter Z will be a status symbol to the Brawno drinking masses.

  • If it’said zed, then why is it not said zedra instead of zebra?

  • i think some people have very little to keep them occupied intellectually if all they can do is argue about zee and zed. English is and always has been a growing and developing language, adding to, adopting and altering all it comes in contact with. Irritating to some American spelling may be, but I was told Webster was trying to make the words easier to spell when he wrote his dictionary.

    Unfortunately if we change all our words to be ‘easier’ to spell we would end up with at least twice as many words as we already have!
    As well as having to provide a translation if we wished to read any previously printed material!

  • I say don’t correct the kids. Both pronunciations should be taught as right.

  • Of European Languages, only Hungarian says zee. The rest say zed or zet.

    Another pet peeve is American date format. They are the only country in the world who write date month-day-year instead of the logical day-month-year or the even more logical ISO 8601 year-month-day.

  • It’s probably better described as everyone in the world pronounces the letter Z as Zed, apart from only one group: the americans.

  • Interesting. When I learned the Alphabet song, we did not place the word “and” between “y” and “z”, and the words following were “Now I’ve learned to say them well, so I can write and spell”. Of course, this wording would work with both “z” and “zed”.

    Reading the comments it never ceases to amaze me that people actually get upset at things like this. As long as the hearer can understand, what’s the difference?