shrew /ʃru/
shoe /ʃu/

Korean having no spelling for consonants by themselves, when I come across one of them, as in /ʃ/, it makes me very hard to catch how they are pronouncing. What’s the difference between /ʃ/ and /ʃu/?
I have this idea. In some Korean comic books they mark a laughter, especially a kind of smirk, with this sound, ㅋㅋㅋ [k k k], which isn’t on formal writings. If it be in a formal story book, it would be 크 크 크 [kɯ kɯ kɯ] or something that is combined with other vowels. The difference in sound between the two is, in fact, almost only the length of the sounds. So likewise, /ʃ/ and /ʃu/ maybe the same actually I would guess, except the length of the two.

  • 1
    The difference between /ʃ/ and /ʃu/ is that the second version includes a vowel. All "normal" English "words" include at least one vowel ("vocalised") sound, but the voiceless postalveolar fricative /ʃ/ (written as "Sh!") may be used as an equivalent to the imperatives "Be quiet!", "Hush", etc. Laughing isn't under conscious control, and there's no "standard" sound - there's usually some degree of vocalisation, but repeated /ʃ/ represents a kind of "whispered snigger" for at least some Anglophones. Sep 20, 2014 at 13:24
  • 3
    I think this has more to do with English and Korean phonotactics than spelling. We tend to insert epenthetic vowels to break up disallowed consonant clusters. For example, English speakers tend to insert schwas, so if we tried to pronounce the p in psi, we'd often get /p(ə)saɪ/ rather than /psaɪ/, but speakers of other languages have no problem with /ps/. Japanese insert /u/ most often and get スプリング /supuringu/ rather than /spring/. The thing is, we actually perceive it as though the epenthetic vowels are there because our brains aren't used to that sort of consonant cluster.
    – user230
    Sep 20, 2014 at 14:06
  • 5
    You have trouble conceptualizing /ʃr/ because Korean doesn't allow a consonant in onset position to be followed by a liquid, so you naturally perceive it with an epenthetic vowel inserted, as in grid → 그리드. But in English, you need to move smoothly from /ʃ/ to /r/ without inserting a vowel. At the moment I can't write an accurate phonetic description of how to do that, so I'll have to do some research before writing an answer. I'll try to come back to this later.
    – user230
    Sep 20, 2014 at 14:07

2 Answers 2


Here's the difference: shoe can be pronounced with your mouth in a fixed position. Once your lips are in the correct position, you can say the word without moving your mouth or lips.

In contrast, with shrew, your mouth and lips begin in the same position as they would be in with shoe, but as you begin to say the word shrew, your lips must continue to protrude further and further, forming the shape of a trumpet-horn, say, or the shape of the inner part of a daffodil flower. Your mouth and lips are in motion when you say the word shrew.

This movement-of-lips-while-saying is what produces the -ru- sound. Imagine you are saying the word in "slow-motion".


I'm not an expert, but I am a native English speaker that's learning Korean, and I'd say that /ʃ/ is similar to 스 whereas /ʃu/ is more like 수.

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