I've seen many questions asked about the ん sound, both on this site and others, but I'm still uncertain about how it should be produced before a fricative (e.g. さ, し, ひ, ふ). So I'm hoping someone can give a good, thorough answer if I ask about it specifically.

Different sources seem to give different pronunciations. Some sources say it is similar to the English n or ng sound, but with the same place of articulation as the following sound. So if it is followed by s it would be a lamino-alveolar nasal. Some sources say it is like a nasalized う. Other sources simply say it is a nasalized vowel.

So is one of these correct and the others incorrect. Are none of them correct. Or does it vary by speaker. If it varies, is any pronunciation commonly regarded as standard and/or more neutral. The opinions of native speakers or those familiar with Japanese linguistics would be especially appreciated.

4 Answers 4


Before さ and し it is weakened or incomplete. When ひ or ふ come after ん in a word (or compound word), they are transformed to the non-fricatives ぴ and ぷ . E.g.

  • [反比例]{はん・ぴ・れい}
  • [染筆]{せんぴつ}
  • [選評]{せんぴょう}
  • [認否]{にん・ぴ}

which at least doesn't conflict with your implicit assertion that ん followed by a non-fricative is, or historically was, more pleasurable to utter than ん followed by a fricative. Of course changing fricatives to non-fricative occurs frequently in second syllables anyway, e.g. the older pronunciation [日本]{にっぽん}, so that could be coincidental.

Notably, relatively new compounds like [計算表]{けい・さん・ひょう} and [新福島]{しん・ふく・しま}駅 don't replace the fricative. Also, the modern pronunciation [日本]{に・ほん} doesn't replace the fricative.

I personally find it is more emotive to say [日本]{にっぽん} than [日本]{に・ほん}, but choose according to TPO.

  • 2
    How about relatively new compounds like 計算表【けいさんひょう】 and 新福島【しんふくしま】駅? I can't explain how I pronounce these in technical terms, but at least these are not particularly difficult for me.
    – naruto
    Feb 16, 2017 at 2:35
  • naruto - Good point. I modified the answer accordingly. Feb 17, 2017 at 4:55

The reason why you get different answers is, I guess, partly because personal difference among speakers. The finest details are often varying from person to person, situation to situation. Like if you pronounce somewhat like imput instead of input by accident in conversation, actually few people would notice.

What is sure is that nasals with release burst are unacceptable with unvoiced fricative. Release burst is the kind of sound you make when you untouch the tongue from palate, and that usually heard as stops (p, t, k...) itself. At the beginning of syllable everyone pronounces it, but at the end of it some do while other don't (in English). For example, in this page where people pronounce cat, the user called Slick holds the last t unreleased, while FrazJam releases it. When it comes to can, the same guy Slick releases the final n to make it sound like n in nat, as with most English speakers (in that page, griffeblanche represents the unreleased n best). This phenomenon also triggers that chance sounds like chants, and sounds unnatural as Japanese.

So your options are basically, a independent unreleased nasal stop or a nasalized vowel:

  • [[-n̚s-]], [[-z̃s-]], [[-Ṽs-]] for [[s]] (サ・ス・セ・ソ)
  • [[-n~ɲ̚ɕ-]], [[-j̃ɕ-]], [[-Ṽɕ-]] for [[ɕ]] (シ・シャ・シュ・シェ・ショ)
  • [[-ŋ~ɴ̚h-]], [[-ɰ̃h-]], [[-Ṽh-]] for [[h]] (often is [[x~χ]] in Kanto) (ハ・ヘ・ホ)
  • [[-n~ɲ̚ç-]], [[-j̃ç-]], [[-Ṽç-]] for [[ç]] (ヒ・ヒャ・ヒュ・ヒェ・ヒョ)
  • [[-n̚ɸ-]], [[-ŋ~ɴ̚ɸ-]], [[-β̃ɸ-]], [[-Ṽ(ʷ)ɸ-]] for [[ɸ]] (フ・ファ・フィ・フェ・フォ)
  • for [[z]] and [[ʑ]] you can simply use [[n]]; doesn't matter if it sounds like [[-ndz-]] etc. since Standard Japanese has no distinction between [[z]] and [[dz]], [[ʑ]] and [[dʑ]].

† means that incomplete blocking of the stops listed before them would sound like these ways.


Although, I know there so much diputes on Japanese ん sounds, as a native speaker, I would like to say 'Don't care too much about sounds of ん' because we have never learnt about sounds of ん. ん is ん to me. Nobody cares, if u can pronounce n,m, and ng in English. All those sounds will work as ん sound in Japanese.

As for nasalised sound, people from Chugoku district like me never pronounce nasalised vowels. Tohoku dialects and Miyabi-go (mainly spoken among those from nobility) still remain those sounds to a considerable extent. However, in any case, most Japanese believe there is only one sound for ん.

  • 1
    You anatomically can't pronounce ん without adjacent vowels nasalized. It's not specific pronunciation of が.
    – user4092
    Feb 16, 2017 at 14:43
  • 1
    I don't get what you mean by the latter sentence. Feb 16, 2017 at 14:52
  • Then, that part is my bad guess, never mind/
    – user4092
    Feb 17, 2017 at 1:09

It's basically nasalized vowel and it naturally turns into the nasal sound in the position of alveolar fricative (さすせそ) or ひ/ふ's counterpart as a result of motion of your tongue. (I don't think alveolar nasal is really sounding)

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