Zee vs. zed

Zee is the American way of saying the letter z. Zed is the British way. Neither is right or wrong, and nobody is ignorant for pronouncing z the way they do.

The zed pronunciation is older, and it more closely resembles the Greek letter, zeta, from which the English letter is derived. And zed is closer to other languages’ spelling and pronunciation of the letter; for instance, the French say zède, German speakers say zet, and Spanish speakers say zeta. These are points in zed‘s favor.

The U.S. pronunciation probably came about by analogy with the letters bee, cee, dee, gee, and so on. It was standard in American English by the 19th century, and it’s now so deeply engrained that many Americans are unaware of the British pronunciation.

Australian and New Zealand English speakers usually say zed. Canadians say both.

123 thoughts on “Zee vs. zed”

    • And for consistency with all other reasonings detailed above, zed seems preferable. You pays your money and you takes your choice!

      • It all comes down to adaptation and the evolution of language. Zed adds an extra consonant sound for no reason. Americans dropped the extra useless letters and sounds from language, like aluminum and aluminium or honor and honour/color and colour. From zed to zee was the same effect.

        Well, that… and a lack of formal education in rural America also simplified the language here quite a bit.

        • Hold up there, the i in aluminium isn’t useless. Most of the other elements of the periodic table end with -ium and those of us who talk about consistency in the alphabet somehow turn back around on themselves. Besides, the dropped i is very much pronounced either way and isn’t a useless letter.

          • The word Aluminum was invented by an English chemist Sir Humphry Davy. He durived the name from another recently discovered mineral Alumina. In Davy’s book published 1812 he called it “Aluminum” the person who discovered and named it. Then someone who reviewed the book at Quarterly Review decided to discredit the chemist and change the name to “Aluminium” because it sounded more “classical”. That sure is the British way to treat chemists who make groundbreaking discoveries like this.

          • Americans didn’t “drop” the i from aluminum – “aluminum” as a word predates the Commonwealth “aluminium” spelling.

        • Zed doesn’t add anything. It’s the older spelling, and is closer to the root word (zeta).

          It would be more accurate to say that zee drops a consonant.

          Of course, that might not make a bit of difference. A hundred years from now, everyone might well be saying zee.

      • 1/4 or so of the world speaks english as the first language, last time I saw the USA does not even have 1/4 of the worlds population.

        • Where did you hear that a quarter of the world’s population speaks English as a first language? That is simply wrong. Roughly speaking, there are 7 billion people on Earth. A tenth of them (750 million) speak English, and only half of these (375 million) speak English as a first language. The U.S. has over 250 million who speak English as a first language, and 250 is a majority of 375. All these facts are well documented and easily accessible to anyone with an internet connection.

          • Your numbers are a bit off, but your assertion that most people who speak English as a first language live in the United States is correct. 63.5%, in fact, live in the U.S.

          • If you can point us toward accurate numbers for 2013, we would very much appreciate it. This subject comes up often.

          • I think what you fail to recognize that “civilized” is the operative word in Fleming’s post.

          • Both civilized and civilised are correct; they are just different spellings for different dialects.

          • Wait, why are we just considering people who speak English as a first language?
            Pretty sure that people who learnt the language later still came across “Z” and came to either to pronounce it as “Zed” or “Zee” and since the current population of the US is around 320 Million its less then 50% of the people who Speak English.
            In other words there’s more then half of the English Speaking that says “Zed”

          • Only If you exclude all Canadians who say “zee”. The “zee” pronunciation has come into Australia and New Zealand, as well, although it’s certainly a minority there, but “zed” is virtually unheard of in the U.S.

            Regardless of how you want to twist the statistics, “zee” is now the majority of the English-speaking world.

          • Are you another one who believes that Wikipedia is fact?

            Another being fooled.

            Get Britannica!

          • OK, then, you tell us: how many people speak English as a first language, and how many people live in the United States?

          • >250M; >315M

            NB. figures exclude unknown number of others from English speaking countries with non-work visas.

          • Not all of the people that live in the United States speak English. Even more of them do not speak English as their first language.

          • What will Britannica tell us? If that 10% canard you supplied above is an example of their ‘facts’, it’s no wonder Britannica is failing and will be nothing more than a ‘history’ entry in other encyclopedias within 10 years.

          • What does GDP matter :3
            Therapists, Mcdonalds and Guns. That’s ‘Merica
            Half your population don’t believe in evolution
            Your politicians agree that climate change is a myth
            You constantly wage wars against other countries despite most of you being incapable of placing them on a map.
            In your country people have to make the choice between Being homeless or dieing because of their lack of health insurance.
            And you call that civilised

          • At least we don’t have big brother deciding what we can and can not search for on the internet. Hello, China! :D

          • It doesn’t matter where you are from. My point still stands on its own even if you were Norwegian or Turkish. :)

          • We both know you were trying to make a jab at China in hopes I’d be upset for your insult against “my homeland”(sorry I disappointed you, but I never have nor will live in China.) Hell, you even said “hello China!”


  1. In reality, ‘zed’ being closer to the Greek origins of the language; seems the best option to me.After all where would we be without the ‘Greeks’? Using this version is like playing tribute to the foundations of western language and thought. However the American version pays tribute to what exactly? To ignorance of the origins of the language perhaps? BTW ‘GRAMMARIST’ just because the majority of people do or say something does not mean it is ‘right’ or ‘better’ in anyway.

  2. As a ESL teacher I find it better to teach ‘zed’ as it is more in line with the phonetic origins of English. To argue in favour of the majority use of ‘zee’ is to lose sight of the origins of the language and it’s traditions.
    My view of the development of Standard American is that the language was taught by the original settlers of the colonies as ‘The Queen’s English’ or rather at that time ‘The Kings’s English’ and over the span of a few generations it was phonetically half remembered and transmitted in this form to the following generations. These phonetic slips became the new ‘standard’ and was disseminated in this new and inaccurate fashion.Coupled with the mix of languages and cultures from other European immigrants these inaccuracies became further compounded into the ‘Standard American’ of today.

    • In our view, these changes to the language aren’t inaccuracies as much as they are natural developments that occur in all languages and in all varieties of English. British English is nearly as different from the King’s English of the 18th century as American English is, so if we were to call these changes inaccuracies, we would have to say that British English is just as full of inaccuracies as American English is. Of course, this would start to seem crazy when you really look into how much the language has changed and continues to change. If every word or phrase that differs from what it once was is inaccurate, then every word in every language is inaccurate.

    • Right, and that is good in theory, but as much as a stickler as I am for keeping language “pristine” (so to speak), centuries evolve a language. There is no way around it. The Early English (Which was basically Saxon mixed with loan words) of the days of King Eckbert was almost incomprehensible from The High Medieval English of Chaucer, whose English was much the same for Shakespeare’s Renaissance English (which IMO is the first time English starts sounding like it does now, not just a proto language feel like Chaucer or older), and then the same can be said for “The King’s English” of the time under contention (roughly the late 1600s-1700s?), and then now to modern times. Heck, even in the 1800s English was used slightly differently (though American and British were closer then). Different words were used from what we use, and they had odd little things like spelling it “to-day” rather than “today”, etc.

    • “Phonetic slips”? And you say you favor the phonetic origins, yet preferring far less phonetic spellings like “draught”, “cheque”, “colour”, “honour”, etc? Rather amusing, since most of the sharp differences in spellings and pronunciation between Commonwealth and American English is that Commonwealth is still far more influenced by French and other Romance languages, rather than Germanic. If American English can be characterized as anything, it’s a half-hearted attempt to get back to English’s Germanic roots.

    • “As a ESL teacher” Well I don’t believe you are any good as you don’t know the basic use of the words ‘a’ and ‘an’. An is used when there is a vowel as the 1st letter in the proceeding word. A is used otherwise.

      “at that time ‘The Kings’s English’ and over the span” “Kings’s” is not a proper use of AN apostrophe. You use King’s if the noun is possessive or if you are trying to say what I think you are saying it’s Kings’.

      As well, please do not try and use advanced vocabulary to compensate for your obvious lack in proper English grammar.

      If you would like any tips on English please visit your local elementary school for tips on ‘a’ and ‘an’ or if you are feeling up to it, go to an ESL teacher who can teach year 3 grammar. But please do not reply as I will not be checking this anymore.

      P.S. There were other mistakes that you might want someone to point out. Not me because I really cannot be bothered anymore with this horrid excuse of an English teacher’s comment.

  3. However in ‘The King’s English’ of the 18th Century ‘zed’ was pronounced ‘zed’ and it still is today.While I agree that, clearly, the words in the English language have changed considerably since then, and indeed will continue to do so, my argument is that the basic and fundamental building blocks for the pronunciation of the language; in this case the phoneme ‘zed’ has not changed in the centuries between now and then, and in my view never should be changed.
    If we could select our own phonemic preferences, this would seem completely ridiculous with non-native speakers selecting their own arbitrary pronunciation, or pronunciation in line with their native tongue.
    In conclusion, while I can accept changes to the spelling, grammar, and pronunciation of the English language brought about by the colonial expansion of the British nation in the 18th and 19th centuries, I cannot accept,however, the pronunciation of the basic building blocks of a language being altered or changed in any way, and my argument still stands that in this case it is an inaccuracy to say ‘zee’ just because it’s in line with ‘bee’ ‘cee’ ‘dee’ etc doesn’t make it right, and just because it a relatively long standing inaccuracy does not make it anymore acceptable.

    • I think you’re mistaking pronunciation and name. Whether its called “zee” or “zed” has no bearing on how the phoneme is pronounced. The /z/ phoneme is pronounced the same way in all languages that it is found in regardless of what they call the letter.

    • One more thing. In your argument, changing the name of a letter is inaccurate. If that were the case, then why would English-speakers choose to “inaccurately” call it zee/zed? Certainly, the Greek phoneme “zeta”, which predates our “zee/zed”, couldn’t have been all that hard for English speakers to adopt as their own name for the letter Z. So really, it’s foolish to call any changes in language as “inaccurate”.

      • Well for one z is common in mathematics, I think it would be confusing we pronounced all the Greek and English letters differently. I’m sure one day though when ‘murica has it’s way π will be pronounced pizzle or maybe pee if y’all want it to follow under that rule…

      • The root of the Greek letter Zeta comes from the Old French letter “Zede”, pronounced “Zed”. Zeta, also, is a letter of a totally separate language, and that argument does not apply at all when comparing it to a different language.

  4. Research into this topic produced this:The letter name zee, now American, was not invented in America, as several bumptious and jingoist American websites suggest. The letter has actually had eight or more names during its long sojourn at the bottom of the English alphabet: zad, zard, zed, zee, ezed, ezod, izod, izzard, uzzard. One of those names is zee, a dialect form last heard in England during the late seventeenth century. That name was brought to America by British immigrants, perhaps not on the Mayflower but very early indeed in American history.

    Another English dialect form is izzard, from mid-eighteenth-century English, perhaps from French et zède meaning and z, or else from s hard. Or, as I believe but cannot prove, izzard is simply as an r-infix form of izod that arose in an English dialect where speakers liked to insert r-sounds into r-less word endings. In Scotland the letter’s name has been at various times in history ezod and izod. Even uzzard shows up as a legitimate name of the letter.

    In the first great dictionary of English in 1755 (there were other, lesser wordlists printed earlier), Dr. Johnson opined “Z . . . zed, more commonly izzard or uzzard.” The names izzard and uzzard have not totally melted in the obscuring fog of history. Check this 1947 opinion from the Court of Appeals of Kentucky: “If this contract is valid, its provisions are all binding and effective from A to Izzard.” From A to izzard is a folk expression now rare or vanished that implies inclusivity.

    • Some of your research turned up inaccurate information. In fact, all of those alternate pronunciations that you mentioned ( zad, zard, zed, zee, ezed, ezod, izod, izzard, uzzard.) Were brought to America by British immigrants, all of them. It was for the one, and single reason, that Zee was not a popular pronunciation in the British Empire, and Zed was, that it was chosen by Noah Webster, author of the webster dictionary, that “it is pronounced zee”. Furthermore, you stated that Dr.Johnson opined “Z… zed, more commonly izzard or uzzard.” That statement in and of itself directly says that zed is the correct pronunciation. I’m not debating that the other pronunciations were widely used, or considered correct at the time they were used. This is not the 19th century, this is the year 2014. We do not have small groups living in the sticks all over the place that create and use several different dialects with the same root language, especially English. The debate is: “What is the correct pronunciation of the final letter in the English language’s alphabet , Zed, or Zee?” and the answer is zed.

  5. Canadians don’t say both, they say ‘zed’, like the rest of the Commonwealth. Those who were poorly influenced by American television programming tend to pronounce it ‘zee’. Canadians politely assume that they are just visiting American tourists.

      • just like Brits influenced by American television are still Brits – yes.

        Idle_Activist is correct though, the vast majority of Canadians say ‘zed’.

        • No, not really “a vast majority”. From Ontario to BC, “zee” is the dominant pronunciation. Quebec and the Atlantic provinces are the outliers.

        • umm Don’t comment on American English when we use English and the English use FRENCH. You need to study some history maybe.

          its name is ‘zee’ /ˈziː/, deriving from a late 17th century English dialectal form.[2]

          Another English dialectal form is izzard /ˈɪzərd/. It dates from the mid-18th century and probably derives from Occitan izèda or the French ézed, whose reconstructed Latin form would be *idzēta

          • The English do not use French, they use English. American English is not a language, it is a dialect. Did you know that a word can be the same in multiple languages? Try opening a dictionary. I think you are the one who needs to study more history. If you are talking about different SPELLINGS, like Check or Cheque, then your argument is 100% invalid, as the rest of us are talking about pronunciation, not spelling. If you are talking about pronunciation, then you are flat-out wrong. The English do not use or pronounce words differently because the root comes from French. They may be spelled differently, but they are pronounced identically.

          • You clearly don’t even know the history of the English language if you are trying to argue so adamantly that it, particularly Commonwealth English, hasn’t basically been bastardized by French long, long ago. The majority of all English words have French roots, and the differences in UK/American spellings and pronunciation show how much more French-influenced Commonwealth English really is. And they are not pronounced identically, you have shown time and time again that you do not understand what you’re talking about.

      • I’m going to assume you are referring to one of the great known Queens, which would be either Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth I, or Queen Elizabeth II. Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II were born in London, England, and Queen Elizabeth I was born in Greenwich, England.

  6. if french is from france
    spain – spainish
    china – chinese
    japan – japanees
    ENGLAND – English

    hummm . zed must have addvantage .

  7. This blows my theory out of the water. I always thought ‘z’ became ‘zee’ because we all learned the alphabet singing it to the tune of Twinkle Twinkle Little star, and zee rhymes with t-u-v, along with e-f-g and l-m-n-o-p.

  8. If any of you had done any research, you would have found out that the reason Yankees pronounce it Zee and not Zed, is because they wanted it to be firmly known that they were not British, or members of the British Empire. Brits would pronounce it Zed, and in some english dialects, it was pronounced “Izzard”. Knowing that Brits said Zed, they wanted there to be no confusion when speaking to an American. In 1827, Noah Webster, author of the Webster dictionary, pretty much unilaterally announced “it is pronounced zee”. It has NOTHING to do with consistency of pronunciation of other letters. It has SOLELY to do with the Americans, at that time, wanting to firmly individualize themselves from Britain. Zee is NOT the correct pronunciation. The english language was formed from several other languages, including Greek, and Old French. The direct translation of that letter from Old French, one of the roots of the English language, is “Zede”. Noah Webster was wholly incorrect in changing the pronunciation of a letter of a language for simple political reasons, and it is just simply incorrect. Zee is not a letter of the English alphabet, it never was, and it never will be. A person who pronounces the letter as Zee is using an English dialect, not the true english language. When the United States was a vacant country, filled with Indians and Buffalo, there was no such thing as Zee. It was not part of the language then, and it is not part of the language now. There is no such language as “American”, anybody who thinks they speak “American” is sadly uneducated and is speaking a bastardized dialect. Zed is the only pronunciation of the last letter of the English language’s alphabet. It doesn’t matter if the majority of first-language English speakers are American, Zee is still an incorrect pronunciation in the English language.

    • Then I suggest you put the R annunciation back in the words it has been removed from because of the SLANG of the 1800’s in England.

      • Good argument, but what you are specifically referring to is called natural development of a language. Slang forms, and changes languages and spellings over large periods of time, which I agree with, which has happened to almost all languages in the past. Natural progression. That’s not what this debate is about. This is about an individual (Noah Webster) unilaterally deciding for everybody that the letter Z would be pronounced Zee, and not Zed, because he was an American revolutionary. He wanted nothing more than to “cleanse” America of ostentation, he viewed himself as a “champion of freedom”. To quote a different website , “Webster dedicated his Dictionary to providing an intellectual foundation for American nationalism”. So, we know that Noah Webster was an American patriot-revolutionary who hated the Brits and everything they stood for with a passion. What better way to get back at them then to take THEIR languge, still call it English, but subtly change it so that the way they spoke differentiated them from the Brits. This was not natural, it was not accidental. It was deliberate, and it was done out of hatred, and spite. Again, I think you are the one who needs to read more history.

        • Nationalism isn’t hate or spite. Its about telling the UK to F OFF. Ben is still trying to enforce Brit will here. FYI your English is not YOURS. Its Anglo Saxon. Where are the Anglo Saxons from? How did they come to power? The native language of the British isles is not English. I would think the Brits know all about hate and spite.

          • Noah Webster was a nationalist, however he was much more a revolutionary. The changes that he specifically wanted to make were NOT the aspirations common to the whole nation. Webster wanted to radically change the status-quo. He wanted a marked change in society to one that was completely different from that of the Brits. It really doesn’t matter what the native language of the British Isles was. It doesn’t matter they are from, or how they came to power, this is natural development. Do you even know what the term “Anglo Saxon” means? Grab a dictionary, hopefully the Oxford one, and you will see the following definition: “A person whose native language is English” and also “A person of English descent”, which I am, so I can firmly tell you that yes, my English is DEFINITELY mine. Also, Yes, nationalism can definitely be hate, and spite, 100% so when it comes to being a chauvinist.

          • Oh, and also the true Anglo Saxons, the inhabitants of the British Isles before the Normans took over in 1066, led by William the Conqueror, spoke English. Not modern English, again, natural progression took place. Something that did not happen with the pronunciation zee.

        • What a perfect example of a stupid yank you are… Inbred! Have you counted your toes lately, or are they webbed? If your unsure ask your mother or sister(same person obviously).

    • I’ll agree that a lot of Americanisms don’t sound right, but it’s really a bit offensive to say the ‘United States was a vacant country’ before white settlers arrived. There were millions of people there that spoke different languages before they were colonised.

  9. That’s because you are using a bastardized version of the dictionary written by Noah Webster. The Americanized version of the Oxford dictionary only lists one pronunciation, which is Zi (Zee). The ENGLISH version of it, however, also lists one pronunciation, zɛd (zed). Since American English is not a language, but a dialect of the language English, zee is an incorrect pronunciation.

  10. What’s the point of fighting about this? Tiresome.
    In the USA they chose to use the obscure “zee” instead of the then-dominant “zed”, as they had every right to do. It was just to be different.
    That’s life – people often use language to mark that they are different from other people.

  11. LOL at all of these butthurt Brits and Canadians just because we know how to correctly pronounce zee. Inferiority complex, much?

    • What is a “butthurt”?
      What kind of sentence is “Inferiority complex, much?”?
      May I suggest that before you contribute to a discussion about the ENGLISH language, that you actually take the time to learn it first.

        • I understand both words perfectly, and as each is a synonym for the other the repetition was unnecessary. Sadly, I only understand them with reference to the English language and not gibberish.
          I’ll leave you to search for some more clever words on Wikipedia for your retort, which unfortunately I doubt I’ll be bothered to read.

  12. The US has people from everywhere around the world, so when “we” do something a certain way and “you” hate on it, then you’re kinda hating on yourself, because we have your kind in our country making it what it is. Wtf is “zed” anyway? G.. G.. Go f f fruck yourself..

  13. I propose that Americans change the pronunciation of “Z” to “zed”, and everyone changes the pronunciations of “B” to “bed”, “C” to “sed”, “D” to “ded”, “E” to “ed”, “G” to “jed”, “P” to “ped”, “T” to “ted”, and “V” to “ved”. This way, “Z” will have the correct pronunciation AND the letters will rhyme!

  14. The argument put forth that zed is somehow better than zee in that it is more reminiscent of the Greek zeta is fairly stupid. It may explain an origin but hardly provides much weight to the argument for keeping it. Why did we universally drop the extra sounds for all of the other letters. If zeta yielded today’s zed, why did beta not grace us with bed? Because it’s stupid and so is Zed. Furthermore, the Greeks for their part did not invent these letters either. They borrowed them from the Near East. Alpha, Beta, Gamma come from the Phonecian/Hebrew/Canaanite (all essentially the same language) Aleph, Bet, Gimmel meaning Ox, House, Camel respectively. The equivalent of Zee/Zed is pronounced Zayin so who gives a rats ass about the Greek pronunciation of someone elses’s alphabet? Why no add d to all ee sounding letter names? A Bed Ced Ded Ed F Ged H I J K L M N O Ped Q R S Ted U Ved W X Y Zed. Now it’s all uniform and perfectly ridiculous.

  15. But, when you sing the letters of the alphabet, or at least the tune of ABC, by saying Zed at the end instead of Zee completely ruins it. Though I would be interested which country came up with the tune…I suppose it is more than likely to be America.

  16. for some raisin i am here ,i like how it says. “Neither is right or wrong” and then spends the rest of the time telling us why zed is right.

  17. Canadians usually say zed. Americans often think it’s funny. Some weird Canadian thing, not realizing that zed is the older British pronunciation that’s been around before the USA was a country.

    Still, American spellings, slang and usage are becoming more common in Canada. That’s to be expected. The USA has nearly ten times the population, most Canadians live within a short drive of the border, and a large portion of our TV programs and movies comes from Hollywood.

    That’s neither good nor bad. Languages evolve. They always have.

  18. i’m in Australia and we say zed, but in the alphabet song we learned as kids it says zee for rhyming purposes, but this never bothered me until i was older

  19. Actually Canadians say “zed”. Occasionally people will say “zee” because we have a lot of American influence but if you say “zee” in a classroom environment you are more likely than not to be corrected.


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