Z-ZH Wordplay

I’m wondering if this ad would be as likely to be used in northern China:


The text of the ad is:

> 招租找主

The pinyin for the ad is:

> Zhāozū! Zhǎo zhǔ!

If you ignore both tones and the z/zh distinction (which a lot of southerners–especially elder southerners–do frequently), you get this:

> Zao zu! Zao zu!

The meaning of the ad is something like, “For rent! Seeking the right person!” (“,” often meaning “host” or “owner” is a bit tricky to translate, because normally someone in a position to rent is not a “主,” but in this case that’s who it refers to: the appropriate party to do the renting.)


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. K書窩 Says: July 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Not all 北方人 are 北京人. People from many parts of Northern China, both parts of 东北 and parts of 西北, don’t make a noticeable distinction – sometimes at the same time still using 儿化

  2. I don’t understand why this is a z-zh wordplay. Does the meaning change when the zh sound is replaced by a z? What would “zao zu” mean other than “for rent, seeking tenant”?

    • I was wondering the same thing. It only seems like wordplay' to me insofar as many southerners would pronounce 招租 and 找主 the same way (bar the tones). I suppose this might make the advert sound better to them than to a northerner, but does it make a huge difference compared tozhao zu! zhao zhu!’? Maybe it would take a native speaker to answer that for sure.

  3. Mat Bettinson Says: July 12, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    It’s interesting what you say about elderly southerners pronouncing zh as z. I had a tutor from Kunming, a middle aged lady, and she habitually pronounced zh as normal but voiced it. Superficially that can sound like z.

    Since then I heard it from a bunch of other 少数民族 type folk to the point that I think it’s fairly common. I looked it up and it seems the voicing or non-voicing of zh is quite common.

    It really threw me at first.

  4. Heilong79 Says: July 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm

    I think this is so common in all parts of China that it should be considered normal, even in Shen Yang in the North East they will say zhuo instead of zuo and zao instead of Zhao, mixing up both z and zh, I quickly got used to it until I heard Fujian people leaving out even more with mix ups on shi and si.

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