The English sounds spelled "ch" and "j" (transcribed and in IPA), German and Italian z and Italian z/ƶ are typical affricates. These sounds are fairly common in the world's languages, as are other affricates with similar sounds, such as those in Polish and Chinese. However, other than , voiced affricates are relatively uncommon. For several places of articulation they aren't attested at all.
Much less common are e.g. labiodental affricates, such as in German, or velar affricates, such as in Tswana (written kg) or High Alemannic Swiss German dialects. Worldwide, only a few languages have affricates in these positions, even though the corresponding stop consonants are virtually universal. Also less common are alveolar affricates where the fricative is lateral, such as the sound found in Nahuatl and Totonac. Many Athabaskan languages (such as Dene Suline and Navajo) have series of coronal affricates which may be unaspirated, aspirated, or ejective in addition to being interdental/dental, alveolar, postalveolar, or lateral, i.e. , , , , , , , , , , , and .
Affricates are often represented by the two sounds they consist of (e.g. , ). However, single signs for the affricates may be desirable, in order to stress that they function as unitary speech segments (i.e. as phonemes). In this case, the IPA recommends joining the two elements of the affricate by a tie bar (e.g. , ). Ligatures are available in Unicode for the six common affricates , , , , , and .
Another method is to indicate the release of the affricate with a superscript: , . This is derived from the IPA convention of indicating other releases with a superscript.
In other phonetic transcription systems, such as the Americanist system, the affricates , , , , , and are represented as or ; , , or (older) ; or ; , , or (older) ; ; and or respectively. Within the IPA, and are sometimes transcribed as palatal stops, and .
Affricates can contrast phonemically with stop-fricative sequences. Examples include:
Polish affricate in czysta 'clean (f.)' versus stop–fricative in trzysta 'three hundred', and
Klallam affricate in 'look at me' versus stop–fricative in 'he looks at it'.
The difference is that in the stop-fricative sequence, the stop has a release burst before the fricative starts, but in the affricate, the fricative element is the release. Stop-fricative sequences may also have a syllable boundary between the two segments, but this is not necessary.
In English, and (as in nuts and nods) are considered to be sequences of a stop phoneme and a fricative phoneme even though they are phonetically affricates, because they may have a morpheme boundary in them (e.g. nuts is nut + s). The English affricate phonemes and do not require a morpheme boundary, and are sometimes written with the unitary symbols <> and <>, though this is not considered standard IPA notation. However, English does distinguish affricates from stop–fricative sequences:
The acoustic difference between affricates and stop+fricative sequences is rate of amplitude increase of the frication noise, which is known as the rise time. Affricates have a short rise time to the peak frication amplitude while sequences of stop and fricative have relatively longer rise time (Howell & Rosen 1983, Johnson 2003, Mitani et al. 2006).
In the case of coronals, the symbols are normally used for the stop portion of the affricate regardless of place. For example, is commonly seen for . For legibility, the tie bars have been removed from the table entries.
The exemplar languages are ones that these sounds have been reported from, but in several cases they may need confirmation.
The more common of the voiceless affricates are all attested as ejectives as well: . Several Khoisan languages such as !Xóõ are reported to have voiced ejective affricates, but these may actually be consonant clusters: . Affricates are also commonly aspirated: , occasionally murmured: , and sometimes prenasalized: . Labialized, palatalized, velarized, and pharyngealized affricates also occur. Affricates may also have phonemic length, that is, affected by a chroneme, as in Karelian. While most affricates are homorganic, Navajo and Chiricahua Apache have a heterorganic alveolar-velar affricate (McDonough & Ladefoged 1993, Hoijer & Opler 1938). Other heterorganic affricates are reported for Northern Sotho (Johnson 2003).