Pronouncing -s/-es endings

Hi all! We just recently went through the following posts:

Consonant Sounds: Overview, Consonant Sounds: Introductory Lesson, and Pronunciation: Voicing & -ed endings all of which lead up very nicely to this blog post.  

So, if you have not already read the previous ones, you might want to do so. 

Why should we focus on the pronunciation of -s endings?

Like -ed endings, the suffix ending of -s/-es is EXTREMELY common in the English language.  For example, the -s/-es ending is used to mark plural endings (pencils, words etc.) and the third person conjugation of simple present verbs (e.g. he walks, she studies etc.). Also like -ed endings, the -s/-es ending is not automatically clear in terms of pronunciation because the ‘s’ letter symbol is used for grammatical rather than for pronunciation purposes: The -s/-es ending can be pronounced as either a /s/, /z/, or /əz/ sound although always represented by the same ‘s’  or ‘es’ letter(s).

The Rule

The pronunciation depends on two factors: voicing and the place of articulation. First, the general rule is that the -s ending will be pronounced as a /z/ if the sound preceding it is voiced. If the sound that precedes it is unvoiced then it will be pronounced as /s/.

Here are the charts demonstrating what sounds are voiced (+) and unvoiced (-).  See the blog Consonants: Overview for additional information.

p b t d ʧ ʤ k g
f v θ ð s z ʃ ʒ
m n ŋ h l r w y
+ + + +
+ + + +
+ + + + + + +

Exception

Now the exception to the general rule is that if the sound preceding the -s ending is either /s/ or /z/, then the -s ending will need to have a vowel sound added to facilitate pronunciation because it would be nearly impossible to distinguish the separate pronunciation of two /s/ sounds or two /z/ sounds one after another without one e.g. he likess (go ahead give it a try. It’s pretty tough, promise!).  

The exception is also extended not only to fricative alveolar sounds (/s/ & /z/) but also to fricative and affricative palatal sounds /ʃ, ʒ, ʧ & ʤ/ (as in shut, vision, chat, and judge).  If you taught your students the Consonant Sound: Introductory Lesson, then they should be well aware of what those symbols represent and how they are pronounced. Due to how and where these sounds are pronounced, to pronounce an /s/ sound directly after any of the  /ʃ, ʒ, ʧ & ʤ/ sounds would be very awkward, so a vowel needs to be added to facilitate pronunciation (which is the schwa sound /ə/). Because all vowel sounds are voiced (+), the unvoiced /s/ sound turns into a voiced /z/ one resulting in /əz/.  

For example:

Church –> Churches (/ʧəz/),

Wish –> Wishes (/ʃəz/).

They watch –> He watches (/ʧəz/)

You judge –> He judges (/ʤəz/)

etc. 

Note: 

Spelling conventions follow pronunciation to an extent regarding this rule e.g. that’s why the singular form of ‘bus’ is spelled as ‘buses’ because the ‘schwa’ vowel sound of /ə/ is added. HOWEVER, note that not every time a word ends spelled in ‘es’ will the pronunciation be /əz/ – it’s when you add ‘es’ to the word that it will be pronounced as /əz/ e.g. in the word ‘investigate’ when conjugated as ‘investigates’ you only add an -s so the resulting sound is /s/ rather than /əz/.

Though, do note that there are exceptions, adding an -es to the end of a word is not ALWAYS pronounced as /əz/ (e.g. in the word ‘go’ when conjugated as ‘goes’ the ‘es’ spelling is pronounced as a /z/ sound). That’s why it’s important to stress if the sound preceding the -s/-es ending is either a /s, z, ʃ, ʒ, ʧ, ʤ/ that’s when the -es suffix is pronounced as /əz/

Summary of the Rule

(+) -s = /z/

(-) -s = /s/

Exceptions: 

/s, z, ʃ, ʒ, ʧ, ʤ/ -es = /əz/

Note: In the above formulas, the ‘_’ represents the preceding sound to the -s/-es ending, and the (+) represents a voiced sound while the (-) represents an unvoiced sound.

In Practice

Now you can start to give your students different words that end with either an -ed or an -s ending and have them decide what the corresponding sound pronunciation is. The vocabulary you choose could be adjusted from the unit or topic that you are currently using with your students.

Directions: Write the sound that corresponds with the underlined endings (the first two have been done for you):

Word Sound Word Sound
Concluded  /ɪd/ Concludes  /z/
Investigated   Investigates  
Encouraged   Encourages  
Behaved   Behaves  

4 Comments

  1. Alojamiento web

    This topic was pretty advanced. So if you don’t understand, don’t worry. If you do, think of lightening ending voiced consonants and see if that helps make the pronunciation of those words easier.

    Reply
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    Hi , I do consider this is a great blog. I stumbled upon it on Yahoo , I shall come back once again.

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  3. Luis Antonio Avila

    Why in the word “us” the ending sound is “S” when in fact according to the rule
    it should be “z”???

    Reply
    1. LearnTeachTravel (Post author)

      Hey Luis. Well, this rule only applies when you add an -s or -es to an end of a word for grammatical purposes (to form the plural or to conjugate third person simple present tense verbs e.g. He walks, he tells.., The bee buzzes etc.).

      Make sense? And thanks for reading!

      Reply

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