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American English: The Different Sounds of the Letter "s" at the End of a Word
The voiced and unvoiced “s” sounds at the end of a word.
We will look at two special cases where the letter “s” appears at the end of a word:
1. at the end of a verb,
2. at the end of a noun.
In these two cases the pronunciation of “s”, whether it is voiced or voiceless depends on the surrounding consonants.
1. The letter “s” at the end of a verb:
There is always an “s” at the end of a verb in the third person present tense of the English verb.
Wait a minute! Don’t throw the book out the window!
We will explain the grammar in a “user friendly” way…
You know that the present tense of the verb describes what is happening right now. I eat; Walks etc. These forms of the verb communicate something very different from the saying forms i ate the He walked.
The verb also tells us something about the persons involved in the subject the sentence informs about. The table below shows the persons of the verb.
The persons of the verb
First Person Singular
I eat fish.
You (a person) eat fish.
He eats fish.
He eats fish.
The cat eats fish.
First person plural
We eat fish.
You (many people) eat fish.
They eat fish.
The person speaking is first person (I do.). The person addressed is the second person (you do.).
And what we are interested in is the first person, the person about whom the sentence gives some information. In other words, the third person is the person we are talking about. For example, John is writing a book. We are talking about John. The verb is is in the third person form.
That’s all! No more grammar!
We have revised the grammar of the verb person to get to the point where we can say that in English, there is always the letter “s” at the end of the third person singular present tense of the English verb.
Many immigrants learn English from their neighbors who say “My son does it” or “My father says it”. Unfortunately, not all native English speakers speak English correctly. The correct form of these sentences needs the letter “s” at the end of the verb. My son does. and my father says so. The third person singular of the present tense of English verbs always ends with the letter ‘s’.
But that’s grammar. What we want to focus on is pronunciation. Remember this! Sometimes the letter “s” in one word has a different sound than the letter “s” in another word. Sometimes the sound is heard and sometimes the sound is silent. The influence on the pronunciation of “s” is that of the surrounding consonants.
Let’s first look at some examples and then see if there is a “rule” you can learn to know how to pronounce the “s” in these cases.
In our book you can listen to the recordings so that you can understand that the third person singular of the present tense of the English verb always ends in some kind of sibilant or hum.
You should be able to notice how there is a different sound to the final “s” of the verbs says, walks, does, talks. It can be pronounced in two ways. Should you hear the difference?
In the plural of the verb, there is no ending. The same base or root form of the verb is used in all persons. We walk, they walk. we find, they find, etc., p.
The difference in the ending of verbs in the third person singular is that the final sound ofwalks and wants is voiceless or voiceless and its final sound uses, teaches, makes, finds, and says is expressed.
Practice listening and producing the phonetic consonant with the words does, says, goes, bends, loses. Also listen to the ecclesiasticals of the people of the positions of the speechless sounds (such as the air coming out of a tire) and the jacuzzi.
The letter “s” in the word does and in the word says pronounced like the letter “z” of the English alphabet. It is a vocal sound.
Think of the animal we see at the zoo that looks like a horse in its pajamas. The same striped animal is called a zebra in English (with a vowel “z”) and in other languages it is called a zebra (with a voiceless “c”). This example will help you realize that you should focus on pronunciation without depending on spelling. The two letters “z” and “c” in the above sentences are formed in the same part of the mouth. As sounds, they differ only in that one is voiced and the other voiceless. As spellings, they differ for many historical reasons.
Another example is the word Zoo . Compare this word with the woman’s name, bespeak. “z” is voiced and “s” is not voiced. Again, spelling is an entirely different matter. Here we are concerned about pronunciation.
2. The “s” at the end of a noun:
We just saw how the “s” at the end of a verb changes. The same happens when the “s” sound forms the plural of nouns (names of persons, places and things).
There is a different sound than “s” in the following plural words: cats, blouses, locks and the words: do, boys, cars, bells, etc.
Okay, so we’ve just looked at the 2 cases where the letter “s” appears at the end of a word: at the end of a verb and at the end of a noun. Now we learn more about the pronunciation of the letter “s” in these two cases.
A three-part “rule”:
You’re probably asking, “How do I know when to pronounce the letter ‘s’ one way or the other?”
You’re lucky! Nature itself helps you. The difference between the sounds is not the result of the whim of some English ancestor. it is the result of how the human mouth works. There are “rules” that describe the relationship between voiced and voiceless consonants in most cases.
Some consonant combinations require the “s” sounds of the word bucketsand the voiceless sound of the word bats.
Something similar happens in other languages even with different consonants. El Castellano demands that the sound presented by the “v” of invite be different from the “v” of ave. ¿Te das cuenta de la diferencia?
If you still can’t feel the difference between voiced “s” and unvoiced “s”, maybe this “rule” will help you. However, you should listen to English spoken by a native speaker as much as you can. You have to repeat what you hear and you have to exaggerate the difference between the two sounds until it is easy for you to catch the difference and imitate it.
As you can see, we always use the word “rule” in quotation marks because it is not set in stone. However, it still has great value. 9 times out of 10 it helps you master some parts of the English language, you’re not going to complain about the times it fails!
Here is the simple “rule” that covers the pronunciation of “s”. It tells us why the “s” is voiceless in the word Pieces and why it is expressed in the word buckets. Generally the “s” of the plural noun is voiceless when the singular noun ends in one of the other voiceless consonants, and the final “s” is voiced when a voiced consonant follows. The same is true for the first person singular of the verb.
Generally “σ” is voiceless when the base form of the verb ends in a voiceless consonant and is voiced when a voiceless consonant follows. Let’s see what we just said in more detail. The “rule” has three parts: 1. the voiceless “s”, 2. the voiced “s”, and 3. the added syllable.
1. The voiceless “s”:
For example, the letter “s” in the plural noun and third person singular of some verbs is pronounced like the voiceless “s” in Sam, sandwich, fool, soup, talks, hits etc. when the noun or verb ends in a voiceless consonant sound.
The following voiceless consonant sounds are usually represented by the letters: p as in the word optimalt as in the word toddlersand as in the word socksf as in the word cuffsas in the words lengths and baths (la “zeta castellana” – como en la palabra taza y caza). The voiceless sound of the letters “th” has the IPA symbol (.
Listen to some words with the voiceless S sound
This “rule” is not difficult. We write it here for you to understand the language better. When you speak, you should follow the “rule”. Your mouth won’t let you put a voiced sound after a voiceless consonant sound. …
2. The voiced “s”:
The letter “s” in the plural of a noun and the third singular of some verbs is voiced (sounds like the “z” of zoo) when the noun ends in one of the phonetic sounds usually represented by letters: b as in the word robes, d as in beds, g as in log, l as in walls, n as in pans, ( as in ring, r as in cars, v as in stoves, m as in farms, th as in word lathes. The phonetic sound of the letters “th” has the IPA symbol ð ). (algo como la d castellana de “helado”)
“s” is also pronounced when it follows a vowel sound as in the following cases: mamas, vaginas, teas, logos, boo.
Also, “strange” English vowels are followed by an “s” sound as in the words: furs, papers, paws.
And the plural of nouns ending in a diphthong sound (a sound consisting of two vowels) also ends in a vowel sound “s”, for example in the words: ploughs, days, boys .
Just like the silent “s” “rule”, this one is not difficult. When you speak, your mouth won’t let you put a voiceless sound after a voiced consonant or vowel.
We’re talking about the consonant and vowel sounds in these “rules,” not the letters that sometimes represent them. This is because English spelling does not always help us with pronunciation.
What helps is the IPA. This is when we begin to introduce the symbols of the IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet. We started with the symbols (, (, and ð. They will help you get a clear idea of the pronunciation of a word you are looking for in a good dictionary that uses these signs.
Why do we say spelling doesn’t help? The two words think and both begin with the letters “th”. But the beginning sound is different in the two words. If we use the IPA symbols there is no problem. The word this begins with the symbol for the pronounced sound ð . And the word think begins with the symbol for the voiceless sound.
Sure, it’s always better to hear a native speaker, but sometimes you don’t have one. For example, when you look up a word in the dictionary, you will know how to pronounce it if the dictionary has the IPA symbols.
3. The added syllable:
When the word, whether it is a noun or a verb, ends in an “s” sound or any “sibiilant” or “buzzing” sound, an extra syllable (the letters “es”) is added to the verb. The extra syllable has the “short th” sound you saw above in the vowel section. This is the sound of the words bit, fix, his, miss, etc.
For example the singular nouns: face, kiss, ashes, lunch, rose, judge, add “es” to the plural and they appear as faces, kisses, ashes, meals, roses, judges.
Be alert when listening to radio, television and native speakers. Listen to all the words given above and other similar words until you pick them out and say them yourself.
See the “rule”
The first part of the “rule”: the voiceless “s”
The second part of the “rule”: the “s” vowels
The third part of the “rule”: the added syllable
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