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When to pronounce s like z at the end of words

Kevin Naglich
Sales Engineer English Coach

Have you ever said to yourself:

I can read English, but I can't understand native speakers. Or, listening is so hard. People speak so fast!

A big reason why understanding native English speakers is hard is that you aren't pronouncing words correctly. 

That's right; your pronunciation affects your listening.

Words in English don't always sound like they are spelled. This makes you think a word sounds one way, so you don't recognize it when a native speaker says it.

Today, we're going to fix an easy pronunciation mistake that will help you both sound more natural and understand native speakers more easily.

Words that end in s are often pronounced like a z

This is extremely common in English, and there are two places where you need to pronounce an s like a z.

1 - An s at the end of a word is pronounced like a z if the sound before it is voiced

Voiced means that your throat vibrates when you say it.

An unvoiced sound is like the p at the end of ship. It comes completely from your mouth, not your throat. So if we make ship plural, then the s is actually pronounced like an s.

voiced sound comes from your throat. If you put your hand on your throat when you say the /d/ at the end of card, you can feel your throat vibrate. This means if we make card plural, that s is pronounced like a z.

Some additional examples:

  • The word shark ends with an unvoiced k, so the s is pronounced like an s when it's plural.
  • The word bar ends with a voiced r, so we say "barz" like it's a z at the end when it's plural.

What's the second place we need to pronounce an s like a z? Well, how do you make the word box plural?

We say "boxes" by adding an extra syllable. 

2 - When we add an extra syllable to make a word plural, we pronounce the s like a z 

You now know everything you need to improve your pronunciation and listening regarding this topic. It's time to do a quick round of practice.

Check out the second half of the video above to do some interactive practice and hear the difference between these sounds.

In the future, remember: chips, cars, and lunches. Ss after unvoiced sounds are an sSs after voiced sounds are a z, and Ss at the end of extra syllables added to make a word plural are also a z.

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