Pronunciation of ‘s’ endings
What’s the correct pronunciation of ‘s’ endings on the 3rd person form of present tense verbs and plural nouns? This is another very important aspect of pronunciation.
Many of the questions in Part One of the Aptis Speaking Test are about hobbies and routines, so you’ll often be speaking in the present tense. You also need to describe pictures and situations, and plural nouns also end in ‘s’, as do possessives (eg John’s car). So it’s worth spending some time practising how to pronounce these endings.
We’re based in Andalusia, where many ‘s’ endings simply aren’t pronounced. But that won’t do for English! So we’re going to practise the different ways to pronounce them here. As we’ve explained before, we use phonemes* to represent sounds. We write them between these diagonal lines called /slashes/.
So how do you know what the pronunciation of ‘s’ endings is? Is it /s/, /z/ or /ɪz/?
Fortunately, as with ‘ed’ endings, there are rules to help with this! Read the explanation in the table below and study the examples. Say the words out loud, don’t just read silently. Try to really hear and enunciate the different endings. Put your fingers lightly on your throat, and try to feel a vibration with some sounds.
* To find out more about phonemes, sound and pronunciation, go to the fantastic OUP phonemic chart.
PRONUNCIATION OF ‘s’ ENDINGS
There are three ways to pronounce the ‘s’ endings on the 3rd person form of present tense verbs and plural nouns:
/s/, /z/ and /ɪz/
The pronunciation depends on the final sound – not letter – of the word. For example, place ends in an ‘e’, but the final sound is ‘s’: /pleɪs/.
Put your fingers lightly on your throat, and first read and say the /s/ column of words: walk, test, crisp, etc. Listen to the end sound. In the column /s/, there’s no vibration at the end of the words. These are unvoiced (or voiceless) sounds.
Do the same for each column.
The verb play ends in the long vowel sound /eɪ/. When you say /eɪ/, you feel a vibration. In fact, all vowel sounds are voiced; they vibrate when you say them. In the column /z/, there is a vibration at the end of all the words. These are voiced sounds.
Earlier we showed you that place ends in an ‘e’, but the final sound is ‘s’: /pleɪs/. The plural of place is pronounced /pleɪsɪz/ (places). We only say /ɪz/ after words that end in certain sounds, represented by these phonemes:
/s/ as in bus or kiss
/ʃ/ as in wash or fish
/ʧ/ as in watch or church
/ʤ/ as in change or bridge
/ks/ as in box or fix
/z/ as in buzz or quiz
These are sibilant sounds.
Now listen to the recordings and repeat the ‘s’ endings after the speaker.
(s, sh, ch, z etc)
walk – walks /s/
test – tests /s/
crisp – crisps /s/
boot – boots /s/
surf – surfs /s/
laugh /la:f/ – laughs /s/
month – months /s/
write – writes /s/
king – kings /z/
dream – dreams /z/
go – goes /z/
day – days /z/
arrive – arrives /z/
teacher – teachers /z/
listen – listens /z/
end – ends /z/
wash – washes /ɪz/
watch – watches /ɪz/
kiss – kisses /ɪz/
change – changes /ɪz/
box – boxes /ɪz/
quiz – quizzes /ɪz/
face – faces /ɪz/
finish – finishes /ɪz/
Now do this exercise on the pronunciation of ‘s’ endings
Based on the examples above, try to decide what endings these words have. Is it /s/, /z/ or /ɪz/? (Answers at the bottom of the page.)
push, belong, seem, freeze, book, read, repeat, fix, rain, jump, garage, bag, dance, call, prize, cap, see, age, love, cliff, drink, rob, cough /kɒf/, boss, visit, amaze, look, sandwich, snow
Don’t forget to put your fingers lightly on your throat, and try to feel when there’s a vibration. And remember that if the sound is sibilant, like the noise made by a snake or a bee, you need to add /ɪz/.
like a snake
like a bee
sounds like ‘is’
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You can find all our practice tests in the Guide to the Posts.
Remember to practise the pronunciation of ‘ed’ endings too.
And for more pronunciation practice, we recommend the excellent ‘English in Use’ series:
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Answers to the pronunciation of ‘s’ endings practice: