back to course outline
S: Spelling and Pronunciation
In order to work out whether the sound is S or Z, you have first to ask:
Remember, by "inflection" we mean any of the following:
- Is it an inflection or not?
loves( 3rd. person singular present of the verb:'She loves Selfoss' )
If it's an inflection, go to INFLECTIONAL -S
the girls' (plural possessive)
's = is (Mary's leaving)
's = has (Mary's gone)
If not, go to LEXICAL -S
First, FIND THE SOUND IMMEDIATELY PRECEDING THE INFLECTION.
As we can see, there are 3 possible endings:
- loves // - the preceding sound is the lenis fricative .
- wants // - the preceding sound is the fortis plosive
- sees / / - the preceding sound is the vowel
- voices // - here the ending is -. (This means that some speakers have -, and others have -). - The sound immediately preceding the ending is .
- - after SIBILANTS
or s-sounds (voices, watches, dishes, barges, the Jones's, Magnus's, buses)
- - after FORTIS CONSONANTS (other than sibilants) - i.e. after , , , (tops, Dick's, rats, laughs, paths)
- - after EVERYTHING ELSE (all other consonants and all vowels) - (robs, hugs, spades, trees, leaves, bathes, Joe's, Ann's, things, ends, he's, she's, cars, spiders...)
We can show this diagramatically:
You can also find this information in Wells's () Longmans Pronunciation Dictionary under "-s, -es", p.666 (p.615 in older editions)
Back to top
When s is not inflectional, when it is part of the word, and so "lexical", it's not always so easy to work out the pronunciation. - We'll also consider the other sibilant SPELLING FORMS under this section - z, c, ss, ti and so on.
There are a few rules which will help us, but much of the time you'll need to consult a dictionary. Most of these rules seem to work fairly well:
But these rules only cover a small number of -s- words. Most of the time, when s occurs in the middle of words, there ae either no rules or they are so complicated that it may simply be better to learn the word. Look it up in a dictionary!
Here is the handout on S-spelling for the 6th week; answers will go up after the 6th week.
- 's' at the beginning of words is pronounced /s/ (unvoiced) - see, stop, Sue.
- 's' at the end of words, when it is not inflectional, is usually /s/ (unvoiced) - crisis, curious, Magnus, us (but 'as' has /z/). In 'has' and 'does' the -s is inflectional, and voiced - , .
- 'z' is always voiced /z/ - zoo, zink, prize, crazy, buzz, quiz. But 'tz' is /ts/ - waltz //, Ritz //
- 'c' before 'e', 'i', 'y' is always /s/: price, voice, cellar, cylinder, recite.
- 'ss' is usually /s/ (unvoiced) - kiss, kissing, fusser, lesson, massive -- but not always! For instance, 'dessert' (= sweet course at the end of a meal) is pronounces like the verb 'to desert', both with z and the accent on the second syllable - // (but the noun 'desert' has the accent on the first syllable: //.) - Other exceptions are 'possess' //, 'scissors' //, 'dissolve' // (like resolve' //) - but compare 'dissolution'//.
- 'ss' is pronounced // (unvoiced) inwords like pressure', //.
- 'ssi' and 'ti' are pronounced // (unvoiced) in words like 'mission' //, 'nation // - note the 'i' is silent.
- 'si' and 'su' are pronounced // (voiced) in words like 'vision' //, 'pleasure' //.
See also 'S - Spelling-to-sound' in LPD.
Back to top
back to course outline
back to Phonetics
back to Pétur Knútsson's home page
If you have any questions mail me at email@example.com.