Makes, girls, classes.
All of these words have an S ending, but the S ending is pronounced differently in each word! UGH - the English S ending is…frustrating! With all these different pronunciations, how are you supposed to know which pronunciation to use?
Have no fear! This video will make it easy.
The American English S ending
The letter S is a very important letter in English, and it’s super common in English words. In fact, it’s the eighth most frequently occurring letter in American English words. And when the letter S comes at the end of a word, it can perform five different and important jobs.
First, it can show the third person present tense of verbs, as in, “I walk to the store. You walk to the store. She walks to the store.”
Second, it can show the plural of nouns, as in, “I have three cats.”
Third, it can show the possessive form, as in, “This is Katie’s house.”
Fourth, it can function as the contraction of the verb is, like in, “That’s a great idea.”
And fifth, it can function as the contraction of the verb has, like in, “The sun’s gone down.”
Five very important jobs, but in today’s lesson, we’re going to discuss just the first three jobs, which is when the letter S functions as the ending of a word, not a contraction. That includes:
- Third person present tense S
- Plural S
- And possessive S endings.
Let’s take a closer look at the three words I said at the beginning of this video:
First, we have makes. Here’s the IPA for that word: Makes /meɪks/. You’ll see that the S ending is pronounced like an S.
Then we have girls. Here’s the IPA for that word: Girls /ɡɝlz/. Hmm, here the S ending is pronounced like a Z.
And lastly, we have classes. Here’s the IPA for that word: Classes /klæsɪz/. Here, the S ending is its own syllable, IZ.
With all these different pronunciations, how are you supposed to know when to pronounce the -s ending like an /s/, /z/, or a new syllable /ɪz/?
Luckily, there is a rule! The trick is to look at the final sound of the word in its infinitive form. The infinitive is the basic form of a word, when it doesn’t have any special ending - no ed ending, or ing ending, or plural ending. So you look at the ending sound of a word in its infinitive form - that will tell you what type of S ending to pronounce.
Pronunciation rules of the American English S ending
Let’s jump to the first rule. When a word ends in any voiceless sound other than S /s/, SH /ʃ/, or CH /ʧ/, then you pronounce the -s ending like S /s/.
Why does this happen? It happens because of assimilation of voicing. Remember that assimilation is when two sounds that are next to each other in a word become more alike. In rule number one, you have a voiceless final sound that links up with a voiceless S /s/.
Here’s an example. The word ship is in the infinitive form, and it ends in a voiceless P consonant. So when you add an S to make it plural, the S ending is pronounced like /s/. Ships.
Here’s the second rule. When a word ends in any voiced sound other than Z /z/, ZH /ʒ/, or J /ʤ/, then you pronounce the -s ending like Z /z/.
Why does this happen? It happens again because of assimilation of voicing. In rule number two, you have a voiced final sound that links up with a voiced Z /z/.
It’s important to note that this rule also includes all words that end in a vowel sound, since all vowels are voiced.
Here’s an example. The word shoe is in its infinitive form, and it ends in a voiced OO vowel. So when you add an S to make it plural, the S ending is pronounced like /z/. Shoes.
Here’s the third rule, and this rule is probably the most complicated one to remember. When a word ends in any of the six following sounds: S /s/, Z /z/, SH /ʃ/, ZH /ʒ/, CH /ʧ/, and J /ʤ/, then when you add the S ending, you add the letters “es” to the spelling and you pronounce it as its own syllable /ɪz/.
Why does this happen? Let’s take a closer look at these six sounds. What do you notice about them?
If you look at the IPA chart, you’ll see that they are voiced/voiceless consonant pairs. The S and Z consonants share the same place of articulation and the same air release. The only thing different about them is the voicing: S is voiceless, and Z is voiced. That’s the same for the SH and ZH consonants, and the CH and J consonants.
And now try to pronounce the word push as a plural, but don’t add the extra syllable. Just add a voiceless S sound to the ending.
That’s hard to do! So adding the extra syllable, iz, makes it easier to pronounce the plural form.
Here’s an example. The word class is in its infinitive form, and it ends in the S consonant. So when you add the S ending to make it plural, you’ll add the letters “es” and pronounce it as its own syllable, iz. Classes.
What to know about the American English S ending
Before we move on to the practice, I need to tell you a few important things to know about the S ending rules:
First, there are no exceptions to these rules! Every word in American English will follow one of these three rules when you add an S ending.
Second, you always pronounce the S ending, even if you see an opportunity to use the Rule of Three. If you’re not sure what the Rule of Three is, I published a video about the Rule of Three and you can watch it here or in the description below.
Here’s an example: The word shifts is the plural of the word shift. Shift, the singular, changes to shifts when it’s a plural. Shift. Shifts.
When it’s the singular, you pronounce the T at the end. But when it’s a plural, you drop the T from the pronunciation and pronounce the F and then the S ending. Shift. Shifts. But you would never say “shift” for the plural; you would never drop the S ending, because then it sounds like the singular form, and that would count as a grammar error.
And third, if you are having difficulty with the S ending rules, the most important rule to follow is the third rule, which is when you add the syllable iz to the pronunciation. If you forget to add the syllable, then native speakers will notice this very quickly.
OK, so if you need to review any of these rules before moving on to the practice section, then feel free to go back and rewatch this video. But if you’re ready to practice with me, let’s continue!
American English S ending practice
First, let’s build your awareness of the S ending. I’m going to show you five words in their infinitive form. I want you to decide if you add an extra syllable when you add the S ending.
Now let’s practice pronouncing the S ending in various words. I’m going to say five words, both in their infinitive form and with the S ending. I want you to repeat after me in the pauses.
American English linking with S
Now for the last round of practice, we’ll practice linking with the S ending, which is probably the most important thing to practice. I’m going to say three sentences, and I want you to repeat after me in the pauses. Don’t pay too much attention to the spelling of the words. Instead, focus on what you hear and imitate what you hear.
He encourages me to do my best.
The dishes need to be washed.
He always notices my mistakes.
Thanks so much for practicing the S ending with me! I hope you found the video useful! And if you want to practice your pronunciation with me in real time, please join my next live English class at Julie’s Conversation Club. I’d love to work with you! The link is in the description below.
Thanks and have a great day!
And I'd love to hear from you - contact me to learn how we can work together to perfect your American English pronunciation!