The /s/ and /z/ sounds that will change your world in English

Correcting the pronunciation of your /s/ and /z/ sounds in English

The other day I was working with a student and we both noticed she was having trouble pronouncing the /s/ and /z/ sounds at the end of words. She was struggling to get her mouth to physically add the sounds at the end.

She understood well that you need to add the plural sound to the end of a noun if you are talking about more than one thing, or to the end of  a present simple verb. The trouble was she kept leaving it off because it was not how her mouth was used to moving.

There were three main reasons for her difficulty:

 her original language didn’t make plurals or simple present tense by adding a sound at the end

 she was confused about when to use /s/ or /z/ to make the plural sound at the end of words

– in her original language she wasn’t used to saying 2 consonants together quickly, or the particular types of consonants together that are needed

How to change your /s/ and /z/ sounds world

The first reason means you need to be consciously aware of remembering to add the extra /s/ or /z/ at the end of words for the plural and for the simple present verb tense.

You actually have to practice remembering to use it when you speak! 

Why should I do this you may ask? Well, it’s another piece of the ‘puzzle’ you are putting into your speech habit to reduce your accent in English and to have people understand you the first time you say something.

The second reason means that you need to know when to use the /s/ or the /z/ at the end  for plurals (and other parts of speech such as ‘likes, walks” etc)

Here is the rule to help you:

When the letter ‘s’ is after an unvoiced or quiet consonant, it is
pronounced as a /s/. e.g., hats, tops, works, laughs, what’s, moths.

When the letter ‘s’ is after a vowel, another ‘s’, or a voiced consonant,
it is pronounced as a /z/ sound.
e.g., logs, tubes, beds, moves, clothes, was, becomes, he’s, passes.

Pronounce the ‘es’ as /əz/after the consonants /s /z/ ‘ch’ ‘sh’ ‘j’ ‘zh’ ( as in
vision)- (in ‘es’ /əz/, the schwa sound /ə/ is said like a very short ‘u’ sound)
e.g., passes, beaches, washes, packages, noses.

The other thing to remember is to pay attention when listening to native English speakers and the audio trainer in my program, and remember how they use it.

The third reason means you have to practice saying the 2 consonants together so you don’t leave the /s/ and /z/ out because your mouth isn’t used to moving this way.

This takes time and practice.

At first you may feel that you are really struggling and it takes a lot of effort, but after a week or 2 of practice you should notice it feeling easier in your mouth.

If I take some  examples from the words above:

Unvoiced consonants with /s/ after it-

hats – you need to practice the /t/ and /s/ consonants together – make a list of words with this combination and practice till it feels smoother and easier.

e.g, cats, lots, bats, rates, experts, apartments, etc

You can do the same with the other ones – ps (tops or the verb, stops), ks (backs), fs ( this one is usually only for the verb – laughs coughs etc), ths (baths)

Voiced consonants with ‘s’ said as /z/ after it-

This combination is sometimes a bit harder for people to pronounce, so keep practicing and it will get easier.

beds- you need to practice the /d/ and /z/ consonants together

e.g. words, cards, fades, foods

You can do the same with the other ones – bs (cubs, tubes), gs ( bags), ls (walls, feels), ms (comes, homes, hams), ns (ones, pains, fans), rs (cars, fares, hers), vs (leaves, loves, knives), ws (cows, knows), ys (keys, toys, pays).

Best wishes,


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Comments 3

  1. Casa,it’s z sound in Portuguese of Brazil,because have it a s, between two vowel,and Maisa,in USA, it’s like:Maissa,(ç).how can I get it the correct phonetic?thank you so much.

  2. You said “ When the letter ‘s’ is after an unvoiced or quiet consonant, it is
    pronounced as a /s/. e.g., hats, tops, works, laughs, what’s, moths.”

    I disagree. All of the examples above are pronounced with a /z/ sound. Or at least the sound is much closer to the /z/ sound in “has” than the /s/ sound at the end of “mass”

    1. Hi John, thanks for your comment. There may be some specific dialects within English where hats, tops etc’ are pronounced with the ‘s’ sound being closer to a ‘z’. However, it’s most commonly pronounced as an ‘s’ in these words. The one exception being in American English, the word ‘moths’ would be pronounced with a ‘z’ sound at the end because Americans pronounce the ‘th’ in this word as a voiced ‘th’. Where are you from? Do you pronounce these words with a ‘z’ at the end?

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