Advanced decoding exercises: /s/ vs /z/

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This page is an advanced version of Pronunciation and decoding exercises: /s/ vs /z/. It can also be used for self study.

Many words that are spelled with "s" are pronounced with /s/ while others are pronounced with /z/. Students who have never heard the words must memorize them. Heteronyms are particularly relevant here.

This article doesn't explain other sounds, such as /ʃ/ or /ʒ/.

Initial[edit]

When looking at a written word there is never a doubt whether it is pronounced /s/ or /z/ at the beginning of the word. Besides, there are only two words with other alternatives: sugar and sure.

Spelling /s/ /z/
c ceiling - cent - center - certain - ceremony - cigarette - cinema - circle- city - civilian - cycle
s sad - sale - same - say - scar - school - sea - seat - second - see - sell - send - sense - service - set - several - side - sign - since - sing - sink - sit - ski - sky - sleep - small - smile - sneeze - soap - social - some - song - soon - sort - sound - speak - spend - squeeze - staff - stand - start - stay - stop - strong - study - suggest - suit - sun - swim - swing - symbol - system
sc scene - scent - science - scissors
ps psalm - pseudonym - psoriasis - psychiatry - psychology
x xenophobia - xylophone
z Zach - Zambia - zapping - zebra - zero - zigzag - Zimbabwe - zinc - zip - zipper - zodiac - zone - zoo - zoology - zoom - zucchiniAmE
  • homophones /s/: C - sea - see; cell - sell; cent - scent - sent; cite - site - sight; scene - seen;
  • minimal pairs: seal - zeal; sink - zinc; sue - zoo;

Final[edit]

Ending in "Vs"[edit]

V is any vowel sound.

Spelling /s/ /z/
s (singular nouns) alias - atlas - bias - canvas - chaos - Christmas - cosmos - gas - pelvis - tennis diabetes - herpes - news - series - species
s (plural nouns) boys - changes - companies - days - dishes - families - houses - ideas - laws - pauses - places - potatoes - reviews - shows - spas - studies - taxis - turkeys - watches - ways
s (proper names) Addis Ababa - Agnes - Adonis - Anubis - Boris - Buenos Aires - Caracas - Dallas - Dennis - Dolores - Doris - Douglas - Eros - Gladys - Honduras - Isis - Judas - Kansas - Lois - Los Angeles - Nicholas - Osiris - Paris - Phyllis - Pocahontas - St. Louis - Texas - Thomas - Tunis Achilles - Archimedes - Buenos Aires - Ceres - Hades - Hercules - Hermes - Moses - Ramses /ˈræmsi:z/ - Santa Claus - Socrates - Sophocles
s (other) this - yes always - as - his
us (singular nouns) asparagus - bogus - bonus - bus - cactus - campus - census - circus - fetus - focus - fungus - ​genius - humerus - minus - octopus - plus​ - radius - sinus - status - stylus - thus - uterus - us - versus - virus - walrus
us (plural nouns) emus - gnus - gurus - haikus - Hindus - menus - tutus - Zulus
us (proper names) Confucius - Cyprus - Damascus - Jesus - Uranus - Venus - Vilnius - Zeus /zuːs/ ​ Jesus
ous anxious - continuous - curious - dangerous - enormous - famous - hilarious - jealous - numerous - nervous - obvious - previous - religious - serious - various caribous
singular /sɪs/; plural /siːz/ analysis - axis - crisis - diagnosis - dialysis - neurosis - oasis - osmosis - phimosis - psoriasis - thesis analyses - axes - crises - diagnoses - dialyses - neuroses - oases - osmoses- phimoses - psoriases - theses
regular plurals (*) boys - buses - cherries - churches - cows - days - dishes - fees - judges - kisses - mazes - peas - potatoes - sandwiches - shoes - toys - views
plurals with no singular Bahamas - pajamasAmE - pyjamasBrE
verbs bias - bus - focus - gas
contractions he's - she's - who's
irregular 3rd person of verbs does - has - is - says - was
regular 3rd person of verbs (*) abuses - advises - amuses - approaches - browses - buys - catches - causes - ceases - challenges - changes - chooses - closes - confuses - dies - emerges - enjoys - excuses - finishes - fixes - goes - houses - increases - judges - leases - looses - manages - pays - plays - promises - pushes - reaches - relaxes - supposes - sues - uses - washes - watches

(*) See Pronunciation of the morpheme “-s”

Cells in gray show short lists of words that must be memorized in order to know their pronunciation; note that nobody needs to learn the pronunciation of obscure proper nouns.

Cells in green determine their sound according to the rules of pronunciation of the morpheme “-s”. This is valid for contractions for phonological reasons.

  • silent "s": Arkansas - debris - Illinois

Ending in "Cs"[edit]

C is any consonant sound (including "r").

Spelling /s/ /z/
s (singular nouns) draughts Athens - Brussels - Charles - checkers - James - lens - Mars
s (other) its - perhaps hers - ours - theirs - yours
contractions it's - let's - that's - what's there's
regular plurals (*) bets - bits - books - drops - effects - facts - groups - hats - laughs - lights - markets - nights - packs - parents - parts - points - rates - reports - results - shops - states - student - subjects - tests - types - weeks balls - bugs - cars - churches - dens - examples - friends - hands - jobs - lambs - names - numbers - persons - phones - problems - products - questions - rooms - systems - teachers - things - times - words - years
plurals ending in fs, fes, ves (*) beliefs - briefs - chiefs - dwarfs - gulfs - proofs - roofs dwarves - knives - leaves - lives /laɪvz/ - loaves - wives
plurals ending in ths (*) /θs/: deaths - fourths - labyrinths - months - moths - myths /ðz/: baths - mouths - paths - youths
plurals ending in ths, both possibilities (*) /ðz/ or /θs/: oaths, truths, wreaths
plurals with no singular clothes
regular 3rd person of verbs (*) asks - costs - gets - helps - hopes - keeps - lets - likes - looks - makes - meets - puts - sets - starts - takes - talks - thinks - works - wants - writes becomes - begins - believes - brings - builds - calls - finds - includes - leads - lives /lɪvz/ - loves - moves - needs - offers - opens - owns - provides - reads - runs - tells

(*) See Pronunciation of the morpheme “-s”

Cells in green determine their sound according to the rules of pronunciation of the morpheme “-s”. This is valid for contractions for phonological reasons.

Cells in yellow shows irregular plurals that must be memorized; however the final “s” is pronounced according to the rules of pronunciation of the plural.

  • silent "s": corps - hors d'oeuvre

Not ending in a single "s"[edit]

Spelling /s/ /z/
ce advance - advice - bounce - chance - choice - coincidence - commerce - dance - defenceBrE - device - divorce - face - farce - force - glance - Greece - ice - ignorance - introduce - juice - nice - niece - offenceBrE - office - once - piece - place - practice - price - prince - produce - pronounce - race - reference - service - scarce - science - since - space - tolerance - twice - voice
Vse (n., etc.) abuse (n.) - blouseAmE - case - close (adj.) - defenseAmE - excuse (n.) - goose - grandiose - house (n.) - loose - mouse - obese - obtuse - offenseAmE - profuse - refuse (n.) - recluse - use (n.) - verbose applause - because - blouseBrE - cheese - Chinese - disease - Japanese - Louise - manganese - noise - these - those - whose - wise
ise (n., etc.) concise - paradise - precise - premise /ˈpremɪs/ demise
Vse (n. and v.) base - chase - decrease - dose - increase - lease - purchase - purpose - release cause - hose - nose - pause - phase - phrase - please - raise - rose (flower and past tense of rise)
ise (n. and v.) promise /ˈprɒmɪs/ compromise - exercise - rise - surprise
Vse (v.) cease - diagnoseAmE - eraseAmE abuse (v.) - accuse - amuse - arose - browse - choose - close (v.) - confuse - devise - diagnoseBrE - dispose - eraseBrE - excuse (v.) - expose - house (v.) - impose - lose - oppose - propose - refuse (v.) - suppose - transfuse - use (v.)
ise (v.) practiseBrE advertise - advise - arise - comprise - revise
iseBrE/ize apologiseBrE/apologize - characteriseBrE/characterize - criticiseBrE/criticize - realiseBrE/realize - recogniseBrE/recognize - specialiseBrE/specialize - summariseBrE/summarize
yseBrE/yzeAmE analyseBrE/analyzeAmE
Cse adverse - collapse - condense - converse - corpse - course - curse - dense - eclipse - else - false - glimpse - horse - immense - immerse - impulse - intense - lapse - nurse - parseAmE - pulse - remorse - response - reverse - rinse - sense - sparse - tense - traverse - universe - verse - worse cleanse - parseBrE
ss across - address - boss - class - discuss - excess - fitness - glass - gross - happiness - impress - kiss - less - mass - miss - pass - princess - stress - unless - witness
sse impasse - lacrosse - largesse - mousse
tz Antz (movie) - hertz - quartz - waltz
x /ks/ box - complex - fix - fox - index - lynx - matrix - ox - relax - six - tax
z quiz - topaz - whizAmE
zz buzz - frizz - jazz - whizzBrE
ze Charlize /ʃɑːrˈliːs/ (an Afrikaans name usually pronounced /ʃɑːrˈliːz/ in English) amaze - breeze - bronze - craze - freeze - gaze - maze - maize - prize - size - sneeze

Vse means a vowel followed by "se". Cse means a consonant followed by "se".

adj. adjective, n. noun, v. verb
n., etc any part of speech except verb

Cells in red show long lists of words that must be memorized in order to know their pronunciation. Cells in gray show short lists.

  • homophones /s/: lapse - laps; lynx - links; peace - piece;
  • homophones /z/: freeze - frees (v.); maze - maize - Mae's; pause - paws; please - pleas; raise - rays; size - sighs
  • minimal pairs
  • advice - advise; bus - buzz; device - devise; face - phase; hiss - his; grace - graze; loose - lose; Miss - Ms.; price - prize; race - raise; rice - rise;
  • second word is plural or third person: dense - dens; ice - eyes; lice - lies; niece - knees; once - ones; peace - peas; place - plays; race - rays; since - sins; tense - tens;
  • heteronyms: abuse (n. - v.); close (adj. - v.); excuse (n. - v.); house (n. - v.)

Mid-position[edit]

Adjacent to vowels[edit]

Spelling /s/ /z/
c bicycle - December - decide - facility - innocent - necessary - officer - precision /prɪˈsɪʒən/ - principle - process - prophecy /ˈprɒfəsɪ/ - receive - recent - recipe - society - specific
sc adolescent - ascend - crescent - descend - discipline - fascinate
s (n., etc.) abusive - awesome - basic - beside - besides /bɪˈsaɪdz/ - carousel /ˌkærəˈsel/ - casino - desolation - disabled - disagree - disappear - disappoint - dosage - emphasiseBrE/emphasizeAmE BrE - fantasy - gasoline - nuisance - oasis - parasite - research /rɪˈsɜːrtʃ, ˈriːsɜːrtʃ/

Jason - Minnesota

abuser - adviser/advisor - browser - busy - closet - composer - composition - cousin - daisy - desert /ˈdezərt/ - disaster - disease - easy - feasible - lasagnaAmE/lasagneBrE - laser - limousine - loser - lousy - museum - music - noisy - physical - physics - plausible - pleasant - positive - presence - present /ˈprezənt/ - president - prison - represent - residence - resilience - resurrection - thousand - user - visible

Caesar - Isaac - Jesus - Rosanna - Rosanne - San Jose (California) - Susan

s (plural, 3rd person) aliases - biases - canvases - pelvises advertises - advises - chooses - closes - diagnoses (v.) - houses - loses - opposes
s (n. and v.) research /rɪˈsɜːrtʃ/ design - desire - poison - position - preserve - reason - reserve - result - season - visit
s (v.) desolate - disembark - fantasise/​fantasize - jettison - prophesy /ˈprɒfəsaɪ/ - resent /riːˈsent/ (sent again) deserve - desert /dɪˈzɜːrt/ - hesitate - present /prɪˈzent/ - resent /rɪˈzent/ (feel annoyed at) - resign - resist - resolve - resume
uses (plural, 3rd person) abuses (n.) - bonuses - buses - excuses (n.) - focuses - ​geniuses - statuses - uteruses - viruses abuses (v.) - confuses - excuses (v.)
unwritten schwa alcoholism - altruism - communism - heroism - humanism - mechanism - narcissism - prism - racism - sarcasm - socialism - spasm - tourism - urbanism

doesn't - hasn't - isn't - wasn't

sis analysis/analyses - basis/bases - crisis/crises - diagnosis/diagnoses - thesis/theses
ss asset - assign - assist - associate - assume - essential - classic - lesson - massive - message - missing - necessary - passage - passenger - possible - professor
Jesse - Jessica - Massachusetts - Melissa - Mississippi - Tennessee
Aussie - brassiere - dessert - dissolve - possess - possession - scissors
Missouri
isation/ization characterisation/characterization - organisation/organization - prioritisation/prioritization - realisation/realization
with a silent consonant castle - fasten - listen - muscle - mustn't
z bazaar - bizarre - Brazil - citizen - crazy - dozen - lazy - lizard - magazine - razor - wizard - Venezuela
zz blizzard - dizzy

Cells in red show long lists of words that must be memorized in order to know their pronunciation.

Cells in gray show short lists.

Cell in yellow indicates a rule that must be memorized: plurals of nouns ending in "us" have a plural ending in /sɪz/. The same rule applies to third person of verbs.

n., etc any part of speech except verb
v. verb

  • minimal pairs: advices - advises; buses - buzzes; faces - phases; precedent - president; prices - prizes; racer - razor; races - raises;
  • heteronyms:
  • analyses: n. /əˈnæləsiːz/ - v.BrE /ˈænəlaɪzɪz/
  • diagnoses n. /ˌdaɪəɡˈnəʊsiːz/ - v. /ˈdaɪəɡnəʊzɪz, ˈdaɪəɡnəʊsɪzAmE/
  • resent: (feel angry) /rɪˈzent/, (sent again) /riːˈsent/

Adjacent to at least one consonant[edit]

Note 1: In this section a silent "r" (as in "conversation") is considered a consonant.

Note 2: Words that have "sm" sounding /zəm/ are listed in section Adjacent to vowels.

Spelling /s/ /z/
c accept, accident, cancel, conceive
ss assessment, passport, successful

addressed, discussed, guessed, missed, pressed, processed

s also - asphixia - busgirl - disgrace - disgusting - outside - satisfy - useful business
sb asbestos - busboy - disband - misbehave - smorgasbord husband - lesbian - Lisbon - Presbyterian - raspberry
bs absolute - absence - absurd - obsolete - substantial absolve - observe - observation
sd disdain - jurisdiction - misdeed Desdemona - eavesdropper - Thursday - Tuesday - Wednesday - wisdom
accused - caused - closed - compromised - paused - raised - supposed
sm Christmas - dismantle - dismay - dismiss abysmal - cosmetic - cosmos - Desmond - jasmine - mesmerisingBrE - mesmerizing - osmosis - plasma - salesman - spasmodic - Tasmania
ms circumstance - hamster - himself clumsy - damsel
ns against - answer - consecutive - consequence - conservative - consider - consonant - consume - consumer - demonstrate - expensive - inside - insider - institution - insurrection - responsibility - sense - tonsil - transfer - transport cleansed - cleansing - Kansas - Swansea
rs adversary - conversation - herself - parsedAmE - parsingAmE - parsley - person - perspective - persuade - pursue - supersede - understand - university - versus - yourself jersey - Jersey - parsedBrE - parsingBrE
sl asleep - dislike - dyslexia - legislation - mislead - obviously Muslim
sp despite - display - especially - gospel - grasp - hospital - inspect - response - respect - suspend - transport - wasp - whisper
newspaper /ˈn(j)uːzpeɪpər, ˈn(j)uːspeɪpər/
s+/k/ Alaska - ask - biscuit - describe - desk - discover - discuss - disk - Madagascar - Nebraska - obscure - Oscar - risk - task
s+/t/ abstain - abstract - against - almost - Australia - bastard - best - construct - cost - customer - establish - exist - fast - first - history - industry - instance - instant - instead - interest - invest - just - last - least - list - lobster - locust - most - must - nest - nostril - obstacle - past - postulateBrE - request - rest - restaurant - sister - substance - system - test - understand - worst - yesterday
based - decreased - promised - released
s+/tʃ/ Christian - congestion - digestion - gesture - moisture - pasture - postulateAmE - question - suggestion
tz pretzel - Pulitzer - Switzerland
xC /ks/ context - excavation - exclusive - excuse - expand - expect - explain - explore - export - extinguisher - mixture - Oxford - text
xV and stress is before the "x" /ks/ approximate - boxer - galaxy - exercise - maximum - Mexico - pixel - saxophone - taxi - toxic

mixed - mixes - mixing - relaxed - relaxes - relaxing - sexes

xV and stress is after the "x" /ks/ exhibition, tuxedo /gz/ auxiliary - Alexander - exact - exaggerate - exam - examination - examine - example - executive - exhaust - exhibit - exist - existence - exotic - exuberant
/ŋz/ anxiety
exit /ˈeksɪt, ˈegzɪt/
xc exceed - excel - excellent - except - exception - excess - exciting
z schizophrenia /ˌskɪtsəˈfriːnɪə/ chimpanzee - enzyme
zz /ts/ paparazzi - pizza puzzle

xC means "x" followed by a consonant. xV means "x" followed by a vowel.

Cells in red show long lists of words that must be memorized in order to know their pronunciation. Cells in gray show short lists.

  • silent "s": aisle - island

Summary[edit]

The following pairs of words summarize the /s/-/z/ problems students may have:

  • goose - cheese (nouns)
increase - cause (verbs)
  • basic - music (nouns)
desolate - desire (verbs)
  • answer - damsel
  • exercise - example

Variant pronunciations[edit]

Some words may be pronounced either with /s/ or with /z/. In some cases there is a regional variation.

  • absorb, explosive, nausea, opposite, resource, spouse, transit, transition, translate, transmission, transplant, treatise, usage
  • /ks/ or /gz/: exile, exit
  • /s/ in BrE, /z/ in AmE: asthma /ˈæsmə, ˈæzmə/
  • /z/ in BrE, /s/ in AmE: blouse, diagnose, erase

Several proper names spelled with "s" are pronounced with either /s/ or /z/.

  • Denise - Glasgow - Jesus /ˈdʒiːzəs, ˈdʒiːzəz, heˈsuːs/ - Joseph - Josephine - Lisa - Teresa - Theresa

Greek plurals ending in sis[edit]

Many Greek-derived words ending in sis have an irregular plural involving /s/ and /z/.

  • crisis /ˈkraɪsɪs/ - crises /ˈkraɪsiːz/
  • diagnosis /ˌdaɪəɡˈnəʊsɪs/ - diagnoses /ˌdaɪəɡˈnəʊsiːz/
  • synthesis /ˈsɪnθəsɪs/ - syntheses /ˈsɪnθəsiːz/
  • thesis /ˈθiːsɪs/ - theses /ˈθiːsiːz/

Heteronyms[edit]

  • There are many heteronyms differing only in /s/ or /z/. Some of them are in the form of a noun with an /s/ pronunciation, and a verb with a /z/ pronunciation.
abuse - excuse - house - use
  • Some heteronyms involving /z/ change the stress pattern.
desert n. /ˈdezərt/ v. /dɪˈzɜːrt/ - present n. /ˈprezənt/ v. /prɪˈzent/.
  • merchandise n. /ˈmɜːrtʃəndaɪs, ˈmɜːrtʃəndaɪz/ v. /ˈmɜːrtʃəndaɪz/

Used and used to[edit]

Care should be taken to distinguish between "used to" and the past tense of the verb "to use".

Used is pronounced /juːst/ when it is a modal verb (I used to swim all summers) and /juːzd/ when it is the past tense of use (I used her telephone).

References[edit]


See also[edit]

External links[edit]