User:Ghoti/Unreliable rule for pronouncing "s" based on its adjacent sounds

From Teflpedia

In this page the sounds /s/ and /z/ of the letter "s" are explored. It can be seen than in many cases the sound is voiced (/z/) if the adjacent sounds also are. Similarly the sound is voiceless (/s/) if at least one adjacent sound also is. The "rule" shown here doesn't always hold. A better approach is in Advanced decoding exercises: /s/ vs /z/.

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/. The digraph "ss" is not studied here.

Color code[edit]

Green: the rule holds, no exceptions

Yellow: the rule holds, there are exceptions

Red: the rule doesn't hold

Blue: the rule doesn't hold, however, there are no exceptions

Adjacent to vowels[edit]

Initial[edit]

No words beginning with /z/ are spelled with "s". Therefore, the rule is false but there are no ambiguities.

  • "s": sad - sale - same - say - sea - seat - second - see - sell - send - sense - service - set - several - side - sign - since - sing - sink - sit - soap - social - some - song - soon - sort - sound - suggest - suit - sun - symbol - system

When there are mute or redundant consonants we may take them at their original value (voiceless p, voiceless c).

  • "sc": scene - scent - science
  • "ps": psalm - pseudonym - psoriasis - psychiatry - psychology

Final[edit]

Spelling /s/ /z/
s (nouns) alias - atlas - bias - canvas - chaos - Christmas - cosmos - gas - pelvis - tennis

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

diabetes - herpes - news - series - species

Athens - Achilles - Archimedes - Brussels - Buenos Aires - Ceres - Charles - Hades - Hercules - Hermes - James - Mars - Moses - Ramses /ˈræmsi:z/ - Santa Claus - Socrates - Sophocles

s (other) this - yes always - as - his
us 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

Confucius - Cyprus - Damascus - Jesus - Uranus - Venus - Vilnius - Zeus /zuːs/ ​

ous anxious - continuous - curious - dangerous - enormous - famous - hilarious - jealous - numerous - nervous - obvious - previous - religious - serious - various
singular /sɪs/; plural /siːz/ analysis - crisis - diagnosis - oasis - thesis analyses - crises - diagnoses - oases - theses
contractions he's - she's - who's
regular plurals (*) boys - buses - cherries - churches - cows - days - dishes - fees - judges - keys - kisses - mazes - peas - potatoes - sandwiches - shoes - toys - views
plurals with no singular Bahamas - pyjamas/pajamas
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
se (n., etc.) abuse (n.) - case - close (adj.) - decrease - dose - excuse (n.) - goose - grandiose - house (n.) - increase - lease - loose - mouse - obese - precise - promise /ˈprɒmɪs/ - purchase - purpose - release - use (n.) because - cause - cheese - Chinese - disease - Japanese - Louise - manganese - noise - nose - pause - phase - phrase - please - raise - rise - rose - surprise - these - those - whose - wise
se (v.) cease - decrease - dose - increase - lease - purchase - purpose - release abuse (v.) - amuse - browse - cause - choose - close (v.) - compromise - confuse - demise - excuse (v.) - house (v.) - lose - nose - oppose - pause - phase - phrase - please - raise - rose - suppose - use (v.)
ise /ɪ/ (v.) practise /ˈpræktɪs/ - promise /ˈprɒmɪs/
ise /aɪ/ (v.) advertise - advise - arise - circumcise - comprise - compromise - despise - devise - disguise - exercise - revise - rise - supervise - surprise
ise/ize apologise/apologize - characterise/characterize - criticise/criticize - realise/realize - recognise/recognize - specialise/specialize - summarise/summarize
yse/yze analyse/analyze

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

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

  • homophones /s/: 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; face - phase; hiss - his; ice - eyes; grace - graze; lice - lies; loose - lose; niece - knees; once - ones; peace - peas; place - plays; price - prize; race - raise/rays; rice - rise;
  • heteronyms: abuse (n. - v.); close (adj. - v.); excuse (n. - v.); house (n. - v.)
  • silent "s": Arkansas - debris - Illinois

Mid-position[edit]

Spelling /s/ /z/
s (n., etc.) awesome - basic - beside - besides /bɪˈsaɪdz/ - carousel /ˌkærəˈsel/ - desolation - dosage - fantasy - gasoline - nuisance

Jason - Minnesota

abuser - adviser/advisor - browser - busy - closet - composer - cousin - daisy - demise - desert /ˈdezərt/ - desire - disease - easy - houses - limousine - loser - museum - music - pleasant - poison - position - positive - presence - present /ˈprezənt/ - president - prison - reason - result - season - visit - thousand - treason - user

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

s (v.) desolate - disembark - fantasise/fantasize - jettison - prophesy /ˈprɒfəsaɪ/ - resent /riːˈsent/ (sent again) desert /dɪˈzɜːrt/ - desire - hesitate - poison - position - present /prɪˈzent/ - reason - resent /rɪˈzent/ (feel annoyed at) - result - resume - season - visit
ism /ɪzəm/ alcoholism - altruism - communism - heroism - humanism - narcissism - prism - racism- socialism - tourism - urbanism
sis analysis/analyses - crisis/crises - thesis/theses
isation/ization characterisation/characterization - organisation/organization - prioritisation/prioritization - realisation/realization

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

  • minimal pairs: precedent/president
  • heteronyms: resent /rɪˈzent, riːˈsent/

Adjacent to consonants[edit]

Note: In this section and the next a silent "r" (as in "course") is considered a consonant.

Initial[edit]

There is only one possibility: sound /s/ spelled "s"

  • scar - ski - sky - speak - sphere - squeeze - stay - stop - study

However the rule doesn't hold for /l/, /m/, /n/ and /w/

  • sleep - smile - sneeze - swim

Final[edit]

Spelling /s/ /z/
s its - perhaps
Massachusetts
hers - lens - ours - theirs - yours

Charles - James - Mars

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 - books - bugs - cars - 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
regular 3rd person (*) asks - costs - gets - helps - hopes - keep - 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
contractions it's - let's - that's - what's there's
voiceless+se apocalypse - collapse - corpse - eclipse - elapse - glimpse - lapse - synapse
voiced+se course - curse - dense - else - false - impulse - intense - nurse - response - sense - tense - universe - worse cleanse
  • minimal pairs: dense - dens; since - sins; tense - tens;
  • silent "s": corps

Mid-position[edit]

Spelling /s/ /z/
voiced+s+unvoiced abstain - abstract - construct - inspect - instant - lobster - obscure - obstacle - perspire - substance - worst
voiced+s+voiced parsley Thursday - Wednesday

Adjacent to one vowel and one consonant[edit]

Vowel is first[edit]

Spelling /s/ /z/
s ask - Australia - best - biscuit - fast - just - history - hospital - invest - most - least - Oscar - question - risk - test - wasp business - cosmos - husband - Muslim - Tasmania - Tuesday
  • silent "s": aisle - island

Vowel follows "s"[edit]

Note that words with unvoiced consonants are really scarce, unless they are derived from another word (e.g. plurals).

Spelling Adjacent /s/ /z/
s Unvoiced apsis

collapses - corpses - eclipses - glimpses - lapses

s Voiced absence - absolute - absurd - also - answer - consecutive - consume - consumer - inside - insider - obsolete - person - versus

courses - curses - impulses - nurses - responses - senses - tenses - universes

absolve - damsel - jersey - Jersey - observe

cleanses

Summary[edit]

Looking at the red-and-yellow rows above, the following pairs of words summarize the /s/-/z/ exceptions to the adjacency "rule". Note that here there are more exceptions than if we thought the "rule" does not apply. See Advanced decoding exercises: /s/ vs /z/.

  • Agnes - Achilles (nouns)
us - as (other)
  • goose - cheese (nouns)
increase - cause (verbs)
  • basic - music (nouns)
desolate - desire (verbs)
  • dense - cleanse
  • parsley - Thursday
  • answer - damsel

Variant pronunciations[edit]

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

  • absorb - explosive - resource - treatise - usage
  • /s/ in BrE, /z/ in AmE: asthma /ˈæsmə, ˈæzmə/
  • /z/ in BrE, /s/ in AmE: blouse - diagnose - erase

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

  • Denise - Jesus (normal pronunciation is /ˈdʒiːzəs/; altenative pronunciation is /ˈdʒiːzəz/) - Joseph - Josephine - Lisa - Teresa - Theresa

References[edit]


See also[edit]

External links[edit]