To /s/ /z/ or /ɪz/: Plural ‘-s’ Endings in English

Hi Teachers and Visitors to this website. This is a re-post from an earlier entry. We felt it got lost there so here it is again. Enjoy!

Plural ‘s’ in English.

In English plural countable nouns are nouns we add an ‘s’ to express that there is more than one. For example a cup (one cup), two cups, a bag (one bag), three bags, an apple (one apple), four apples, an orange (one orange), five oranges.

English generally has three ‘s’ sounds when it comes to plural countable nouns. These are /s/ /z/ and /ɪz/.

When describing English sounds, we usually say /s/ is voiceless (a slight whistling air comes out your mouth as you make the sound) and /z/ is voiced (you feel a stronger vibrating sound in your throat). This is illustrated below:

/ɪz/ is also voiced because it has /z/ in it.

The general rule for knowing when plural ‘s’ (the last letter ‘s’ you see in plural countable nouns like cups, herbs, oranges) is that:

  • If the final letter of the word is a voiceless sound the plural ‘s’ sound is /s/. Remember voiceless  + voiceless.
  • If the final letter of the word is a voiced sound, the plural ‘s’ is /z/. Remember voiced + voiced.

You can see this with the chart below (which you can also download for free to use with the ELE Flashcard Flipbook):

Plural S Teacher's Pronunciation Key

DOWNLOAD Plural S Teacher’s Pronunciation Key

Based on the above you can see that most words in English end with a /z/ sound. That’s because all vowels in English are voiced and most of the consonant sounds are voiced too (you can read our blog about English sounds here).

Words which end with voiceless sounds are: cup /p/, hat /t/, sock /k/, cliff /f/ and moth /θ/. As a result, any word which ends with these sounds will have /s/ in their plural form.

As for /ɪz/ this is the sound for plural countable nouns ending with the following sounds:

  • /s/ which you can hear in the letters ‘c’, ‘x’. For example ‘fence, fences‘ and ‘box boxes‘.
  • /z/ which you can hear in the letters ‘s’ and ‘z’. For example ‘cheese cheeses‘ and ‘maze mazes
  • /ʃ/ which you can hear in the letters ‘sh’. For exampled ‘dish dishes‘.
  • /ʧ/ which you can hear in the letters ‘ch’ and ‘tch’. For example ‘watch watches‘.
  • /ʤ/ which you can hear in letters ‘j’ and ‘g’. For example ‘jumper’ and ‘orange oranges‘. (We will write a seperate blog on this sound because in English it can be difficult o know when ‘g’ is /g/ or /ʤ/).

Any word which ends with those sounds will usually have /ɪz/ in their plural form.

REMEMBER This rule is for COUNTABLE NOUNS. This rule also applies to VERBS. For example:

  • I cook      He cooks /s/
  • I dig         She digs /z/
  • I wash     He washes /ɪz/

Why is this important?

For many speakers this is not a big problem and generally does not effect communication. However, this is an interesting feature of English pronunciation and practising this will help speakers who struggle with ending sounds in English.

This is especially noticeable with Vietnamse and Thai speakers who tend to leave many English words open (without an ending sound). By using this interesting pronunciation feature of English teachers can help their pupils and students become more accurate with their pronunciation of plural countable nouns and also encourage their pupils and students to pronounce English words in full with the ending sounds.

Give it a try and see if your pupils and students pronunciation improves over time.

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7 Comments »

  1. I am really interested in this because it is so useful and helpful for teachers and students to learn how to teach and learn the reading sound ” s, es”. Thanks teacher Thanh so much.

  2. After i read your article, i hadn’t to struggle with how to remember ending sounds in English. It’s very easy so that can’t forget. I only remember “voiceless + voiceless, voiced + voiced” 😃 😊
    🍕☕ pizza and coffee for you! Thank you teacher Thanh!!!!!!

    • Thanks Nga. That’s motivating to hear. Please check out the article on ‘ed’ endings too for more on voiced and voiceless sounds. Thanks for the pizza and coffee too!

    • Thanks for the feedback Leseahn. We should add audio for all our blofs on pronunciation. At the same time you can also check out our ELE Flashcard Flipbook which has a lot of examples of the different ‘-s’ endings with audio too 👌

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