In American English, s can be pronounced either as /s/ or /z/. As easy as it may sound, in fact, you can be quite confused between the two. But don’t you worry, ELSA is here to offer some help.
Be clear about the difference between /s/ and /z/
- The /s/ sound: Relax your mouth a bit. Place the tip of your tongue close to the back of your teeth, but don’t touch them. Let the air out between your teeth to make a hissing sound.
- The /z/ sound: Place your tongue just like in the s position, but this time, tense your tongue a bit more when you push the air out. If you can feel some sort of vibration, you’ve done it correctly
The 4 basic rules for /s/ and /z/
1. When “s” comes after a voiceless consonant, it is pronounced as /s/
Eg: books, cats, stops,…
2. When “s” comes after a voiced consonant or a vowel, it is pronounced as /z/
Eg: feels, eggs, lives,…
3. Double “s” is pronounced as /s/
Eg: success, less, lesson,…
4. For words that require you to add an “e” before adding “s”, you should pronounce “s” as /s/
Eg: churches, dishes, matches,…
This may sound so small a point that you think you can master it after practicing a few times. However, some native speakers don’t even recognize these differences when they speak the s sound. That’s why if you ever ask them how to pronounce s in feels, they would probably just tell you to say it as /s/.
If you listen carefully enough, your awareness can be built gradually. Yet it’s always better to learn the rules, right?