S vs. Z...voiced vs. unvoiced

Discussion in 'English Only' started by blueberrymuffin, Feb 15, 2006.

  1. blueberrymuffin

    blueberrymuffin Senior Member

    English - U.S.

    Can someone explain when to pronounce S and when to pronounce Z in a word? (besides, obviously, the letter Z in a word...)

    Why is it that we are supposed to say "house" (s), but "housing" (z)?

    Is there a general rule (something to do with the endings of words and whether a word is a verb or a noun... ? ? :confused:

  2. I deeply doubt if there is a rule for this. The pronunciation is something you just have to learn by heart, unfortunately.
  3. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    Not so much a rule as a guideline (since there are so many exceptions):

    's' is often pronounced /z/ when it comes between two vowel sounds (NB: not vowels, but vowel sounds), unless it's doubled.

    House = /s/ because the 's' is the final sound in the word
    Housing = /z/ because the 's' is surrounded by /au/ and /I/

    But there are so many exceptions it's ridiculous.
    There's often a difference to distinguish two similar words:
    loose = /s/
    lose = /z/
    yet there's sometimes no difference when there should be and it would be useful:
    desert = /z/
    dessert = /z/

    Maybe it's best not to bother: it might give you a false sense of security.
  4. blueberrymuffin

    blueberrymuffin Senior Member

    English - U.S.
    Guideline is a better word. Thanks aupick. That was helpful. I know I've read about this in English books, but I can't find any useful info in the books I have now.

    There is, though, something else about voiced and unvoiced consonants and the relation between those and the "s / z" sounds.

    This issue is quite important to me at this level. I'm trying to focus on increasing my vocabulary and improving my pronunciation. So, every bit of advice helps.

  5. blueberrymuffin, I recommend English Phonetics and Phonology by Peter Roach. :)
  6. MarcB Senior Member

    US English
    very good examples by aupick. I suggest:English Pronunciation Made Simple (2nd Edition) (Paperback)
    by Paulette Dale, Lillian Poms ISBN: 0131115960 it comes with cds.
  7. blueberrymuffin

    blueberrymuffin Senior Member

    English - U.S.
    Thank You! :d
  8. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    There are some rules, but they have lots of exceptions. :warn:

    Here are some of them. Examples are in blue; exceptions in red.

    At the start of a word, s- is read (as in Spanish);

    sick, song, see, smile, sky, start, etc.;
    sugar [sh]

    Double s, ss, is usually read ;

    passage, glass, assume, etc.;
    pressure, assure [sh];
    dessert [z]

    Between two vowels, -s- is read [z] (the voiced counterpart of );

    busy, presume, poison, housing, lose, desert, these, house (v.), etc.;
    house (n.), case, analysis, asymmetrical (from symmetrical), loose, etc. ;

    Before a voiceless consonant, not at the start of the word, -s- is read voiceless, .

    obstacle, ask, aspirin, etc.;

    Before a voiced consonant, not at the start of the word, -s- is read voiced, [z].

    husband, Osmond, Oswald, etc.;

    In the suffix -(e)s, indicative of the plural of a noun, the possessive case of a noun, or the 3rd. person singular past tense of a verb, the -s is read voiceless, , when it comes after a voiceless consonant...

    cats, tracks, boots, walks, etc.

    ...and voiced, [z], when it comes after a voiced consonant or a vowel.

    dogs, cars, skies, keys, days, etc.
  9. Aupick

    Aupick Senior Member

    Strasbourg, France
    UK, English
    Much better, Outsider. :thumbsup:

    It has occurred to me that "house" is different in any case, which i should have realised this morning. Housing, although a noun, comes from the verb house, which is pronounced with a /z/ sound, unlike the noun house which is pronounced with an /s/ sound. I don't know if this is true of other noun/verb combinations. It reminds me of advise (verb) /s/ and advice (noun) /s/, although this difference is marked by a spelling change.
  10. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Excellent point about housing. I hadn't thought of that. I think I'll add it to the examples.
  11. kirsitn

    kirsitn Senior Member

    Oslo, Norway
    Norway, Norwegian
    I'm trying to figure out why desiccate is pronounced with an /s/ when most other words containing "esi" are pronounced with a /z/. (Designate, resign, design, resist, resin, reside, desire...)

    Does anyone know?
  12. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Because it's a compound: desiccate = de + siccate.
  13. kirsitn

    kirsitn Senior Member

    Oslo, Norway
    Norway, Norwegian
    That was my first thought too, but several of the other words are also originally compounds (according to Merriam-Webster).

    Design from "de- + signare to mark"
    Resign from "re- + signare to sign, seal"
    Resist from "re- + sistere to take a stand"
    Desire from "de- + sider-, sidus heavenly body"
  14. Outsider Senior Member

    Portuguese (Portugal)
    Yes, you're right. My guess would be that those other compounds (which may have reached English via French) are older, and so their "s" was allowed to assimilate with the preceding vowel. "Desiccate" must be of more recent coinage, so that the educated consciously split it up into morphemes long enough for their pronunciation to stick. Notice also that it's a more technical word than the other examples you gave, hence used by a more selected group of people. But this is only a guess. English has many irregularities in this matter.
  15. Array

    Array Member

    Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    Português (Brasil)
    It appears to me that in English unvoiced consonants convey a sense of static, while voiced ones a dynamic action. This explains why house, noun, therefore static is pronounced with an /s/, while to house, a verb denoting an action, is pronounced with a /z/.
  16. xqby

    xqby Senior Member

    Oxnard, CA
    English (U.S.)
    Desserts and housing aren't particularly active; I think you're stretching a coincidence way too far.
  17. ewie

    ewie Senior Member

    Another Country
    English English
    Interesting theory, Array. Do you have any other examples?
  18. I can think of advice (noun) and advise (Verb).
  19. JamesM

    JamesM à la Mod (English Only)

    I don't think it quite holds together as a theory, although it is an interesting one. I can think of several noun/verb pairs that both have the "z" sound:

    Noun / Verb

    bruise / bruise
    rise / rise
    fuse / fuse
    funds / funds
    muse / muse
    ease / ease

    I can also think of pairs where they both use the "s" sound:

    sail / sail
    rinse / rinse
    salvage / salvage
    speckle / speckle
    lease / lease

    There may be some that fall into the pattern but I think it's easy enough to find others that fall into other patterns.

    Another one for the original pattern:

    abuse / abuse ("z" sound for verb)

Share This Page