s vs z

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A notoriously tough aspect for new cuers is assigning the correct handshape for /s/ and /z/. This decision occurs frequently in English because it affects plurals (e.g., cats, dogs, horses), posessives (e.g., Matt’s, Pam’s, and Rich’s), as well as inflections for subject-verb agreement (hits, spills, washes). 


1) If the root word ends in a voiceless sound (e.g., rat), the -s ending is pronounced (cued) /t/. Exceptions to this will be noted below for voiceless sounds that need a vowel before adding the plural marker.

Final Phoneme of Root Word Examples
/ppp/ chips, sleeps, cramps, drops, thanks
/kkk/ bakes, works, drinks, bunks, books
/ttt/ its, rights, fists, gnats, hints
/fff/ laughs, paragraphs, goofs, whiffs, giraffes
/θthth/ strengths, myths, froths

2) If the root word ends in a voiced sound (e.g., phone), the -s ending is pronounced (cued) /z/. This inclueds root words that end with vowels as all vowels are voiced. Exceptions to this will be noted below for voiced sounds that need a vowel before adding the plural marker.

Final Phoneme of Root Word Examples
/ddd/ yards, worlds, leads
/ðt͟htH// paths, soothes
/vvv/ serves, saves, loves, drives, thieves
/rrr/ scars, stairs, fears, cigars
/bbb/ herbs, knobs
/nnn/ clowns, mines, brains, lines, strains, acorns
/mmm/ mom’s, terms, crumbs, plums, items
/lll/ balls, sells, files, wheels, patrols, towels
/ggg/ wigs, legs, mugs, eggs
/ŋngng/ meetings, fillings
[vowels] pies, sees, chews, plays, knows, cowboys, canoes, annoys

3) Exceptions to the rules above are words that end in a type of sound called sibilants. It’s isn’t necessary to know the name of the type of sounds, but it is worht knowing which pphonemes are included: /ʃshsh/ (wish), /ʧchch/ (church), /sss/ (bus), /zzz/ (buzz), /ʒzhzh/ (garage), /ʤjj/ (judge). These words take a vowe, /ɪĭi/ or /əəə/, before /zzz/**. Note that, inspite of spelling,  these final syllables do not take the vowel /ɛěeh/. 

Final Phoneme of Root Word Examples
/ʒzhzh/ garages, massages
/zzz/ abuses
/sss/ faces, horses, nieces, bosses, sentences, services, slices
/ʃshsh/ bushes, dishes, washes
/ʧchch/ churches, teaches, glitches, inches
/ʤjj/ lodges, languages, hinges, gauges, edges

** You do not need to commit to either /ɪĭi/ or /əəə/ for these plural endings. In reality, you are likely to alternate between the vowels depending on whether the word is cued alone or in a sentence and whether the word is stressed or not. For example, one may say the single word bushes as /{bʊˈʃɪz/, but they same cuer may pronounce the word with a schwa when it occurs in a sentence, The bushes need a good watering.


  • /ʧɪˈps/
  • /chiˈps/
  • /chĭˈps/
  • 8t1s3s


  • /sliˈps/
  • /sleeˈps/
  • /slēˈps/
  • 3s6m1s3s


  • /kræˈmps/
  • /kraˈmps/
  • /krăˈmps/
  • 2s3t5s1s3s


  • /drɑˈps/
  • /drahˈps/
  • /dräˈps/
  • 1s3sf1s3s


  • /θæˈŋks/
  • /thaˈngks/
  • /thăˈngks/
  • 7t8s2s3s


  • /beɪˈks/
  • /bayˈks/
  • /bāˈks/
  • 4c5t2s3s


  • /wɚˈks/
  • /wurˈks/
  • /wûrˈks/
  • 6m2s3s


  • /drɪˈŋks/
  • /driˈngks/
  • /drĭˈngks/
  • 1s3t8s2s3s


  • /bʌˈŋks/
  • /buhˈngks/
  • /bŭˈngks/
  • 4sd8s2s3s


  • /bʊˈks/
  • /booˈks/
  • /bo͝oˈks/
  • 4t2s3s


  • /pɛˈrəgræˌfs/
  • /pehˈrəgraˌfs/
  • /pěˈrəgrăˌfs/
  • 1c3sd7s3t5s3s


  • /ʤɚæˈfs/
  • /juraˈfs/
  • /jûrăˈfs/
  • 7m5t5s3s


  • /plʌˈmz/
  • /pluhˈmz/
  • /plŭˈmz/
  • 1s6sd5s2s


  • /bʊˈʃɪz/
  • /booˈshiz/
  • /bo͝oˈshĭz/
  • 4t6t2s


  • /ʧɚˈʧɪz/
  • /churˈchiz/
  • /chûrˈchĭz/
  • 8m8t2s


  • /lɑˈʤɪz/
  • /lahˈjiz/
  • /läˈjĭz/
  • 6sf7t2s


  • /bʊˈʃɪz/
  • /booˈshiz/
  • /bo͝oˈshĭz/
  • 4t6t2s


  • /bʊˈʃəz/
  • /booˈshəz/
  • /bo͝oˈshəz/
  • 4t6sd2s