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). 

Rule

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

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|wɪˈgz|wigs}}, legs, mugs, eggs
/ŋngng/ meetings, fillings
[vowels] pies, sees, chews, plays, knows, cowboys, canoes, annoys

3) Exceptions to the rules above are found in words that end in a type of sound called sibilants. It isn’t necessary to know the term for these sounds, but it is worth knowing which phonemes are included: /ʃshsh/ (wish), /ʧchch/ (church), /sss/ (bus), /zzz/ (buzz), /ʒzhzh/ (garage), and /ʤjj/ (judge). These words take a vowel, /ɪĭi/ or /əəə/, before /zzz/**. Selection of /ɪĭi/ or /əəə/ in the examples below is not meant to suggest a preference for either vowel for that particular word. 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|ɛˈʤɪz|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 /bbbʊo͝oooʃshshɪĭizzz/, but they same cuer may pronounce the word with a schwa when it occurs in a sentence, The bushes need a good watering.

Abuses

chips

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

sleeps

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

cramps

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

drops

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

thanks

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

bakes

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

works

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

drinks

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

bunks

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

books

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

its

  • /ɪts/
  • /its/
  • /ĭts/
  • 5t5s3s

rights

  • /rɑɪˈts/
  • /rieˈts/
  • /rīˈts/
  • 3s5t5s3s

fists

  • /fɪˈsts/
  • /fiˈsts/
  • /fĭˈsts/
  • 5t3s5s3s

gnats

  • /næˈts/
  • /naˈts/
  • /năˈts/
  • 4t5s3s

hints

  • /hɪˈnts/
  • /hiˈnts/
  • /hĭˈnts/
  • 3t4s5s3s

laughs

  • /læˈfs/
  • /laˈfs/
  • /lăˈfs/
  • 6t5s3s

paragraphs

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

goofs

  • /guˈfs/
  • /gueˈfs/
  • /go͞oˈfs/
  • 7c5s3s

whiffs

  • /wɪˈfs/
  • /wiˈfs/
  • /wĭˈfs/
  • 6t5s3s

giraffes

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

strengths

  • /strɛˈŋθs/
  • /strehˈngths/
  • /strěˈngths/
  • 3s5s3c8s7s3s

myths

  • /mɪˈθs/
  • /miˈths/
  • /mĭˈths/
  • 5t7s3s

yards

  • /jɑˈrdz/
  • /yahˈrdz/
  • /yäˈrdz/
  • 8sf3s1s2s

worlds

  • /wɚˈldz/
  • /wurˈldz/
  • /wûrˈldz/
  • 6m6s1s2s

leads

  • /liˈdz/
  • /leeˈdz/
  • /lēˈdz/
  • 6m1s2s

paths

  • /pæˈðz/
  • /paˈtHz/
  • /păˈt͟hz/
  • 1t2s*2s

soothes

  • /suˈðz/
  • /sueˈtHz/
  • /so͞oˈt͟hz/
  • 3c2s*2s

serves

  • /sɚˈvz/
  • /surˈvz/
  • /sûrˈvz/
  • 3m2s*2s

saves

  • /seɪˈvz/
  • /sayˈvz/
  • /sāˈvz/
  • 3c5t2s*2s

loves

  • /lʌˈvz/
  • /luhˈvz/
  • /lŭˈvz/
  • 6sd2s*2s

drives

  • /drɑɪˈvz/
  • /drieˈvz/
  • /drīˈvz/
  • 1s3s5t2s*2s

thieves

  • /θiˈvz/
  • /theeˈvz/
  • /thēˈvz/
  • 7m2s*2s

scars

  • /skɑˈrz/
  • /skahˈrz/
  • /skäˈrz/
  • 3s2sf3s2s

stairs

  • /stɛˈrz/
  • /stehˈrz/
  • /stěˈrz/
  • 3s5c3s2s

fears

  • /fɪˈrz/
  • /fiˈrz/
  • /fĭˈrz/
  • 5t3s2s

cigars

  • /sɪgɑˈrz/
  • /sigahˈrz/
  • /sĭgäˈrz/
  • 3t7sf3s2s

herbs

  • /ɚˈbz/
  • /urˈbz/
  • /ûrˈbz/
  • 5m4s2s

knobs

  • /nɑˈbz/
  • /nahˈbz/
  • /näˈbz/
  • 4sf4s2s

clowns

  • /klɑʊˈnz/
  • /klowˈnz/
  • /klowˈnz/
  • 2s6s5t4s2s

mines

  • /mɑɪˈnz/
  • /mieˈnz/
  • /mīˈnz/
  • 5s5t4s2s

brains

  • /breɪˈnz/
  • /brayˈnz/
  • /brāˈnz/
  • 4s3c5t4s2s

lines

  • /lɑɪˈnz/
  • /lieˈnz/
  • /līˈnz/
  • 6s5t4s2s

strains

  • /streɪˈnz/
  • /strayˈnz/
  • /strāˈnz/
  • 3s5s3c5t4s2s

acorns

  • /eɪˈkornz/
  • /ayˈkohrnz/
  • /āˈkōrnz/
  • 5c5t2sf3s4s2s

mom’s

  • /mɑˈmz/
  • /mahˈmz/
  • /mäˈmz/
  • 5sf5s2s

terms

  • /tɚˈmz/
  • /turˈmz/
  • /tûrˈmz/
  • 5m5s2s

crumbs

  • /krʌˈmz/
  • /kruhˈmz/
  • /krŭˈmz/
  • 2s3sd5s2s

plums

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

items

  • /ɑɪˈtəmz/
  • /ieˈtəmz/
  • /īˈtəmz/
  • 5s5t5sd5s2s

balls

  • /bɔˈlz/
  • /bawˈlz/
  • /bôˈlz/
  • 4c6s2s

sells

  • /sɛˈlz/
  • /sehˈlz/
  • /sěˈlz/
  • 3c6s2s

files

  • /fɑɪˈlz/
  • /fieˈlz/
  • /fīˈlz/
  • 5s5t6s2s

wheels

  • /wiˈlz/
  • /weeˈlz/
  • /wēˈlz/
  • 6m6s2s

patrols

  • /pətroʊˈlz/
  • /pətrohˈlz/
  • /pətrōˈlz/
  • 1sd5s3sf6s2s

towels

  • /tɑʊˈlz/
  • /towˈlz/
  • /towˈlz/
  • 5s5t6s2s

legs

  • /lɛˈgz/
  • /lehˈgz/
  • /lěˈgz/
  • 6c7s2s

mugs

  • /mʌˈgz/
  • /muhˈgz/
  • /mŭˈgz/
  • 5sd7s2s

eggs

  • /ɛˈgz/
  • /ehˈgz/
  • /ěˈgz/
  • 5c7s2s

meetings

  • /miˈtɪŋz/
  • /meeˈtingz/
  • /mēˈtĭngz/
  • 5m5t8s2s

fillings

  • /fɪˈlɪŋz/
  • /fiˈlingz/
  • /fĭˈlĭngz/
  • 5t6t8s2s

pies

  • /pɑɪˈz/
  • /pieˈz/
  • /pīˈz/
  • 1s5t2s

sees

  • /siˈz/
  • /seeˈz/
  • /sēˈz/
  • 3m2s

chews

  • /ʧuˈz/
  • /chueˈz/
  • /cho͞oˈz/
  • 8c2s

plays

  • /pleɪˈz/
  • /playˈz/
  • /plāˈz/
  • 1s6c5t2s

knows

  • /noʊˈz/
  • /nohˈz/
  • /nōˈz/
  • 4sf2s

cowboys

  • /kɑʊˈbɔɪˌz/
  • /kowˈboyˌz/
  • /kowˈboiˌz/
  • 2s5t4c5t2s

canoes

  • /kənuˈz/
  • /kənueˈz/
  • /kəno͞oˈz/
  • 2sd4c2s

annoys

  • /ənɔɪˈz/
  • /ənoyˈz/
  • /ənoiˈz/
  • 5sd4c5t2s

garages

  • /gɚɑˈʒɪz/
  • /gurahˈzhiz/
  • /gûräˈzhĭz/
  • 7m5sf1t2s

massages

  • /məsɑˈʒɪz/
  • /məsahˈzhiz/
  • /məsäˈzhĭz/
  • 5sd3sf1t2s

abuses

  • /əbjuˈzɪz/
  • /əbyueˈziz/
  • /əbyo͞oˈzĭz/
  • 5sd4s8c2t2s

faces

  • /feɪˈsəz/
  • /fayˈsəz/
  • /fāˈsəz/
  • 5c5t3sd2s

horses

  • /hɔˈrsɪz/
  • /hawˈrsiz/
  • /hôˈrsĭz/
  • 3c3s3t2s

nieces

  • /niˈsɪz/
  • /neeˈsiz/
  • /nēˈsĭz/
  • 4m3t2s

bosses

  • /bɔˈsɪz/
  • /bawˈsiz/
  • /bôˈsĭz/
  • 4c3t2s

sentences

  • /sɛˈntənsəz/
  • /sehˈntənsəz/
  • /sěˈntənsəz/
  • 3c4s5sd4s3sd2s

services

  • /sɚˈvəsɪz/
  • /surˈvəsiz/
  • /sûrˈvəsĭz/
  • 3m2sd3t2s

slices

  • /slɑɪˈsɪz/
  • /slieˈsiz/
  • /slīˈsĭz/
  • 3s6s5t3t2s

bushes

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

dishes

  • /dɪˈʃəz/
  • /diˈshəz/
  • /dĭˈshəz/
  • 1t6sd2s

washes

  • /wɑˈʃəz/
  • /wahˈshəz/
  • /wäˈshəz/
  • 6sf6sd2s

churches

  • /ʧɚˈʧəz/
  • /churˈchəz/
  • /chûrˈchəz/
  • 8m8sd2s

teaches

  • /tiˈʧɪz/
  • /teeˈchiz/
  • /tēˈchĭz/
  • 5m8t2s

glitches

  • /glɪˈʧəz/
  • /gliˈchəz/
  • /glĭˈchəz/
  • 7s6t8sd2s

inches

  • /ɪˈnʧəz/
  • /iˈnchəz/
  • /ĭˈnchəz/
  • 5t4s8sd2s

lodges

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

languages

  • /læˈŋgwəʤəz/
  • /laˈnggwəjəz/
  • /lăˈnggwəjəz/
  • 6t8s7s6sd7sd2s

hinges

  • /hɪˈnʤəz/
  • /hiˈnjəz/
  • /hĭˈnjəz/
  • 3t4s7sd2s

gauges

  • /geɪˈʤɪz/
  • /gayˈjiz/
  • /gāˈjĭz/
  • 7c5t7t2s

bushes

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

bushes

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