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Plural nouns in American English are a critical component of sounding natural and native when speaking. In this plural nouns lesson you’ll learn exactly how to pronounce -s and -es plural nouns in conversation. Spoken English has a different texture than written English and plural nouns are a big part of that! Let’s get to it.
Plural nouns in English. Now we do actually have rules for these. But there’s a trick, there’s a catch, there always is in English pronunciation. We’ll get to that.
A noun in English is made plural when we add an S or ES to the end of the word. Guess what – this is the third person conjugation of verbs too. So everything you learn here for the pronunciation plural nouns also applies to the 3rd person conjugation. Yay! Two for one!
For S, we add a letter and a sound. Cat becomes cats. Dog becomes dogs. But listen: catsssssss, dogzzzzzz, two different pronunciations of that plural S. But then with certain words, like ‘beach’, the plural is an -es and it’s an extra syllable, beaches. BEACH-iz, iz, iz.
When to use which pronunciation? And what’s the trick I told you about at the beginning?
Use the ‘s’ sound, like ‘cat’ becoming‘cats’, if the final sound of the noun is p, t, k, f, or th. Did you notice what all of those sounds have in common? p, t, k, f, th. They’re all unvoiced. There’s no vibration in my vocal cords making that happen. [ð] — that’s a voiced th. Th. these are all unvoiced. The S is also unvoiced. So is also unvoiced so the unvoiced S pronunciation goes with these unvoiced sounds.
Cats, ships, books, coughs. Now look there, the final letter was an H and that’s not in our list. But we’re talking final sounds. And the final sound of ‘cough’ is F. Cough, coughs. “There were quite a few coughs in the audience, but I think we got a good recording of the concert.” And finally, the unvoiced TH, like in ‘paths’. Paths.
THS is a tricky combination and one that I get questions about quite a bit. Ths, ths. Tongue tip just out to tongue tip just in. For the S the tongue tip can be pointing down or up, I find it feels more natural to point down, ths,ths. One of the most common plural nouns THS ending is months, and good news, it has a shortcut. Instead of saying ‘months’, most native speakers change that TH to a T and say ‘months’. He’s six months old. “Months”. A little easier than ths.
Cough is a noun or a verb. Third person conjugation, coughs. He coughs a lot. Remember, the third person conjugation follows the same rule. So since the verb ends in F, this S is unvoiced sss. Coughs.
One final thing to say about case 1: Next words. If the next word begins with an S, you’re just making 1 S sound to link there. For example, the students sit here. Students sit, students sit. 1 S to link to connect those words.
If the next word begins with a Z, that beginning sound takes over the plural and we more or less drop the S sound. For example, the cats zipped around the house. Cats zipped become ‘cazipped’, just link with the 1 z sound.
Ok, case 1, done. Case 2 is where it gets a little tricky with our habits. Before we get into that, I want to call your attention to a new YouTube feature, Superthanks, that allows you to give a small donation to my channel for a specific video. This allows me not only to feel your support and appreciation but to know what videos are the most valuable to YOU, so the next time you’re watching a video that you love, hit that Superthanks button. Proceeds will be going towards a new camera for my channel.
In case two, the final sound is any vowel or diphthong, or one of these consonants, and that plural is pronounced as a Z sound.
So let’s take ‘chairs’ as our example, “chairz.” Ending sound is a Z. Do you hear that? The vocal cords vibrate, making the difference between Z and S. I’ll alternate for you:
sss,zzz, sss,zzz sss,zzz.
So this ending here, in case 2 is a Z, zzz. Chairzzz. Except we don’t actually pronounce it that way. It’s written in IPA with the Z sound, and yet it’s not really a Z sound. Let’s explore. I’m using a voice recording app on my phone. I’ve recorded the word ‘chair’ with a clear, strong Z sound, chairzz, also a clear, strong S sound, chairss. Both sound unnatural, then I’ve recorded it the way we say it: chairs.
Now what we see here, these blue lines, are the pitch. The note of the vibration of my vocal cords. When a sound is unvoiced like sssss, you don’t see any blue line. But if we see a blue line, it’s voiced, it’s zzz, a z.
This first one here is me saying ‘chairz’ with an exaggerated z sound, zz,zz, a really strong clear z. Let’s listen.
And if I bring my cursor here to the very end of that line of pitch right here and I play it, you’ll see that there’s not really any sound. So there’s no S there ending. Now, in this next one I really exaggerated the S sound.
So we would not say it that really strongly. Let me bring the cursor back here to the end of the vocal vibration and let’s see, do we hear an S?
Definitely, we hear a clear S.
So, when I exaggerate the S, we can definitely hear it and see that there is no vocal cord vibration.
Okay now, the 3rd time I’ve recorded me saying chairs the way that it’s more normal in conversational to say it, let’s listen.
So the question is: Does that ending sound have a Z quality or is it an S quality? Do we have an S sound with no voice in it? Let’s see.
Yeah we do. It’s super fast though isn’t it? It’s not sss. That was s,s,s. So fast so weak but definitely not a z, that’s an s, a short quick S. That’s the weak ending Z.
So the way we actually pronounce case 2, S as [z] sound, is really an S, but a weak S, not a full S. Case 1, plurals are pronounced as an S, you make a clear S. Case 2, plurals are pronounced as a Z, but you make a WEAK S. Confusing, but true. The voiced ending Z sound is weak. So weak that it sounds like a weak S. By making the S really weak, it sounds like a Z in these endings. I know. It’s crazy.
Let me just say a few of these plurals for you. Notice you’re not hearing zzz, a strong Z or Ss, a strong S.
The ending is: [weak s] A very weak without much hearing it.
So where does that leave us with case 3? We’ll get to that in a second, but first a general note on weak ending sounds. This strong/weak thing is true of all paired ending consonants. Let’s take for example the word ‘judge’. It begins and ends ends in the J sound. JJ. The first one is clear, the second one isn’t because it’s an ending J.
Jj. Judge. Jj. This ending is weak especially if we compare it with the CH sound, the match. CH. CH. So the ending of judge isn’t Jj and it’s not CH. It’s ch,ch. A really weak version of the unvoiced sound the CH. Judge.
Let’s talk about linking it to another word.
If the next word after these plurals begins with a Z, we link with one Z sound and it does sound like a full clear Z.
For example, “the cars zipped along” carzzzzzipped. Strong Z because it also begins the next word. Cars zipped, the cars zipped along. So there is no feel of an S in the plural ending here, just Z.
But, if the next word begins with an S, then you just hear a single S sound to link, no Z. For example, “the cars stopped.” Carsssssstopped. Just an S sound.
Okay, Case: 3 for plural noun pronunciation. In case 3, we don’t just add a sound, we add a syllable. It’s unstressed, and it’s IH, Z. You already know what I’m going to say about that ending Z. It’s a weak ending sound, so it’s actually more like weak S, without, zzzz, that vibration in the vocal cords. This ending is ss, ss.
This is the plural noun pronunciation if the final sound of the noun is S, like “base”. Base becomes bases.
We need to cover all our bases.
Bases, iz, iz, weak ending sound. This is so similar yet different from the word ‘basis’. There the ending sound is the S sound, it’s a little stronger. Basis. So we have bases and basis.
To make things extra confusing, the plural of ‘basis’ is this word, spelled like the plural of ‘base’, but pronounced with an EE vowel in the second syllable, baseez. So the plural of ‘base’ is ‘bases’, and the plural of ‘basis’ is ‘bases’, spelled the same as ‘bases’ but pronounced slightly differently. Oh goodness.
Our other ending sounds for case 3 are zz, sh, zh, ch, and jj. So Rose, ending with a Z sound, becomes roses. Two syllables. Rash becomes rashes. Garage becomes garages. Batch becomes batches, and judge becomes judges.
Just like in case 2, if we link into a Z it sounds like a Z. The judges zoned out during the boring presentation. Judges zoned, Here we hear the Z, zz. Judges zoned. Judges zoned. If these words link into a word that begins with an S, we hear an S. Judges saw. Judges saw The judges saw everything.
There they are. Your three cases for pronouncing plural nouns. Case 1, the noun ends in one of these sounds, the plural is pronounced as an S.
Case 2, the noun ends in one of these sounds, the plural is pronounced as a S which is really more like a weak Z. Case three, the noun ends in one of these sounds and we add ‘iz’ at the end of the word, another syllable, again with the weak ending Z sounding like a weak S. Practicing the pronunciation of plural nouns, what could be more fun? Nothing, I think. Thank you so much for joining me here and please
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