Have you ever noticed how the ending Z sound in words like ‘flowers’ [flaˈʊ əɹz] sounds more like an S? Learn how to lighten certain endings to pronounce them easily and naturally.
YouTube blocked? Click here to see the video.
In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to talk about ending voiced vs. unvoiced consonants.
In American English, we have voiced and unvoiced sounds. All vowels are voiced. All diphthongs are voiced. Consonants can be either voiced or unvoiced. Unvoiced consonants are made just with air, no, uhh, sound from the vocal cords. For example, hh, sh, tt, pp. Voiced consonants do have voice in them, uhh, like: mm, bb, zh.
Hh, sh, tt, pp.
Mm, bb, zh.
There are lots of consonant pairs where the mouth position is the same, and one is voiced, the other is unvoiced, for example, CH / JJ.
Every once in a while, I’ll get a comment on a video asking about the pronunciation of these paired consonants at the end of a word. These come from people with a good ear that pay attention to what they hear. Mostly they say, I don’t hear a voiced consonant, I hear an unvoiced consonant. They’re right. We’re going to get into a topic here that is quite advanced. It deals with subtle differences of sound.
Let’s take, for example, the word ‘flowers’. In IPA, we spell that like this: the ending consonant is the Z sound, which is voiced. But actually, that kind of sounds like an S at the end, doesn’t it? Flowers, ss, ss. A really weak, light S. It doesn’t have a strong S, flowersss. That’s not correct. But it also doesn’t have a strong Z, flowerzzz. Flowers, ss, ss. It actually has a very weak S.
Several years ago, I was reading an old pronunciation book and it said how in these voiced/unvoiced pairs, the unvoiced is strong and the voiced is weak. I didn’t really know what that meant until I started thinking about ending consonants. These ending consonants are so weak that we take the voice out of them, and they end up sounding like weak unvoiced sounds. So the word is not flowerssss or flowerzzz but flowers, ss, ss, a weak unvoiced consonant.
Let’s look at a few more words.
Dive, ff, ff. It’s really a very weak F [f]. It’s not divvve or difffe, but dive, ff, ff.
Garage, sh, sh, sh. It’s a very weak unvoiced SH sound. It’s not garasshh or garazzhh, but, garage, sh, sh, sh.
Badge, ch, ch, ch. Very weak, unvoiced sound. Not batch, or baDGE, but badge, ch.
Weakening these ending voiced consonants can help you say the words more easily and more naturally.
Let’s study the word ‘badge’ a little further, and compare it with ‘batch’. Badge, batch. The ending of ‘badge’ is weak. Badge. The ending of ‘batch’ is stronger. ‘Batch’. That’s not the only difference. The unvoiced ending also makes the vowel a little bit shorter.
Badge, batch. They don’t sound quite the same. First of all, the ending of ‘batch’ is stronger. Badge, batch. CH, CH, instead of ch, ch. Also, the vowel is longer on the word ‘badge’. Vowels are a little longer before voiced endings in these kinds of minimal pairs. So, you have two clues to help figure out which word it is: the strength of the ending and the length of the vowel.
But, there is a time when the weak ending gets stronger. Do you know when that is? It’s when we link it to a word that begins with a vowel or diphthong. In a consonant to vowel link, it helps to think of the ending consonant as beginning the next word. So if you think of it as a beginning consonant, then it gets much stronger. Let’s go back to the word ‘flowers’, and put it in a phrase, ‘flowers on the table’. Flowers on, flowers on. Now I’m hearing a little bit more of a clear Z sound, zon [3x]. Flowers on. It’s stronger than when the word was at the end of a sentence. I love flowers. ss, ss, ss. Flowers on, zz, zz, zz. So if the ending, weak voiced consonant links into a vowel, it’s not really that weak anymore.
This topic was pretty advanced. So if you don’t understand, don’t worry. If you do, think of lightening ending voiced consonants and see if that helps make the pronunciation of those words easier.
If there’s a word or phrase you’d like help pronouncing, please put it in the comments below. Also, I’m very excited to tell you that my book is now on sale. If you liked this video, there’s a lot more to learn about American English pronunciation, and my book will help you step by step. You can get it by clicking here, or in the description below.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.