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The American English “X” requires that speakers know and use four specific sounds. I’ll show you lots of examples of each, using vocabulary words (and their IPA) to break down this complicated lesson into easy-to-learn steps.
You’ve seen the letter X, but did you know there’s no X sound in American English? Confusing, right? In this video, you’re going to learn the different sounds we use to pronounce the letter X. So you’ll feel totally comfortable pronouncing words with this letter.
Every once in a while, I get a question from someone about the X sound. And I have to say, there is no X sound in American English. We have the letter X but let’s take a look at what sounds that letter actually represents.
There are four different ways this letter can be pronounced. First, we’ll go over those pronunciations, then we’ll go over the most common words with the letter X and which pronunciation those words have.
First, let’s go over the two most common pronunciations. In each of these words, the letter X makes two different sounds. The word extra. Before I tell you what sounds are there, I want you to listen and see if you can guess. Extra. Extra. Now, I’m going to slow it down and exaggerate. Extra. Extra. Extra. Extra. Kkk. Ssss. K and S. That’s the unvoiced version of this pronunciation. Extra.
Now we don’t pronounce them with the separation. K is a stop consonant, ek- ek-. Did you hear how my voice abruptly stopped? Ek– It wasn’t ehh– That’s because of the K. You lift the back of the tongue to the soft palate. Ekk– And that cuts off of the air, it cuts off the sound. Now, rather than pulling down the tongue by itself, ekk– kk– kk– Rather than making that full K sound, you instead go right into the S. Ekk– sss— ksss—
So when you pull your tongue down in the back, the front of your tongue, the front of your mouth is already in position for the S sound. Ekkkksss— So when you release the air, release the tongue, everything’s ready to go for the S and the S sound is made.
For the S, the teeth are together and the tip of the tongue is either pressing the back of the bottom front teeth, or it can point up a little bit. Sssss. Sssss. Practice just the KS sounds with me. Front of the mouth is in position for the S, and bring the back of the tongue up to the soft palate. Let air build up and release it by bringing the back of the tongue down.
Kksss. Kksss. Kksss. Kksss. Kksss. Kksss. Let’s put it into the word ‘extra’ slowly. Extra. Extra. That’s the unvoiced pronunciation.
But there’s also a voiced pronunciation like in the word ‘exam’. The letter X still represents two sounds here. What sounds are you hearing now? Exam. I’ll pronounce it slowly. Eeggggg– zzz– eggzzaam.
G and Z. Those are the voice versions of K and S so everything about the position is the same, but rather than releasing air, ksss, ksss, you release a voiced sound, gzz, gzzz, gzzz. Exam. Exam.
You know what I find interesting about these two pronunciations is that there’s a syllable break between the two sounds that this one letter X makes. Exam. Exam. So the Z sound starts the stressed syllable. Exam.
The word ‘except’. The S sound starts the stressed syllable. Except. Okay, so those are the two most common pronunciations. What are the other two pronunciations of the letter X?
It can be a Z sound. This happens in two cases. First, when it starts a word. Two examples: Xanthan. You may know this word because it’s a common ingredient in processed foods. Xanthan. Z sound. Xenophile. Someone who loves foreign cultures, people, or customs. Z sound. Xenophile. This is X at the beginning of a word.
At the end of a word, it can also be a Z sound. These are words that we’ve borrowed from French. The combination EAUX and we may keep the French spelling with the X at the end but we use the American pronunciation. They’re plurals so we add a Z sound. For example, the word ‘beau’. A sweetheart, a male sweetheart. Maybe you have lots of Beau’s. For the spelling of the plural, we may write an S or we may write an X. Both are acceptable in American English. But both are pronounced with the American English rules which is a Z sound at the end. It can be a little confusing.
It can also be silent at the end of a few words. I’m thinking of the word ‘faux’ which is another way of saying fake. My coat is faux fur not real fur. Also in the word ‘Bordeaux’ where we kind of use the French pronunciation. Also in ‘roux’ again, a word borrowed from French, a mixture of fat and flour to thicken sauces. Faux. Bordeaux. Roux. The letter X is silent.
But the most common pronunciations of the letter X are KS or GZ. I’ve gathered some words for each category and I found something interesting. Something interesting happens with the word ‘sex’ which, let’s face, it is an interesting word anyway. So we’ll go over that when we get to it. But first, I need your help. Almost every example I came up with where the sound is voiced, GZ looks the same. EX and then the rest of the word. I can’t tell if I can’t think of any more because I’m so focused on that or if there just aren’t many more.
So please put any words you can think of where the letter X makes the GZ sounds in the comments below.
Here’s my list. Repeat out loud and remember, in each word, X is GZ. Gzzz. Gzz.
Now for words where the letter X makes the unvoiced sounds, KS, kssss. We’ll talk about sex when we get to it in this list.
Okay, let’s listen.
So with the word ‘sex’. Something changes when it’s followed by U, like in: sexual, sexuality, bisexual, sexualized. Now, instead of KS, the sounds we get are KSH. Ksshh. Kkk-sshh.
Sexual. So sex, sexy, we still have KS. But as soon as it’s followed by U, sexual, sexual. It changes. We now have KSH. Sexual. And actually, I thought of one other word. The word ‘luxury’ this is also different. It’s just like ‘sexual’ only it’s voiced, so it’s G and then ddjjzz. Lugg– there’s the G, lugggjjzz, gggjjzz, gggjjzz, gggjjzz and there’s the gggjjzz sound. Luxury. Luxury.
I couldn’t come up with any other words with this pronunciation. If you can think of any words where the letter X makes the ggjjzz sounds, definitely put those words in the comments below.
You’ve learned a lot about the letter X today and also about English. You’ve learned that in English, any one letter can be pronounced various different ways. And you can’t necessarily tell by looking at it. This is why phonetics are so important. Understanding the symbols we use for sounds rather than trying to think in terms of letters.
How familiar are you with the International Phonetic Alphabet? I’ve made a series of videos that goes over the symbols you need to know for American English, and this can be really helpful when looking up a word and trying to figure out the pronunciation.
Click here now or in the description below to start learning these important symbols. What other words can you think of with an X and what pronunciation does the letter X have in those words? Put them in the comments below so everyone can learn even more words with the letter X. That’s it and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.