Let’s continue from where we left off in the last post on voiced and voiceless consonants. This will be a brief lesson. I’m making a simple point, that will not be very complicated.
Let’s do that voiced / voiceless sounds exercise again, this time with a different pair of words.
And like last time, try saying the following word pairs aloud, slowly and carefully. Pay close attention to what actual sounds you are making.
taps / tabs
tacks / tags
We have two different pairs of words here that are identical to each other except that one features a voiced sound at the end, while the other features a voiceless sound at the end.
Your pronunciation pairs would have been:
taps / tabz and taks / tagz
Basically, if the last sound in the word is voiceless (the word ‘tap’ ends with ‘p’, which is voiceless), the ‘s’ in its plural form gets pronounced as ‘s’ (as in ‘soft’), but if the last sound is voiced (the word ‘tab’ ends with ‘b,’ which is voiced), the ‘s’ its plural form gets pronounced as ‘z’ (as in ‘buzz’).
Now you might think this is another complicated rule to remember, and its going to be hard to figure when to say ‘z’ and when to say ‘s’ when using plural forms of words, but the truth is there is nothing you need to do about this rule. You don’t need to learn it, you don’t need to memorize it, and you don’t need to look at a word and make the effort to figure out which part is voiced and which is voiceless.
The reason is simple. It is simply not possible to do it the other way. Yes, you read that right. See if you can say ‘tapz’– ‘p’ followed by ‘z’. Or ‘tags’–‘g’ followed by ‘s’.
It cannot be done. The English language didn’t invent some convoluted rule just to make everyone’s life miserable. On the other hand, English is simply following a rule forced on it by limitations of physics and of the human body.
When we make a voiceless sound, it is impossible for us to immediately follow it with a voiced sound. And vice versa.
What this means is that you should ignore the spelling, and make that plural ‘s’ at the end of the word as either ‘z’ or as ‘s’, depending on whether the preceding sound is voiceless or not. The previous sound would typically dictate the pronunciation of the next sound. So dogs should be pronounced as dogz. Docks should be pronounced as ‘doks.’
This applies to not just plural forms, but to the past tense suffix, ‘ed.’ I’ve seen far too many people take that ‘d’ seriously, in spite of the preceding sound.
For example, the word ‘link’ ends with the voiceless consonant ‘k’, so the sound that comes after it MUST also be voiceless, regardless of how the spelling is. So the plural form of the word, ‘links’ will be pronounced as ‘links.’ And the past tense form of the word, ‘linked’ will be pronounced as ‘linkt.’ The spelling has a ‘d’, but you must pronounce it–you can only pronounce it–as a ‘t.’ Similarly: ‘banked’ should be pronounced as ‘bankt.’ ‘talked’ as ‘talkt.’
I’ve seen people take the spelling far too seriously, and with considerable effort pronounce the ‘d’ in the past tense suffix as ‘d’, when it should have been pronounced as ‘t.’ Some people, for example, pronounce ‘walked’ as ‘walkda.’ They have to add that ‘a’ at the end, otherwise that ‘d’ is impossible to pronounce.
So the pronunciation rule I set out to explain here has is not very complicated at all. You don’t have to memorize voiced and voiceless sound definitions, and you don’t have to consciously think about whether the sound you are going to utter next is voiced or voiceless. All that you need do is trust your own natural speech habits, and not take the spelling so seriously.