Accent Reduction: 3 Easy Rules for Pronouncing Final -S (Part 2)

One accent reduction method involves 3 easy rules for pronouncing final -s.  Pronouncing “s” in the final position of words is a common challenge to speakers of English as a non-native language.  One particular challenge is understanding when to add an extra syllable to the final -s.  Keep reading if you find it difficult to know when to do this.  Here are easy tips to increase your American accent awareness and pronunciation.

When to Add an Extra Syllable to -S

Knowing when to add an extra syllable to the final -s prevents communication blocks. When you know this rule, your American English listener can easily process what you’re saying, and add information to the exchange or ask follow up questions.   You either add an extra syllable or not.  Here’s how you know whether to add an extra syllable.

Add an Extra Syllable in these Circumstances

The only time you add an extra syllable to the final -s at the end of words is when the words end in the following phonemes: /s/, /z/, /ʃ/, /ʧ/, /ӡ/, and /ʤ/.  The extra syllable is pronounced as “ez” or /əz/.  For example, pronounce the following words that end in “s” as indicated below. Notice that each example illustrates a different grammatical structure including plural -s, possessive -s, and third person singular -s.

  1. Class-/clæsəz/ (plural noun)
  2. Maze-/mezəz/ (plural noun)
  3. Cruises-/kruzəz/ (plural noun or third person singular verb) *Notice that “s” is pronounced as /z/ even though it is spelled as “s.”
  4. Washes-/waʃəz/ (third person singular verb)
  5. Watches-/waʧəz/ (third person singular verb)
  6. Massages-/məsaʒəz/ (plural noun or third person singular verb)
  7. Marge’s-/marʤəz/ (possessive proper noun)

Summary of Pronouncing -S

The final -s spelling is pronounced differently depending on its preceding phonemes.  Final -s is utilized in nouns, verbs, possessive pronouns, plural nouns, possessive proper nouns, and third person singular verbs.  The rule for pronouncing the final -s as voiced or voiceless (as /s/ versus /z/)  in those grammatical structures are based on whether the preceding phonemes in the word are voiced or voiceless.  The rule or adding an extra syllable depends on the preceding phonemes as well.

The aforementioned stated rules and examples clearly outline the situations in which you pronounce the final -s as voiced or voiceless. Knowing these rules will definitely make a positive impact on your daily communication with others who speak the American English accent.  Incorporating these rules into your accent program and practice will leave a lasting effect and will ultimately prove to maximize your confidence with the American English accent.

To you mastering your final -s pronunciation,


Source: Marjorie Feinstein-Whittaker & Lynda Katz-Wilner.  Rules for Using Linguistic Elements of Speech. Owings Mills: Successfully Speaking, 2006, 2007, 2nd Edition. Print.


MatejaAugust 27th, 2014 at 7:52 am

Great tips!

Bonnie NussbaumAugust 27th, 2014 at 12:32 pm

Even people who speak English as their native language have some issues with this one!

Cher GundersonAugust 27th, 2014 at 1:10 pm

Bonnie, yes-just yesterday I noticed this while speaking with a cashier at Khol’s 🙂 She had pronounced “kiosks” as “kioskes” by adding an extra syllable. The reason this happens is because the phonemic complexity is higher being that a consonant cluster is present (“sk” is a consonant cluster). Add in that we add an “s” after the “sk” to make “sks” and it is a tongue twister-even more phonemically complex! Great observation 🙂

Cher GundersonAugust 27th, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Mateja, thank you 🙂 I’m curious as to whether they were applicable to you with your native accent. For example, does the Slovenian language have such speech combinations as adding an extra syllable for words ending in final -s?

Kailean WelshAugust 27th, 2014 at 1:24 pm

It’s interesting to see this broken down into such detail. So many things to think about to speak clearly and correctly….. Thanks for the information!

TeenaAugust 27th, 2014 at 5:39 pm

Very interesting information Cher – I love to learn how to improve my speaking – English is the only language that I speak and when I pronounce something wrong it can often be embarrassing especially if I’m told in a shaming way. Thank you for your wisdom and gentle guidance.


veronicaAugust 27th, 2014 at 8:32 pm

I admire your knowledge of speech and language and how it all works together when we know what to look for and the rules. I do realize how instinctive this process becomes as well. What a gift you are!

Dorothy FitzerAugust 27th, 2014 at 8:51 pm

Hahaha – love it. Was practicing the sounds as I went along. I really enjoy these Cher. Maybe it’s just be, but I love analyzing sound. Keep it coming!

Tina GamesAugust 27th, 2014 at 10:53 pm

I’m really enjoying this series of blog posts, Cher! ~ I just spent some time in Montreal and noticed the “hybrid” language that French-speaking Canadians were speaking in English – and the “hybrid” language that I was speaking as a native English speaker who was speaking in French. It made me curious about all the “hybrid” languages being created all over the world – when people attempt to learn and speak two, three, four or more languages – and unknowingly blend them together. ~ It’s not as easy as one might think – to speak in a language that is not our native language. Regardless of how fluent one might be, there’s bound to be a blending of languages – particularly during a time of anxiety (like speaking in front of a group of people in a language that’s not one’s natural language). ~ It makes your work all the more important! 🙂

Cher GundersonAugust 28th, 2014 at 6:59 am

Tina, thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience with the “hybrid” French-English to which you’ve been exposed as of late. Your point about speaking in a non-native language in front of a group is well-taken. Yes, the added anxiety that is common in front of groups adds to the emotional load on the speaker, zapping their brains’ abilities to focus on their language formulation, intonation, speaking rate, and pronunciation. The beauty is that with the communication and cognitive-behavioral tools we offer, we can help minimize the effects of the anxiety and create impact on the audience they’re serving 🙂
Thanks again Tina,

Cher GundersonAugust 28th, 2014 at 7:00 am

Dorothy, Ha! So great you enjoy these articles and examples 🙂 I definitely will keep it coming!
To the fun in this,

Cher GundersonAugust 28th, 2014 at 7:05 am

Veronica, how I appreciate you taking the time to offer your own words of appreciation to me. I was going through some old college materials yesterday and was thinking about how I love analyzing and learning about the factors of speech, language, thought, and behavior. The culmination of my knowledge is applying it in real-world situations with people, helping them confidently present themselves, effectively communicate, and maximize their credibility and impact 🙂 That’s what it’s all about!

Cher GundersonAugust 28th, 2014 at 7:11 am

Teena, you bring up a practical point. Many times people have been shamed instead of guided and supported in situations of opportunity for growth. My passion is guiding and supporting-setting a foundation for people to discover, synthesize, and apply the information in their own ways. Remember that when someone shames another, it speaks to the insecurities of the person “shaming” and not to the person being “shamed.” Errors aren’t shamable. They’re opportunities for growth 🙂
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

Cher GundersonAugust 28th, 2014 at 7:18 am

Kailean, Yes, I like to offer details where they are practical for learning. These “details” to many who speak English as their non-native languages, are major key points that make a huge impact in their everyday speech. Most English as a Second or other Language programs don’t provided this information. The result is that someone understands the language and formulates the language, yet runs into barriers because of HOW they speak-often being asked “What did you say?” and “Can you say that again?” It causes inefficient exchanges with people and wears on the speaker’s confidence levels and in many cases, creates missed opportunities for connecting with people in personal way and creating an impact.
Thank you for showing your interest Kailean,

Pam Kachelmeier MA, PC, LCAugust 30th, 2014 at 7:07 pm

I have a presentation this Tuesday at the Chamber of Commerce; I will keep this in mind, great information Cher.

Cher GundersonSeptember 2nd, 2014 at 5:44 pm

Pam, how did your presentation go?

MahfeliSeptember 18th, 2014 at 4:01 pm

It was very helpful. we don’t have the equivalent rules in our native language, Farsi. So it’ makes it difficult for our students to follow the rules.

Cher GundersonSeptember 18th, 2014 at 6:55 pm

I’m so glad this article was helpful to you and your students. Are there any other American accent rules you’re curious about? I’m happy to answer your questions. Out of curiousity, are you a teacher?
To your success,

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