English pronunciation rules - sounds

by Viv Quarry (www.vivquarry.com)

 

Although English pronunciation rules exist, after a quick internet search, it seems that you need a master's in linguistics to understand them. Therefore, Viv has done his best to explain the two English pronunciation rules he believes may be most useful to foreign learners.

 

If a word ends in the letter 's' (e.g. plural noun or verb in the third person), there are three ways to pronounce this 's' - /S/, /Z/ and /IZ/. Similarly, any word which ends in 'ed' (e.g. adjective or the past of a regular verb) may be pronounced either /T/, /D/ or /ID/.

 

1. Final 's'

 

 

In type one words, the final 's' should be pronounced with air pushed out between the top of your tongue and your top teeth, without using the vocal chords (the sound made by a snake or gas escaping from a pipe).

 

Type one sounds are used if the word ends in the following sounds:

 

Standard

phonetic

symbols

Viv's

phonetic

symbols

 

Example word

/p/

/P/

stops, ships

/t/

/T/

hits, pets

/k/

/K/

attacks, bricks

/f/

/F/

laughs, coughs

/θ/

/θ/

maths, moths

 

These sounds are all unvoiced, which means that your vocal chords must be silent when you make the sound.

Type two sound /Z/

 

This sound is formed in the same way as type 1, but you must make a sound with your vocal chords (the sound made by a bee, or high-voltage electricity)

 

Type two sounds come after the following sounds:

 

Standard

phonetic

symbols

Viv's

phonetic

symbols

 

Example word

/b/

/B/

grabs, robs

/d/

/D/

lids, rods

/g/

/G/

pigs, dogs

/v/

/V/

loves, leaves

/D/

/DZ/

breathes, lathes

/l/

/L/

hills, fails

/m/

/M/

comes, trams

/n/

/N/

earns, burns

/N/

//

songs, paintings

any vowel sound

any vowel sound

plays, employees, flees, goes, news

 

These sounds are all voiced, which means that your vocal chords must make a sound when you pronounce them.

 

This sound is the same as the verb 'to be' in its third person form (is). Type three sounds are the only ones which add an additional syllable to the word, for example 'miss' /MIS/ is one syllable, but 'misses' /MIS IZ/ is two syllables. The final /IZ/ syllable isn't usually stressed.

 

 

Standard

phonetic

symbols

Viv's

phonetic

symbols

 

Example word

/s/

/S/

buses, places

/z/

/Z/

chooses, sizes

/∫/

/SH/

washes, wishes

/t∫/

/TCH/

watches, matches

/dƷ/

/DJ/

Judges, pages

 

If a word ends in a consonant sound + 'y', the pronunciation of final 'y' is /EE/ and in the plural it has a type 3 sound, but there is no extra syllable e.g. 'copy' /KO PEE/ (2 syllables), 'copies' /KO PIZ/ (also 2 syllables).

 

2. Final 'ed'

 

 

You make this sound by 'unsticking' your tongue from the roof of your mouth and pushing air out of your mouth at the same time. The vocal chords aren't used (sound at the end of 'at')

 

We use this sound when a word ends in an unvoiced phoneme (your vocal chords aren't used):

 

Standard

phonetic

symbols

Viv's

phonetic

symbols

 

Example word

/s/

/S/

passed, placed

/∫/

/SH/

washed, wished

/t∫/

/TCH/

watched, matched

/p/

/P/

stopped, trapped

/k/

/K/

locked, packed

/f/

/F/

laughed, coughed

/θ/

/θ/

frothed

 

 

This sound is formed in the same way as type 1, but you must use your vocal chords at the same time (sound at the beginning of 'do').

Words ending in voiced phonemes (with sound produced by your vocal chords) are pronounced with a type 2 'ed':

 


Standard

phonetic

symbols

Viv's

phonetic

symbols

 

Example word

/z/

/Z/

buzzed, amazed

/b/

/B/

grabbed, robbed

/g/

/G/

bugged, tagged

/v/

/V/

loved, craved

/D/

/DZ/

breathed, bathed

/l/

/L/

piled, failed

/m/

/M/

drummed, rammed

/n/

/N/

rained, pinned

/N/

//

pinged, wronged

/dƷ/

/DJ/

judged, raged

any vowel sound

any vowel sound

played, employed, tried, flowed, skied

 

 

Type 3 'ed' adds an additional syllable in the same way as type 3 final 's'. For example, the past of 'mend' is pronounced /MEN DID/ with stress on the first syllable.

 

Words ending in /t/ and /d/ sounds are type 3, but some adjectives also have this sound.

 

Standard

phonetic

symbols

Viv's

phonetic

symbols

 

Example word

/t/

/T/

waited, retreated

/d/

/D/

handed, ended

 

Adjectives with type 3 'ed'

aged, learned, naked, ragged, rugged, wicked, wretched

 

Rules adapted from the Oxford English Headway intermediate workbook and rules found at the following link: http://www.uni-greifswald.de/~anglam/staff/Material/Fanning/PronRules.pdf

 

Teacher's note.

Unfortunately, not all the phonetic symbols are available with Windows XP. If you want to see these symbols on your computer, you will need to download (free) the appropriate fonts see Wikipedia entry or the download link on Viv's site. For help with the spelling of one syllable words in their 'ing' or regular past forms, see Viv's Spelling worksheet.

Pronunciation practice exercises

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