Ends of Words — A Special Trick

Consonant sounds at the ends of English words are difficult for many students, but it is definitely important to pronounce them well. This is explained in Ends of Words.

If you have difficulty pronouncing word-final consonants in English, here is a special trick that can make it easier: link the end of the word to the beginning of the next word.

Let’s use the sentence “He saved up his money”, for an example. 

In the phrase “saved up”, pronouncing the “-ed” can be tricky, and skipping this “-ed” is a fairly common mistake for students. But in normal conversation, the [d] at the end of “saved” links to the beginning of the word “up”, and it actually sounds like: “save-dup”.

This kind of linking is a normal part of English pronunciation, so it is a trick that makes you sound more natural, and moving the [d] sound to the beginning of the next word makes it easier to pronounce.

Linking can also help to avoid the problem of added vowel sounds. In “saved up” the [e] is silent, but some students have trouble saying the [v] next to the [d] without sticking a vowel sound in the middle. But that could cause a problem, because if the [e] is not silent, then it will end up sounding like “save it up” instead.

Even though linking can make pronunciation easier, it can sometimes make listening harder. Some students have asked me “Why do we have to say the last letter, if native speakers don’t?” They mistakenly think that native speakers skip the last letter, because they don’t hear it at the end of the word, since it is delayed until the beginning of the next word.

Linking a consonant to a vowel

When the second word starts with a vowel, it is easier to hear the linked consonant:
talked about:  “talk-dabout”
hard enough: “har-denough”
stops it: “stop-sit”
turned off: “turn-doff”

Linking a consonant to a consonant

When the second word starts with a consonant, the ending of the first word is harder to hear, so it may seem like it is missing. However, if it is actually removed, then it would sound different. For example, in the phrase “keep speaking”, you might think that the [p] is missing, but if I acutally take it away, then it would sound like I am saying “key speaking”!

Here are a few more examples:
“might buy” (not “my by”)
“teen center” (not “tee center”)
“seat cover” (not “sea cover”)
“home plate” (not “hoe plate”)

Listen for linking when you hear native English speakers. And give it try yourself. It can help you speak more clearly.


S vs. Z

When you see the letter “S” how do you know if you should pronounce it with an S-sound or a Z-sound? Knowing how to pronounce “S” can be tricky. The bad news is that there are no clear-cut rules, so you really need to learn to use your ear.

Pronouncing the sounds of S and Z

Some students have trouble hearing the difference and pronouncing the two sounds correctly. Both “S” and “Z” are made in the same place in the mouth, but the factor that distinguishes them is: voicing. For “S” the voice is off, so there is only the sound of air coming from the mouth: /s/. For “Z” there is also the sound of air, but the voice is on, so the vocal cords need to be making sound: /z/.

Pronouncing words spelled with S

Now, even if you have no trouble hearing and saying these two sounds, the spelling can leave you totally confused. English spelling does not always indicate which sound you should use.

Frequent Words

The first step is to make sure that you are pronouncing the everyday words correctly. Here are the words from the 1,000 most frequently used words of English in which the [s] is pronounced as /z/. You should definitely make sure that you are saying these words right:

is, was, as, his, these, has, isn’t, does, doesn’t, because, those, wasn’t, easy, whose, thousand, lose, cause, reason, present, raise, phrase, surprise, design, rise, choose, visit, observe, nose, rose, confuse.

However, not every word with an “S” has a Z-sound. In these words the sound is /s/:

this, its, also, us, answer, listen, pass, person, course, less, base, yes, beside, case, let’s, possible, else, itself, thus, sense, necessary, various.

What can make it seem even more confusing, is that there are sometimes differences in American and British English spellings, such as: realize/realise. These small variations in spelling do not confuse native speakers of English because they already know how the words should sound. You just need to be aware that even though the spelling looks different, the pronunciation is the same, so don’t let it confuse you.

Pronouncing Words with [-s] endings

The S and Z-sounds are also important in words that end with [-s]. The good news is, there is a clear pattern for this. The sound of an “S” at the end of a word needs to match the voicing of the sound just before it. Here are some examples to illustrate:

take — the last sound in this word /k/ is voiceless. So when an “S” is added, it matches the voicing of the “K” and is pronounced as /s/: takes

live — the last sound in this word /v/ is voiced. So when an “S” is added, it follows the voicing of the “V” and is pronounced as /z/: lives

pass — the last sound in this word is already /s/, so when “S” is added, a small vowel sound is used to separate them. And since all vowel sounds are voiced, the [-s] ending is pronounced as /z/: passes. 

So remember, keep your ears open and listen carefully so that you are not confused about pronouncing “S” and “Z”.

Ends of Words

Another common problem is saying the ends of words clearly. I have seen a lot of students who skip the last letters of words, and it seems that many of them are not aware that they are doing that.

In English, most words end with a consonant sound, AND the majority of words that do have a vowel sound last are frequently used words such as “to” “do” “the” “you” “he” or have an ending such as “-ly” or “-y”. (Remember: for most words that are spelled with an “e” at the end, the “e” is silent in pronunciation.)

This is different from many other languages. There are many languages that do not have consonants at the ends of words (or they only use a limited set of consonant sounds). If your mouth is not accustomed to making a clear or strong consonant sound at the ends of words, it can be difficult to learn to do this in English.

Why it is important to pronounce the last letters of words clearly:
1. Skipping sounds can make you very difficult to understand in general.
2. In some cases, it can give you a “baby talk” kind of sound.
3. In many short words, it can cause some funny or confusing mix-ups.

Here is an example of a mix-up:
If you say the word “flute” but you skip the “t” sound (or say it too weakly), then it can sound like the word “flu”. So instead of saying “He is taking flute lessons” it could sound like you said “He is taking flu lessons”!!

A few examples of possible mix-ups:
“wait” could sound like –> “way”
shoot –> shoe
house –> how
might –> my
make –> may
bike / bite –> buy (or by)
type / tight –> tie
plane / plate –> play
mean / meat –> me
hide –> high
life / like / light / line –> lie
lake –> lay
seek / seat –> see (or sea)

How to Practice
In general, the best is advice is to try to exaggerate the last consonant of words (say it a little bit too strong). I have often noticed that when students feel that they are saying a final consonant very strongly, it actually sounds just right (or is even still a little bit too weak)!

It might feel awkward for you, but that awkward feeling is often a sign that you are doing good. If your mouth always feels “normal” to you when you say something in English, then you are probably using the muscle patterns that are normal for your native language.