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Pronunciation of plural forms (BrE)


1.- What is the sound for the letter “s” in plural forms of the words? I mean, is it pronounced like a ‘z’ sound (like in knickers /ˈnɪkəz/) or like an ‘s’ sound ?

2.- Does it happen with all the plural forms that end with an “s” (eyes, brothers, dogs, so on)? Or just with some of them depending on the last vowel?

3.- In those words whose singular forms end in a letter “r” (that is not pronounced), is this “r” pronounced when is used the plural form of those words? (For example, is the last “r” pronounced when you say “Brothers”, “Sisters”, “Killers”, “mirrors”, “conjurors”, “mares”, Etc. ?)


  • DavidCrosbieDavidCrosbie ✭✭✭
    edited April 19


    Question 1.
    In all languages there's an observable difference between consonants produced with and without VOICE — sound made when the vocal cords are allowed to vibrate.
    In most languages most of the time, changing a consonant from VOICED to VOICELESS results in a different wortd with a different meaning.
    In English this is true for consonants in almost every position in a word. It's certainly true for consonants at the end of a word. Here are the English voiceless and voiced consonants.


    • p (voiceless) / b (voiced) — rope androbe are different words
    • t (voiceless) / d (voiced) — sat and sad are different words
    • k (voiceless) / g (voiced) — pick and pig are different words
    • f (voiceless) / v (voiced) — safe and save are different words
    • θ (voiceless) / ð (voiced) — teeth and teethe are different words


    • s (voiceless) / z (voiced) — fuss and fuzz are different words
    • ʃ (voiceless) / ʒ (voiced) — douche and rouge do not rhyme
    • ʧ (voiceless) / ʤ (voiced) — catch and cadge are different words

    In English three consonants are produced with your mouth closed and the breath coming out through your nose.
    To English ears they are all VOICED. If you produce one without letting your vocal cords vibrate, then either we won't understand you or we'll hear it as VOICED.
    These 'nasal' consonants are

    • m (voiced) — as in some
    • n (voiced) — as in sun
    • ŋ (voiced) — as in sung

    In English these sounds happen only before or after a vowel sound.
    Before a vowel sound they can be consonants.
    After a vowel they merge together to make a single sound called a diphthong.
    So the sounds can't occur as consonants at the end of a word.
    In English we all hear one sound as always voiced.

    • j (voiced) — as in Yale

    In some accents of English we hear a difference

    • ʍ (voiceless) / w (voiced) — whales and Wales are different in some accents

    There's only one sound and the way we use it is complicated.
    In all accents it can't occur after a consonant sound at the end of a word.
    In many accents it can't occur after a vowel at the end of a word — unless immediately followed by a words stating with a vowel.
    On other accents (e.g. Scottish, American) it can occur at eht end of a word, and also before a consonant sound.
    So in some accents there can be a VOICED and VOICELESS pair, but we don't hear the difference.
    There can be different r-sounds in cart and card in these accents, so that the two consonants are similar: [r̥t] (voiceless) [rd] (voiced).
    For practical purposes, there is only one sound and it's voiced

    • r (voiced) — as in beer in accents such as Scottish or American

    Again only one sound. In English we never use it at the end of a word.
    In fact we only use it before a vowel sound so the end of it may become voiced.
    However, in English it starts as a voiceless sound, so that's how it's classified.

    • h (voiceless)

    There is only one sound, and not everybody uses it. And we use it only for words from another language — almost always the word loch, sometimes Bach.

    • x (voiceless)

    All English vowel sounds and all English diphthongs are voiced.
    So we can divide the sounds at the end of a word into three:

    1. voiceless consonant sounds (from GROUP A and in some accents GROUP G)
    2. vowel sounds, diphthong sounds and voiced consonants (from GROUPS A, C, and in some accents E)
    3. voiced and voicedless consonants of GROUP B

    The sounds for a regular plural are:

    1. sropes, cats, picks, safes, paths (and for some lochs)
    2. zrobes, cads, pigs, waves, lathes, sums, sons, rungs (and for some beers)
      — plus all words ending in vowel sound or consonant sounds
    3. ɪz — buses, causes, wishes, garages (for some speakers), matches, badges

    Question 2.
    It always depends on the last consonant — if it's the final sound.
    The last vowel makes no difference — unless it's the final sound

    Question 3.
    Words with a spelling ending in -r are complicated because of the different accents of English. I'll post separately.

  • DavidCrosbieDavidCrosbie ✭✭✭
    edited April 20

    Question 3.

    In accents such as Scottish and American words spelled with a final letter-R (or final letters -RE) are always pronounced with an R-sound.
    When there is a plural noun-ending, I hear it as voiced r followed by voiced z.
    This may not be objectively true but it makes no practical difference.

    In accents like mine, and most accents of Britain and the Southern Hemisphere, words spelled with a final letter-R (or final letters -RE) are pronounced with a vowel sound or diphthong sound.
    A plural noun-ending is therefore pronounced z.
    In my accent the sounds are:

    • -ɑː, -ɑːzcar, cars
    • -ɔː, -ɔːzcore, cores; four, fours; drawer, drawers; floor, floors; dinosaur, dinosaurs plus possibly cursor, cursors when spoken carefully for emphasis
    • -ɜː, -ɜːzfir, firs; cur, curs; entrepreneur, entrepresurs plus possibly sender, senders when spoken carefully for emphasis
    • -ə, -əzbrother, brothers; theatre, theatres; mirror, mirrors; colour, colours; molar, molars


    • -ɪə, -ɪəzfear, fears; beer, beers; pier, piers; emir, emirs; mere, meres
    • -ɛə, -ɛəzmare, mares; pair, pairs; heir, heir; bear, bears; prayer, prayers; mayor, mayors
    • -jʊə, -jʊəzcure, cures
    • -aɪə, -aɪəzdyer, dyers; denier, deniers; fire, fires; choir, choirs; liar, liars; lyre, lyres; buyer, buyers
    • -aʊə, -aʊəzflower, flowers
  • DavidCrosbieDavidCrosbie ✭✭✭
    edited April 21

    I see I missed one English consonant sound. It's the one spelled with letter-L or letters-LL or -LE or -LLE Like the nasal consonant sounds of GROUP C, it's VOICED in English:

    • l (voiced)

    So a fuller version should read

    The sounds for a regular plural are:

    1. sropes, cats, picks, safes, paths (and for some lochs)
    2. zrobes, cads, pigs, waves, lathes, sums, sons, rungs, balls (and for some beers)
      — plus all words ending in vowel sound or consonant sounds
    3. ɪzbuses, causes, wishes, garages (for some speakers), matches, badges
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