The consonant /s/ voiceless, alveolar, fricative consonant




  • “s” – son, post
  • ”se” - house, base
  • “ss” – miss, lesson
  • “c” (+ i/y/e) – cinnamon, ceremony
  • "ce" - once, place
  • “sc” (+ i/y/e) – scissors, scene
  • "st" (not common) - listen, hasten


Note: The spelling "x" (as in fix, boxes, Mexico) is pronounced /ks/. 


The sound /s/ can be part of these consonant clusters: 
  • Beginning of a Syllable
/sp/ ("sp")- spin
/sl/ ("sl")- slip
/st/ ("st") - stare
/sk/ ("sk" / “sc”) - skate, scare
/sw/ ("sw") - swim
/sm/ ("sm") - smile
/sn/ ("sn") - snow
/spl/ ("spl") - split
/spr/ ("spr") - spring
/str/ ("str") - street
/skw/ (“squ”) - squid
  • End of a Syllable
/sp/ ("sp")- wasp
/sps/ ("sps") - lisps
/st/ ("st") - lost
/sts/ ("sts") - hosts
/sk/ ("sk")- task
/ks/ ("ks" / "cks" / “x”) - looks, tucks, fax
/sks/ ("sks") - masks
/ŋks/ ("nks") - thinks
/lks/ ("lks") - silks
/ts/ ("ts" / "tts") - hits, watts
/lts/ ('lts") - melts
/nts/ ("nts") - pants
/sts/ ("sts") - nests
 ("mps") - lumps
/fs/ ("fs" / "ffs") - proofs, sniffs
/ps/ ("ps" /"pes" / "pps" / "ppes") - lips, hopes, apps, steppes
/lps/ ("lps") - helps
/lfs/ ("lfs") - gulfs
/θs/ ("ths") - breaths
/dθs/ (“dths”) - widths
/ndθs/ (“dths”) - thousandths
/fθs/ ("fths") - fifths
/lfθs/ ("lfths") - twelfths
/tθs/ (“ths”) - eighths
/ksθ/ ("xth") - sixth
/ksθs/ ("xths") - sixths

Grammar Tip:

The “-s” ending is used to mark plural nouns, possessive nouns, and present tense 3rd person singular verbs. The “-s” ending is pronounced /s/ after most voiceless consonants (/p/, /t/, /k/, /f/, /θ/).
  • Plural nouns: cats, books
  • Possessive nouns: Matt’s book, Denmark’s capital
  • 3rd person singular verbs: he laughs, she helps
Compare /s/ with /z/:

These sounds are both alveolar, fricative consonants. However, /s/ is a voiceless consonant and /z/ is a voiced consonant. If you are pronouncing /s/, your vocal cords should not vibrate. At the end of a word, the vowel before /s/ will be shorter than the vowel before /z/.
You can hear the difference between /s/ and /z/ in these words.
1. A. sip, B. zip
2. A. sue, B. zoo
3. A. bus, B. buzz
4. A. loose, B. lose
5. A. pierce, B. peers
6. A. doses, B. dozes

Now, compare /s/ and /ʃ/:

These are both voiceless, fricative consonants. However, /s/ is an alveolar fricative and /ʃ/ is an alveo-palatal fricative. When you pronounce /s/, your tongue is slightly farther forward than when you pronounce /ʃ/.
You can hear the difference between /s/ and /ʃ/ in these words.
1. A. sip, B. ship
2. A. sowed, B. showed
3. A. mass, B. mash
4. A. rust, B. rushed
5. A. leases, B. leashes
6. A. parcel, B. partial
Listen and repeat these words:
1. south
2. scope
3. sleep
4. space
5. street
6. spring
7. smile
8. guess
9. desk
10. last
11. tops
12. lets
13. message
14. aspect
15. escape
16. interesting
17. especially
18. astronomy
19. mistaken
20. distrust

Now, practice /s/ in sentences. Say the words first, then the sentences.
1. sent – message – person
I sent the message to the wrong person.
2. cross – street – intersection
You should cross the street at the intersection.
3. missed – last – asleep
I missed your call last night because I was asleep.
4. astronomers – study – space
Astronomers study outer space.
5. looks – outside – snowy
The weather outside looks snowy.
6. class – meets - six (x = /ks/)
Our class meets at six o'clock.

To practice with different varieties of English, choose another native English speaker by clicking one of the links below:

Consonants /d/ and /g/

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