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I've always pronounced “chase” with a z sound instead of s. This will go with the rule that s is pronounced z if it is between 2 vowels. I see anyway that the correct pronunciation is with s.

Chase - Cambridge Dictionary

Is there a reason or rule for that?

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    Good question - But! : There is no rule that 's' is pronouced as /z/ between vowel sounds in English! Jun 4, 2015 at 10:31
  • We also have the word chaise, and the "s" is pronounced as /z/ and the "ch" as /sh/. There are no rules just tendencies.
    – user6951
    Jun 4, 2015 at 12:10

3 Answers 3

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Is there a reason?

Yes, there is.

First of all, there are no rules that tell you how to pronounce an English word, based on its spelling.

Let me repeat that:

There are no rules that tell you how to pronounce an English word, based on its spelling.

That may be a bit shocking, but it's true.

But, but, there must be rules, how else do people know how to pronounce words?

Well, it's a common mistake to think that we pronounce words as they are written; it's the other way around: we write words as they are pronounced.

Now, in the case of English, spelling was decided on quite a long time ago for most words. The difficult part is that we spell English today in a way that it was pronounced a long time ago.

That's the short version. There have been some spelling reforms (for instance, Noah Webster did his best to make American English spelling more "logical"), but the main idea is just that: we write English the way it was pronounced a long time ago.

This means there are many words that are not pronounced in the way you would expect when looking at their spelling. One of the best illustrations of that is the poem The Chaos. It was written by Dr. Gerard Nolst Trenité, a Dutchman who probably felt the same frustration as many learners of English when trying to figure out the relationship between spelling and pronunciation in English.

There are different things that influence spelling, this answer is hardly complete. For a more detailed post on that, please see this excellent answer by Ben Kovitz.

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    Hmmm I'm very skeptical about tht rule. I don't even think it's a generalisation. Can you give some examples by any chance? Jun 4, 2015 at 10:29
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    @Araucaria: it's why I wrote "rule" and why I mentioned again it is not a rule... I spent my whole answer saying there are no rules, I certainly didn't want that last paragraph suggesting that there actually is a rule. But it is indeed as bad a generalization as the OP's version, so to avoid confusion, I have removed the last paragraph altogether :)
    – oerkelens
    Jun 4, 2015 at 10:54
  • +1 for explaining that it's "the other way around". I read your answer as a denial of the assumption that there must be a rule, not an affirmation. BTW, there's more to English spelling than attempting to represent pronunciation; that's a common misunderstanding (or mis-expectation). A short "long version" of factors is here, including the principle that morphemes often have distinct but consistent spellings. See also "The Spelling and Pronunciation of English" by Wayne O'Neil, if you can find it.
    – Ben Kovitz
    Jun 4, 2015 at 16:10
  • May be better to say there are "patterns" in English spelling than rules - and always exceptions.
    – LawrenceC
    Jun 4, 2015 at 16:24
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    @BenKovitz: I tried to keep it simple... your answer is amazingly detailed, I hope you don't mind if I reference it in my answer?
    – oerkelens
    Jun 4, 2015 at 16:40
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There is no hard and fast (reliable) rule. Here are a few examples of /s/ and /z/ sounds when the "s" is sandwiched between vowels:

With /s/: case, base, chase, vase*, erase

With /z/: phase, phrase, laser, quasar

(Source, third response.)

  • Note that "vase" is pronounced by many people with a /z/. See ODO

The same response has a nice list of /s/ vs /z/ sounds for you.

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  • Except vase can be pronounced as either an -s- or -z-.
    – user6951
    Jun 4, 2015 at 11:47
  • Fair point. In my accent, that's a /z/ (BrE).
    – JMB
    Jun 4, 2015 at 11:53
  • vase is a confusing example, because the a has 2 options as well - in my accent, it's vahse.
    – xorsyst
    Jun 4, 2015 at 13:43
  • Erase is /z/ in BrE as well. oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/english/erase Jun 4, 2015 at 13:59
  • In England, it's vase with an s, not a z.
    – Steve Ives
    Jun 4, 2015 at 14:38
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Is there a reason or rule for that?

There are no fixed rules as others have said.

I've always pronounced “chase” with a z sound instead of s. This will go with the rule that s is pronounced z if it is between 2 vowels. I see anyway that the correct pronunciation is with s.

This is not true for the most part. Whether or not the letter S in a particular word is pronounced /s/ or /z/ depends entirely on the evolution of the word. See for instance 'lose' vs 'loose'; 'lose' is a native English word and it underwent the voicing in Old English. 'Loose' on the other hand came from Old Norse and didn't undergo the voicing rule.

Most 'native' English words in which the letter S represents the /z/ sound went through the fricative voicing I explained in the answer I linked above. 'Chase' came from Old French in the thirteenth century by the time English had lost the voicing, so it retained its original [s] sound.

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