I remember my teacher told me the "s" in "apples" should be pronounced as /z/, but in some American teaching programs, I heard it be pronounced as /s/.

Which one is correct? Does it follow the same rule in English and American English?


Thanks for all the comments and answers.

I heard it from this free starfall math cource: http://more2.starfall.com/m/math/addResult-tennis/load.htm

There are three questions, and the things "balls", "oranges", "apples" are counted in each question. (The order may change every time)

For my ear, the "s" in all of the three words are all sound like /s/, not like /z/ (in zip)

Do I make a mistake?

Update: I just record how I read the 4 words apples, oranges, balls, bus/buzz, and uploaded it to this url: http://vocaroo.com/i/s12qqzMEwOYD . For each word, I read the s as /s/ first, then /z/ (from my understanding).

So there are 8 words:

1. apples /s/
2. apples /z/
3. oranges /s/
4. oranges /z/
5. balls /s/
6. balls /z/
7. bus /s/
8. buzz /z/

Could you tell me how do you feel?

Do you think it's /s/ or /z/ for my reading of 1/3/5? Do you feel it strange the way I pronounce /z/ in my 2/4/6? And can you distinguish the 7 and 8 from my reading?

Update: Thanks so much for stangdon's fantastic comment and the audio recording in that comment: http://vocaroo.com/i/s0nXNmyTOsVc

  • 2
    As a native speaker of American English, I can't imagine it being pronounced /s/. There is no difference between British and American English on this matter, as far as I know. Do you have an example of one of these programs?
    – stangdon
    Dec 27, 2015 at 13:41
  • @stangdon thanks, I just updated the question and provided the link
    – Freewind
    Dec 27, 2015 at 16:13
  • 2
    I listened to your recording, and your pronunciation of /z/ is pretty good. If I heard you speaking, I wouldn't really remark on it. Maybe it could be a little more strongly "voiced", a little more definitely /z/ instead of /s/, but that's all. I think the main issue will appear when a word ending in /z/ is followed by one beginning with /s/. I made a recording of my own to demonstrate the difference: in it, I'm saying "apple/z/, apple/s/, apple/z/, apple/s/, apple/z/ sing, apple/s/ sing." I'm exaggerating the difference a little, but only a little: vocaroo.com/i/s0nXNmyTOsVc
    – stangdon
    Dec 30, 2015 at 16:06
  • 1
    3 and 8 are spot on, and if anything the "l" in "apples" is a far bigger issue than the "s" in your pronunciation. More L, less W - this goes for your "balls" to (hehe), and the /s/ in "bus" needs to be harsher, more like the s in "snake"
    – Jon Story
    Dec 30, 2015 at 17:04
  • 1
    @Freewind - You're very welcome! Glad I could help you, and thank you for making me think about an aspect of English I don't usually think about!
    – stangdon
    Dec 30, 2015 at 21:04

2 Answers 2


This is a tricky question, because the answer from a pure phonetic perspective doesn't match the perception of most native English speakers. (Either British or American.)

In the phonological perception of native English speakers, the three allomorphs of the plural -s suffix are /s/, /z/, and /əz/. /z/ occurs after the final /l/ of 'apples', making singular /'æpəl/ into plural /'æpəlz/. As a native speaker of American English, I thought this was the whole story until I studied phonetics. If you ask other native English speakers, they will most likely agree that 'apples' ends with a /z/ sound.

From a pure phonetic perspective, the actual pronunciation of word-final /z/ in English often has very little voicing. This is surprising if you're expecting /z/ to be voiced and /s/ to be unvoiced. Since word-final /z/ may have very little voicing, as an English learner you might mistake it for /s/.

In typical speech, a big phonetic difference between word-final /s/ and /z/ is in the length of the syllable. Syllables ending with /s/ or another unvoiced obstruent are pronounced with a much shorter vowel, compared to syllables ending with /z/. In other words, native English speakers would only perceive a word like 'apples' as ending with /s/ if the pronunciation of the preceding /əl/ were very short.

  • 5
    This is an excellent answer, an order of magnitude better than the questioner could have expected to receive.
    – Tom Church
    Dec 27, 2015 at 15:42
  • Thanks for the great answer, it does give me more information than I expected. Could you see the link in my updated question? Thanks in advance, that's really puzzled me for many days :)
    – Freewind
    Dec 27, 2015 at 16:16
  • Amazing answer, this is one of the subtle things that are really hard to know even for experimented english speakers.
    – gaborous
    Dec 28, 2015 at 1:46
  • I would say that in British English, the /s/ sound is far more pronounced in the words mentioned in the OP and I have a hard time imagining a British person pronouncing it with a /z/ sound. This doesn't seem to match the quoted sources though, so I guess it's mostly just my perception...
    – Cronax
    Dec 28, 2015 at 8:57

We use the -s endings:

  • to make plurals (dog -> dogs)
  • to make possessives (Decap -> Decap's)
  • to make the third person singular of verbs (walk -> walks)

Apples is pronounced with /z/, not /s/ because the preceding sound is voiced.

There are some good guidelines for how to pronounce inflected 's':

Guidelines for pronouncing inflected -s:

1. Pronounce -s endings as /ɪz/ when the final sound of the main word is /s/, /z/, /ʃ/,/ʒ/, /tʃ/, or /dʒ/.

Examples: miss -> misses /ɪz/, watch -> watches /ɪz/, wish -> wishes /ɪz/, virus -> viruses /ɪz/.

2. Pronounce -s endings as /s/ when the final sound of the main word is voiceless sound (except /s/, /ʃ/, /tʃ/).

Examples: bat -> bats /s/, look -> looks /s/, stop -> stops /s/.

3. Pronounce -s endings as /z/ when the final sound of the main word is voiced (except /z/, /ʒ/, /dʒ/).

Examples bag -> bags /z/, word -> words /z/, cell -> cells /z/, apple -> apples /z/.

4. Pronounce -s endings as /z/ when the final sound of the main word is a vowel sound.

Examples: go -> goes /z/, piano -> pianos /z/, tomato -> tomatoes /z/.

I don't think there's any exception to it, if there is, please let me know.

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