I'm hoping 'this' is the right place, as my attempt on the Linguistic site failed miserably (it was moved to the ELL site, here -> Phonetic transcription of English prefixes and suffixes).

In case 'reasons' are required; I'm wanting to look at rhyme (true/near) and minimal pairs (true/near) (amongst other things) in both British and American English (I want to look at Canadian, South African and Australian later :D). Though I have a large list of words, I'm missing the pronunciation of many inflections. I thought I'd look at some dictionary entries, and noticed that many don't include transcriptions for inflected forms. Apparently (according to comments on Ling.) this is because the pronunciation is generally standard. I find this a little questionable - just looking at pluralisation shows three different pronunciations, and one of those creates an additional syllable.

I've found some general "rules of thumb" - but I'm left wondering how reliable/accurate they are.
I'm not expecting there to be rules without exception - but I'd like an idea if I'm looking at occasional exceptions, or lots of them.

* -s  
    + [p] / [t] / [k] / [f] = 's'  
    + [b] / [d] / [g] / [l] / [r] / [w] / [m] / [n] / [v] / [y] = 'z'  
    + [tʃ] / [dʒ] / [s] / [z] = 'iz' (+additional syllable)  
    + [p] / [k] / [θ] / [f] / [s] / [ʃ] / [tʃ] = 't'  
    + [b] / [g] / [ð] / [v] / [z] / [ʒ] / [dʒ] / [m] / [n] / [ŋ] / [r] / [l] = 'd'  
    + [t] / [d] = 'əd' or 'ɪd' (+additional syllable)  

Are such rules fairly consistent?
Can I apply them with a fair degree of accuracy?
Are there established/known exceptions (or better, sub-rules for exceptions)?
Any idea on how to identify whether a past-tense verb should have ''əd' or 'ɪd'?
Are there such rules for Prefixes as well as Suffixes?

  • Love your handle! ... I'm afraid frustration is built in to the study of language at every level. Feb 14, 2016 at 21:24

3 Answers 3


NOTE: This is off the top of my head; there may be aspects of this I've overlooked, so I would welcome any correction anybody wants to supply.

You're missing a simpler way of understanding this, because you're working off letters (which should properly be enclosed in ‹› rather than []) instead of sounds (specifically, phonemes, which should properly be enclosed in // rather than []).

Here are the rules:

  1. Your two suffixes are what linguists call archiphonemes, which are sound-types "realized" as different phonemes in different sound contexts. We may designate them as /S/ and /T/, and categorize them as

    /S/ - (dental/alveolar) sibilant, realized as either voiceless /s/ or voiced /z/
    /T/ - dental stop, realized as either voiceless /t/ or voiced /d/

  2. How the archiphoneme is realized depends on the sound which ends the base word and therefore immediately precedes the suffix:

    • If that sound is voiced, the suffix takes its voiced realization, and
    • if that sound is voiceless, the suffix takes its voiceless realization, EXCEPT THAT
    • if that sound is of the same category as the suffix, an unstressed vowel is inserted between the base and the suffix so you can hear the two sounds as distinct. Since all vowels are by definition voiced, a voiced sound now precedes the suffix, and the suffix takes its voiced realization. The vowel itself may be realized as anything in the approximate range [ɛ] – [ɪ], usually 'reduced' to [ə] – [ᵻ].

As far as I know, these rules are invariant in Standard English; but when both a plural and a possessive /S/ are applied (e.g., the Joneses' house) one may be suppressed in speech, I believe many Scots dialects realize /D/ fairly consistently as /ɪt/, and there may be other variations I've overlooked or I'm not familiar with.

Similar rules govern prefixes; but since nowadays most prefixes are of Latin or Greek origin, the rules are mostly derived from practices in those languages.


In addition to the info in StoneyB's excellent post, it might be helpful to know exactly when the extra syllable is required.

/t, d/

When the last sound in the base form of the word is another dental plosive—/t, d/—we need to insert an extra vowel:

  • /mɪnt/--->/mɪntɪd/
  • /mend/--->/mendɪd/

/s, z/

When the last sound in the base form is another sibilant of any description—/s, z, ʃ, ʒ, tʃ, dʒ/—we need to insert a vowel:

  • /bʌs/ ---> /bʌsɪz/ (buses)
  • /bʌz/ ---> /bʌzɪz/ (buzzes)
  • /bʊʃ/ ---> /bʊʃɪz/ (bushes)
  • /ru:ʒ/ ---> /ru:ʒɪz/ (rouges)
  • /hʌtʃ/ ---> /hʌtʃɪz/ (hutches)
  • /bʌdʒ/ ---> /bʌdʒɪz/ (budges)

I can't comment (but it appears I can post an answer? (which strikes me as somewhat backwards)).

Sorry for the mix of letters/sounds - I copied and pasted from certain webpages :(

Thank you for the detailed and clear response StoneyB! Very much appreciated. So, that would make it something like;

* -s suffix, and last syllable sound is; 
    + voiceless (/p/, /t/, /k/ or /f/) = 's'  
    + voiced (/b/, /d/, /g/, /l/, /r/, /w/, /m/, /n/, /v/ or /y/) = 'z'  
    + similar to 's' (/tʃ/, /dʒ/, /s/ or /z/) = 'iz' (+additional syllable)  
*-ed  suffix, and last syllable sound is;
    + voiceless (/p/, /tʃ/, /k/, /f/, /θ/, /s/ or /ʃ/) = 't'  
    + voiced (/b/, /dʒ/, /g/, /v/, /ð/, /z/, /ʒ/, /m/, /n/ or /ŋ/)= 'd'  
    + similar to 'ed' (/d/ or /t/) = 'əd' or 'ɪd' (+additional syllable)  

The "similar sound" bit was new to me, and makes a lot of sense.
I'm still not sure about the usage of 'əd' or 'ɪd' for similar sounding 'ed' though.
Should it be ('started') /stɑːtəd/ or /stɑːtɪd/ ?
Should it be ('nodded') /ˈnɑːdəd/ or /ˈnɑːdɪd/ ?

  • Thank you very much as well Araucaria and Colin Fines.
    Two additional informative responses ... I should have come here first! :D

  • 2
    The different realisations (/ə/ and /ɪ/) mostly vary between dialects/accents, and much less between individuals or within an individual's speech; but they can have these other variations. I, like most English people, normally use /ɪ/ in these suffixes, but it can get centralised. Most people aren't even aware of allophonic variation in their speech, whether conditioned or free.
    – Colin Fine
    Feb 14, 2016 at 21:26
  • What Colin Fine says. And you can replace /w/ and /y/ (and /r/ in non-rhotic dialects) with /V/ for "any vowel"; those sounds are never pronounced terminally, they're just spellings which "define" (very inconsistently) the quality of a terminal vowel. Feb 14, 2016 at 21:44

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