I would like some clarification on the pronunciation of "s" in "is he/is her/is his"

In the question "Where is he?" you pronounce s as "s" (not "z" sound) and h is silent. So is it pronounced "wherisi?" ?

Does the same goes for "Where is her sister" or "Who is his friend"? Or does it depend on the regional English?

EDIT: My doubt started after listening to this bbc podcast:

Man flu At second 30 a british woman says "whereisi". "s sound not z"

  • Isee . I understood that the second one is not, but I thought that the one who actually said the sentence was british. What gave her away? Only the s sound? – Gyonder Mar 23 '16 at 11:33
  • Actually, the first woman might be. I hadn't listened carefully enough. She's probably from somewhere in the north of England. But the reason that she puts an /h/ into he here, is just that she is speaking unnaturally slowly, and over-enunciating. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Mar 23 '16 at 11:36
  • You might want to wait a day or two before selecting an answer. You might get some more interesting and helpful ones! :-) – Araucaria - Not here any more. Mar 23 '16 at 11:36
  • ok. I'll wait and see if someone gives some more insight. Anyway, your explanation is already a valuable lesson for me – Gyonder Mar 23 '16 at 11:41
  • I listened to the audio, and it sounds like she says "izz", not "iss", to this American English speaker. I agree that there is kind of a sibilant noise there, but I think it's a side effect of her very carefully enunciating the H and possibly an artifact of the recording process. – stangdon Mar 23 '16 at 12:00

The full word is is pronounced with a /z/, not with an /s/. If this word is contracted with a preceding word, then if the last sound in that word is unvoiced then 's will be pronounced /s/. Otherwise it will be pronounced /z/.

The Original Poster is correct that if a following pronoun begins with H, then if the word is not stressed, there will usually be no /h/ sound:

  • Where is he - /'weər 'ɪz i/
  • Where's his sister - /'weəz ɪz 'sɪstə/
  • Who's his friend - /'hu:z ɪz 'frend/
  • What's his name - /'wɒts ɪz 'neɪm/

Notice that in the last example the word is is contracted with the word what. Because the /t/ at the end of the word what is voiceless, the 's is pronounced /s/, not /z/.

Lastly notice that if a pronoun beginning with an H is stressed, the /h/ will be pronounced:

  • It's him - /ɪts 'hɪm/

In the sentence above the word him is stressed, so we pronounce it with an /h/. If we see an accusative pronoun like him after the verb BE, it is very likely to be stressed.

Transcription note

I have used British English transcription here. The points about /z/, /s/ and /h/ are the same for standard British and American Englishes.

  • your answer is clear to me. Still, relistening to a podcast I hear "s" and not "z". Maybe you could check it out (see edit for the url) – Gyonder Mar 23 '16 at 11:09
  • 1
    @Gyonder Actually - I take that back - she is a native speaker, I think, but she is speaking unnaturally slowly and over enunciating. The reason you hear an /s/-like sound there is because she uses an /h/ in he which makes the /z/ in is slightly devoiced. We still know it is a /z/ and not an /s/ though, because there is a full vowel in the word is (when a syllable ends in /s/ it causes the vowel to become short). If she was speaking naturally, she would be unlikely to use an /h/ in the word he in this position. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Mar 23 '16 at 11:34

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