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Pronouncing English Plurals Ending in "S"

Most words in English are made plural by simply adding the letter "s" to the end. Sometimes, if the word ends with a vowel such as "y," then it changes to "ies" when plural (one baby, many babies, one country, many countries). Sometimes words ending in consonants add "-es" for the plural (one coach, many coaches).


I've noticed that some non-native English speakers have mother tongues that don't include a sound similar to the letter "z" as pronounced in English. This makes it very difficult for them to pronounce the "z" sound. This sound is made with the top of the tongue vibrating against the middle of the palate and makes a buzzing "zzzzzz" sound like the sound a bee makes. 


Most English words use this "z" pronunciation on the plural "s." If you accidentally pronounce some English plurals with the "s" sound instead of the proper "z" sound, it could lead to some misunderstandings, as there are other words in English that are spelled differently, but sound the same (they are called homophones):


And it makes your eyes look different.

Caption 9, Adele at the BBC - When Adele Wasn't Adele... But Was Jenny!

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If you accidentally pronounce "eyes" with the "s" sound instead of the "z" sound, a native English speaker may misunderstand the sentence as "And they made your ice look different."  This is because "eyes" spoken falsely with the "s" pronunciation sounds exactly the same as "ice." It's a similar situation here: 


Oh yes, all they think of is spies, and the war, of course.

Caption 50, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four - BBC TV Movie

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If the last "s" in "spies" is not pronounced correctly, it will sound the same as the word "spice." There are a number of homophones that could lead people to misunderstand what you are saying if you mispronounce the plural "s," such as "tries" ("trice"), "lies" ("lice"), and "plays" ("place"). 


There are, however, English words ending in certain consonants where the plural "s" is indeed pronounced "s," and not "z." These are mostly words that end in "k," "p," and "t." The reason why the plural "s" cannot sound like a "z" in these words is because it tends to make these consonants sound like different consonants if you use the "z" sound: 


The backs are the sleek, faster-running players.

Caption 13, Rugby - 101

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Now, people have literally no idea how to access water from modern taps.

Caption 55, BBC Comedy Greats - Michael McIntyre on Google Earth

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Where we all share our best bits, but leave out the emotion.

Caption 14, Look Up - A Spoken Word Film for an Online Generation

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If you try to pronounce the words highlighted above with the plural "s" pronounced incorrectly as "z," you'll see that they sound like different words: "backs" becomes "bags," "taps" becomes "tabs," and "bits" becomes "bids."


So remember: most English plurals ending in "s" have the "s" pronounced as a "z," except for words ending with "k," "p," and "t."  Let's call this the KPT rule!


Further Learning
Have a tandem partner who is a native English speaker open a dictionary at random and pick out a word for you to pronounce as a plural word. They may occasionally find plurals that don't end in "s," but this will be the exception. They can also find words for you that end with "k," "p," and "t" to test you. Try to remember the KPT rule and you should get the pronunciation right every time! 

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