English Lessons


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! 

Thanks to you all for reading this, keep up the good work! If you have any good ideas for lesson topics, please email them to us at newsletter@yabla.com, and you can tweet us @yabla.

Some Examples of Slang in English

There is a long history of slang usage in the English language, and you can find some examples of English slang on Yabla too! Slang is sometimes often regional—many slang words used in the United Kingdom would not be readily understood in the United States and vice-versa—but slang is also cultural, for instance people of certain cultural heritages often use slang that is different from what you might hear among people with different ethnic or cultural heritages. Some slang is, of course, very vulgar and not acceptable in polite company, but there are many slang words and phrases that are common and acceptable in everyday speech. 


My personal style, I guess, would be edgy, boho [slang: bohemian], fun, flirty.

Caption 6, Demi Lovato - Seventeen Magazine

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The adverb and adjective "boho" is short for "bohemian", which when written lower case does not mean somebody from the Czech region of Bohemia, but rather describes an unconventional lifestyle as often lived by artists and writers. 


Oh, ta [British slang: thanks]! Ah, yes, I'm very proud of my kiddies.

Caption 57, George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four - BBC TV Movie

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This is an example of British English slang that may not be readily understood among speaker of US English: "ta" is commonly used in the United Kingdom for "thank you". The word "kiddies" is not slang, but is an informal version of "kids" (children).


Robust and secure, so our swag [slang: style] is on blast.

Caption 57, Java - The "Java Life" Rap Music Video

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Here is a slang word with an urban origin often found in rap music: "swag" probably came from the verb "to swagger," which means "to walk or strut with a defiant or insolent air" or "to boast or brag noisily," but as a slang word has come to mean "style." The phrase "on blast" is a slang usage too meaning "loud," therefore "swag is on blast" means they are "showing their style." 


Has just been released from the pokey [slang: jail].

Caption 3, The Pop Topic Minute - Christina, Lady Gaga and Lindsay

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The noun "pokey" is slang for "jail," and may have originated from the term "poorhouse," which was a kind of prison that existed until the 20th century for people who were too poor to pay their debts. Some other slang words for "jail" are  "clink," "cooler," "pen," and "slammer." The adjective "poky," on the other hand, is an informal word for "slow" (such as a "poky car") or small (such as a "poky room"). 


Further Learning
Do a search for "slang" on Yabla English and find other examples of slang words used in a real-world context. You can also read this Wikipedia article about slang and go to the links to learn about different kinds of slang in English.

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