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Compare pronunciations:

  • "I want to use the bathroom" (yoos)
  • "I made use of the bathroom." (yus)

My poor attempt at creating a phonetically descriptive syntax is supposed to convey that, with the verb construction, "use" is pronounced with a long u whose sound continues during the speaking of the s. The noun construction is a shorter sound, where the u and the s are distinct.

It suddenly strikes me that this is such a slight change as to be barely noticeable if the listener is not already expecting it, or if the listener is not the speaker himself. So now I'm not sure whether I'm the only person doing this, and it's freaking me out a bit because I hate when I find out I've been mispronouncing terms for years; I'm too picky with my language for that.

So, is it just me forming a different pronunciation for "use" dependant on the context? Is it perhaps a regional thing? Or is everyone, indeed, doing it?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

I don't know about regional or dialect changes, but "use" has only one pronunciation for what concerns the "vowel" sound in it.

The last consonant sound changes, being [s] and [z].

It's [juːs] when it's a noun and [juːz] when it's a verb, becoming [ju:st] when we have the construction "used t-o".

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Ah yes; it's the consonant I'm hearing, not the vowel. Good to know I'm not imagining it! – Lightness Races in Orbit May 15 '11 at 15:57
been speaking and hearing English all my life and have never ever experienced a difference in the two pronunciations... Too weird for words – mplungjan May 15 '11 at 16:02
@Tomalak: Why best answer? Peter's answer is more complete. @ Alennano: No offence, just wondering. – user8568 May 15 '11 at 16:03
@mplungjan: I haven't been hearing English all my life, but I thought they had no remarkable difference as well... :D @Boob: No problem, you're free to wonder. :D – Alenanno May 15 '11 at 16:26
@LightnessRacesinOrbit Actually, you are right in thinking the vowel changes - it does considerably. And in addition to this, it is the difference in the vowel that tells you whether the segment at the end is /s/ or /z/. The /z/ will often be voiceless at the end there if occurring before a pause or voiceless consonant, neutralising the difference with /s/. The /s/ version causes pre-fortis clipping, which makes the vowel about 50% shorter. The /z/ version remains the same regardless of the voicing. It's this vowel difference that tells our brain that we're hearing /s/ or /z/! – Araucaria Mar 9 '15 at 13:53

The real difference between these pronunciations is that use (the noun) is pronounced with an /s/ and use (the verb) is pronounced with an /z/ (except in the construction used to). In American English, vowels that are followed by a voiced consonant are longer than those followed by an unvoiced consonant (see this wikipedia page), and this is the source of the length difference you are noticing.

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American English certainly has nothing to do with anything I'm noticing! I'm talking about English. (Your explanation regardless seems to be accurate, though. It's the consonant I'm hearing, not the vowel.) – Lightness Races in Orbit May 15 '11 at 15:54
Many dialects of British English also shorten vowels before unvoiced consonants, as the webpage I link to says. – Peter Shor Sep 22 '12 at 20:51
@PeterShor In fact, pre-fortis clipping seems to apply generally across languages. – Araucaria Mar 10 '15 at 2:53

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