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A general rule of English pronunciation states that the 's' in plural nouns is to be pronounced as /z/ if it is preceded by a 'voiced consonant' such as /n/ or /g/, and as /s/ if it is preceded by a 'voiceless consonant' such as /t/ or /p/.

Therefore, "pens" is pronounced as /penz/ and "cats" is pronounced as /cats/.

Now my question is, do native speakers of English always follow this rule? Secondly, and this is what I really need to understand, does this rule apply also to the 's' in the verbs of 'third person singular subjects'?

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The important thing to understand is that we don't follow it as if it were a rule. We follow it because it sounds right. – Robusto Dec 19 '12 at 16:49
up vote 5 down vote accepted

Yes to both your questions.

Native speakers really do follow that “rule” as to whether being next to a vowel or a voiced consonant makes the -s suffix voiced as well, whereas being next to an unvoiced consonant makes the suffix also unvoiced.

And secondly, the same phonologic law is in operation when constructing a third-person singular verb.

You can also add a third class to that: forming possessives with apostrophe-s.

All three work the same soundwise.

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Thank you for your response. I thought some native speakers did not always follow this rule as I heard them speak on TV and in films. Maybe, I should pay more attention the next time. But for now, I can at least teach my students to follow this rule. – user32480 Dec 19 '12 at 13:27
@InglishTeeture: You can also upvote or accept this answer, which is correct. – Robusto Dec 19 '12 at 13:55
Indeed. It's always bemused me that English, which has only nine inflectional morphemes left, uses exactly the same suffixes, with exactly the same allomorphy, for three of them. German can afford to overload /zi/, because it still has trainloads of inflections. But it's a mark of how little importance we place on inflectional morphology. – John Lawler Dec 19 '12 at 15:05

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