This website says, when making /s/ & /z/ sound, the tip of the tongue should be close to the upper backside of the top front teeth.

But this video says, when making /s/ & /z/ sound, the tip of the tongue is down, slightly touching behind the bottom front teeth.

So who is right?

I personally think that the 2nd is right because I feel more comfortable when letting the tip of my tongue behind the bottom front teeth & I feel uncomfortable when letting the tip of my tongue behind the top front teeth.

It could be there are many way to make the sound. Maybe the tip of the tongue in this case does not play a very critical role in making /s/ & /z/

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    You can make something which sounds very much like the English /s/ and /z/ sounds both ways—I just did—and I expect some English speakers use each of them (which is why you get contradictory advice). Just don't stick it between your teeth (in which case you get a /θ/ or /ð/. The "official" way is to put it behind your top teeth. Feb 29, 2016 at 20:23
  • And there you are. People (and their mouths, and their habits of using them) vary a lot. There are two quite different ways of making rhotic American /r/, for instance, and you can't tell which one rhotic speakers are using without careful checks. Since /s/ and /z/ are channeled fricatives -- they've got grooves in the middle of the tongue that the air moves through -- that's why the ultimate position of the tonguetip is irrelevant in pronouncing sibilants -- all the friction comes from the groove in the tongue, not the release. Jan 10, 2023 at 19:20

5 Answers 5


/s/ and /z/ are alveolar fricatives. The tip of the tongue is positioned just off the alveolar ridge, just behind your top teeth. The place of articulation, where the tongue tip is positioned, is the same as for the stop consonant /t/.

English does not have a fricative where the tongue tip is behind the bottom teeth, but some other languages do. I think I have found some that do - it is a little bit tricky because the tip of the tongue is not very significant for these sounds, and so the tongue tip might not always be positioned in the same way. You can listen to recordings of these at Wikipedia:

Each of these also have corresponding voiced consonants.

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    Wikipedia is not necessarily a good site to use as an argument, as anyone can change the content. A site written by a professional, or an articule entry on a website describing these facts would be a better choice Feb 23, 2016 at 6:29
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    @user2277872 While Wikipedia is not always accurate, I will vouch, in my professional capacity as a linguist, for its accuracy on these pages I linked to. I linked to them primarily for their sound samples, which are not as easy to find. (Though my second link was copied wrong, fixing now.) Feb 23, 2016 at 6:35
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    It might be a bit misleading to say "The place of articulation, where the tongue tip is positioned, is the same as for the stop consonant /t/" whilst the point on the alveolar ridge may be the same, the part of the tongue that connects with the ridge is further back for /s, z/ and by definition the apex of the tongue cannot be making contact for these sibilants, whilst it must for /t/ Feb 23, 2016 at 17:53
  • @Araucaria The place of articulation is normally considered to be the same and the manner of articulation differs, even though that means that technically the tongue tip is not in exactly the same place. Feb 23, 2016 at 21:37
  • @curiousdannii Yes, completely so. That's because the official "place of articulation" is defined by the passive articulators, not the active ones. The finicky upshot of this is that where the articulation is made on the ridge is the same, but the part of the tongue is significantly different ... Feb 24, 2016 at 0:18

I'm a younger speaker from the Midwestern United States with a pretty standard General American accent. I can say with some certainty that my voiceless coronal sibilant (or /s/) is pronounced with the tip of my tongue close to my bottom teeth. Sometimes, it might be a bit higher. I think this is an idiolectal variation rather than a phonemic one since the difference in sound is very slight. You can really place the tongue tip wherever you like, as long as it produces a sibilant sound.

The real question is how to narrowly transcribe this pronunciation since I believe there is no IPA symbol which refers to articulations on the bottom teeth (except the dentolabials, which are nonstandard and don't involve the tongue).


If you sit there and do it yourself, trying to make a s sound is close to impossible when your tongue is close to your top teeth. It does not allow the air to escape, allowing for the sound to be heard.

When your tongue is back, and close to your bottom teeth, you can hear the s sound clearly, and you can clearly feel the vibrations of the z sound as well.

I would have to say the second option is correct.

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    Completely wrong sorry, the /s/ is most definitely produced with the tongue behind the top teeth. And pretty poor advice: someone who doesn't know how a sound is correctly produced can't learn that just by experimenting and trying what sounds good to them. Feb 23, 2016 at 6:52
  • Well, I'm sitting drinking my morning tea and hissing in disbelief... When I do a sustained SSSSS my tongue tip is near the roots of my front top teeth. If I TOUCH the teeth with my tongue, the SSSSS stops. Feb 23, 2016 at 7:28
  • @curiousdannii: It's clear from the discussion some people use their bottom teeth. And I can make perfectly passable /s/ and /z/ sounds that way. Feb 29, 2016 at 20:28

For proper articulation the tongue may remain in the same place. The s sound is produced by the air hissing through the tongue and teeth. The difference between this and the z sound is that the z is vocalized, that is to say the larynx produces a sound and the air rushes through the exact same way. You may practice this by placing the tongue in position and alternately hissing and humming.

  • You haven't explained where the tongue should be positioned! Feb 29, 2016 at 21:14

http://soundsofspeech.uiowa.edu/english/english.html Click where it says "fricatives" and you'll see how /s/ and /z/ differ anatomically in English. I hope I helped.

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