I was surprised to learn, recently, that various online rhyming dictionaries do not consider "bounce" and "counts" to be perfect rhymes. See, for example, here and here.

At the same time, when I say these words as a native American-English speaker, I cannot detect any difference whatsoever in their pronunciation. The "t" in the phoneme "nts" seems to drop out entirely -- but if so, why are these words not true rhymes?

  • 1
    @Doubt I think your first link should be rhymezone.com/r/… – Old Brixtonian Oct 5 '19 at 21:50
  • 4
    @Andrew Are you really saying 'ounce' sounds different from 'ounts'? I think they are indistinguishable from each other. – Old Brixtonian Oct 5 '19 at 21:53
  • 1
    The 't' doesn't drop here for me in the UK (RP). – Michael Harvey Oct 5 '19 at 22:56
  • 2
    The simplest way to think about it is that it's practically impossible to go from [n] (a voiced nasal alveolar stop) to [s] (a voiceless non-nasal alveolar fricative) without pronouncing [t] (a voiceless alveolar non-nasal stop) along the way. As soon as you turn off the nasality of [n] by closing the velic flap, you're saying [d], and as soon as you turn off the voicing by relaxing the larynx, you're at [t] already. So it doesn't matter how it's spelled; it's gonna be pronounced most of the time just because that's the simplest phonetic solution. – John Lawler Oct 6 '19 at 0:28
  • 3
    To me "ounce" and "ounts" sound exactly the same. Am I not listening carefully enough, or is it simply that, in my region, they are indeed pronounced the same? – Doubt Oct 6 '19 at 3:24

Rhyme is based on phonemic form. "Counts" is phonemically /kawnts/, while "bounce" is /bawns/. They don't end the same way, so they don't rhyme.

The pronunciations of /ns/ and /nts/, as opposed to the phonemics, overlap, since the difference between the phonetic [ns] and [nts] is a rather delicate matter of timing the dropping of the velum to let air pass out the nose. The two words can end the same in pronunciation, but phonemes govern perception. The ends of the words still sound different.

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    You say that "The two words can end the same in pronunciation, [yet] the ends of the words still sound different." Can you clarify how this is possible? – Doubt Oct 6 '19 at 3:23
  • 1
    I think you left out an n in /kawnts/. Also, I wonder whether awareness of phonemes governs differing perceptions of count center vs counts enter based on contextual clues for which pair is the more likely in a given utterance. – tchrist Oct 6 '19 at 3:54
  • @tchrist, Thanks, I supplied the n. The [s] of "center" is in syllable onset and hence fortis, while the [s] of "counts" is in syllable offset and hence lenis. – Greg Lee Oct 6 '19 at 14:21
  • @Doubt, Pronunciation in linguistics refers to more than just how something sounds. It is judged by articulation and by acoustic instruments or other measurement devices as well. How something sounds to an English speaker and how a linguist transcribes it will often differ. – Greg Lee Oct 6 '19 at 14:57

As John Lawler says, in practice the two words sound the same.

Rhyme used to be judged entirely by ear, but online dictionaries use rules and analysis instead. So their definition of a perfect rhyme may differ from the average person's.

If you insert a t-sound into ounce, without slowing down, you end up with. . . ounce! (And it's perfectly pronountsed!) You can separate the last two letters of counts to make the t audible, but in normal speech we don't.

Poets and lyricists use rhymes like counts/ounce with a happy disregard for the velic flap. Wordsworth, Browning and Tennyson used near rhymes like love-move, suns-bronze-once and creature-nature, which no rhyming dictionary would allow.

Walker's Rhyming Dictionary of the English Language - "devised for the rhymer, not the phonetician" - is a 'backwards dictionary'. It badly needs updating and is tricky to master but it does at least leave it to the reader to decide which word suits his/her purpose.

| improve this answer | |

They sound verrry similar - but, there is a subtle difference. (I'm talking about UK English. I'm from London.)

And subtle differences are important in poetry.

Bounce - ends with a softer 's' sound. Like the 's' in 'secular'.

Whereas, counts, having the 't' and 's' on the end, becomes that harder, more 'zzz' buzzy sound. Like the ts in 'tsar'.

I'd be a bit like 'er whar's that?' It would grate on my ear a bit.

I might, as a poet and songwriter, feel a bit short-changed, if presented with 'bounce' rhyming with 'counts' in a poem.

I'd feel more fulfilled if bounce rhymed with 'trounce', or 'pounce' or 'ounce'.

If 'counts' rhymed with 'amounts', 'founts' or 'mounts', I would also feel quite satisfied. But it depends...

Which word is best to use as a rhyme depends on the artistic work. You can get away with dodgy rhymes - if the words in the whole sentence and the words around it, hang together in a way that sounds pleasing to the ear. And/or is intetesting/makes sense.

Sometimes the use of a particular non,-fitting rhyme is humourous, or alludes to something else, mentioned earlier. Or has a double meaning. All of which can allow you to get away with it.

His countenance was just, but his hair was all mussed, as with a single bounced thrust, he undid his truss, 'for have you I must!: - the words burst out in a gust. .

And then, on all counts, in varied amounts, on dour countenances he bounced, the taxable amounts, as arguments were trounced, yielding... much poorer counts.

The 'counts' are noble Counts as well as 'sums of money' in my example.

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.