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How can we pronounce words ending with -sts?

  • lists
  • costs
  • tests

I often heard people pronunce its like,

  • lɪsts and kɒsts
  • lɪsː kɔsː

but which one is acceptable?

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  • What in the world does “more appropriate” mean in this context? Isn’t that yet another trendy euphemism for “better”, like “inappropriate behaviour” is just a trendy euphemism for “wrong behaviour”, “bad behaviour”, or quite simply “misbehaviour”? It’s as though someone were getting paid by the letter, not the idea. Does your “more appropriate pronunciation” here mean right/wrong, good/bad, common/rare, accceptable/unacceptable, standard/nonstandard, courteous/rude, respectable/risible, or what? Inquiring minds want to know. ☺
    – tchrist
    Feb 24, 2012 at 17:07
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    @tchrist,What are you coming to say? Feb 24, 2012 at 17:23

4 Answers 4

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In rapid speech particularly, consonants in clusters such as /sts/ are frequently lost in a process known to phoneticians as ‘elision’. Similarly, ‘next’ will occur as /neks/ and ‘acts’ as /aks/. It’s not so much a matter of bad pronunciation as a recognized feature of speech which most of us will display at one time or another.

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  • I suspect there may be a difference between U.S. and Commonwealth speech here. I never reduce words like lists to -/sː/, nor do I notice other Americans doing so; but I do notice one of my relatives (British-educated) saying things I hear as "lissss". May 23, 2012 at 3:52
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    @Mechanicalsnail: Have you ever had your spontaneous speech recorded? May 23, 2012 at 12:11
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Imagine the conversation, over a bad phone line.

Alice: Let's talk about the kɒsː associated with with this project

Bob: I'm sorry, "Coss"?

Alice: No. kɒsts. C.O.S.T.S.

Bob: Ah, sorry, you were speaking too quickly.

These are simple words that are said as they are written -- nothing to catch us out as with trough and plough.

But in English, as I believe with almost every language, people tend to rush over words. This is how going to becomes gonna.

So, it's kɒsts and lɪsts, when spoken by the Queen or a newsreader, but the t might disappear in everyday conversation.

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    Final consonant clusters are normally reduced in English speech. Nobody ever says /fayv sɪksθs/ for 5/6; the /θ/ disappears and you just get a long /s/ - /fayv sɪks:/. You can hear the difference between this and the sequence 5, 6 in the pronunciation of any unmonitored native speaker. Feb 24, 2012 at 16:09
  • I think you’ve written /y/ when you meant /j/.
    – tchrist
    Feb 24, 2012 at 17:04
  • @tchrist, y is used in Americanist transcription
    – nohat
    Feb 24, 2012 at 21:43
  • @nohat ♦ I’ve never seen that before. What’s that, APA then? If it’s provincial, does that mean it’s anti-IPA? How is that useful? I didn’t realize this was an Americanist place. Wouldn’t it be better to use the international standard? Or if one couldn’t be bothered, to actually say what was using? In my experience, that sort of notation is ALWAYS IPA.
    – tchrist
    Feb 24, 2012 at 21:44
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    @tchrist this isn't "an Americanist place" insomuch as it's a place where people use whatever transcriptions they're most comfortable with.
    – nohat
    Feb 24, 2012 at 22:01
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The accepted pronunciation of '-sps', '-sts', and '-sks' is to drop the stop, and the 's' may or may not be extended (as though it were a doubled s). It is not frowned upon at all to not pronounce the p, t, k, even in slower speech.

In expected-articulate speech, say newscasters and actors, there will be a tendency to not drop.

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lɪsts and kɒsts definitely. The others are just bad pronunciation.

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    Different people pronounce things differently, whether others like it or not. Pronunciation is oral, not moral. Feb 24, 2012 at 16:04

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