Voiced and Voiceless Sounds in American English

In order to speak English correctly it is important to recognize the difference between voiced sounds and voiceless sounds.

A voiced sound causes your vocal chords to vibrate.

A voiceless sound does not cause your vocal chords to vibrate.

All of the American English vowel sounds are voiced.

American English has about 15 voiced consonant sounds and 9 voiceless consonant sounds. These sounds are often presented in voiced/voiceless pairs. Here are some examples;

The /b/  & /p/ sounds are articulated in the same place in your mouth but the /b/ is voiced and the /p/ is voiceless.

The /d/ & /t/ sounds are articulated in the same place in your mouth but the /d/ is voiced and the /t/ is voiceless.

The /z/ & /s/ sounds are articulated in the same place in your mouth but the /z/ is voiced and the /s/ is voiceless.

Try this so you can see what I mean.

Put your fingers lightly on your throat and say “zoo”. You should feel a vibrationwhen you say the /z/.

Keep your fingers on your throat and say “Sue”. You should not feel a vibration when you say the /s/.

One reason why it is important to know the difference between voiced and voiceless sounds is because the letter “s” at the end of a word can have a voiced sound or a voiceless sound.

  • /s/ a voiceless sound
  • /z/ a voiced sound
  • /ez/ a voiced sound that adds an extra syllable

When a word ends in a voiceless consonant the added “s” is pronounced as /s/. Here is an example:

  • sock/s/ -since the /k/ in the word socks is a voiceless sound, the plural “s” is also voiceless

If a word ends in a voiced sound the “s” ending is voiced. Here is an example:

  • love/z/-since the /v/ in the verb loves is voiced, the “s” ending is voiced

Words that end in the three sibilant sounds take the /ez/ plural ending.

  • /∫/ pushes
  • /t∫/ watches
  • /dgz/ judges

This /ez/ sound is voiced and it adds a syllable to the word.

It is very important to recognize the difference between voiced sounds and voiceless sounds in American English. If you say these sounds incorrectly it will both mark your grammar as incorrect and contribute to your foreign accent.

I teach you how to use voiced and voiceless sounds to improve your accent in my Learn American Accent online coaching course.