English Pronunciation

Consonant Fricative: z sound /z/

Listen to the z sound

ESL/ELL/EFL z sound pronunciation

z sound illustration

How to pronounce the z sound

The z sound is voiced (the vocal cords vibrate during its production), and is the counterpart to the unvoiced s sound.

To create the z sound, the front of the tongue is placed close to the tooth ridge. The tip of the tongue should be close to the upper backside of the top front teeth. The tongue is kept tense as air is pushed between a small groove along the center of the tip of the tongue and the front of the tooth ridge. The front sides of the tongue touch the side teeth toward the front of the mouth. The lips are held slightly tense during the sound.

This sound is a continuous consonant, meaning that it should be capable of being produced for a few seconds with even and smooth pronunciation for the entire duration.

Common z sound spellings

spelling example   other pronunciations for spelling
z zoo

s[1] visit

s sound (past)
x[2] exit

s sound (box)

[1]: s spelling
The letter s is more likely to be pronounced as a z sound than an s sound when it occurs between vowel sounds within a word. If the letter s is part of a prefix (such as the word disability), this is less likely to be true. At the end of a word the letters s or se are equally likely to be pronounced as an s sound or a z sound. It is important to note the correct pronunciation at the time of learning new vocabulary with these spellings.

[2]: x spelling
Students must realize that the letter x can be pronounced as k sound + s sound or as g sound + z sound. A combination of syllable stress and surrounding sounds determine the correct letter x pronunciation.

The z sound in suffixes

spelling example   other pronunciations for spelling
-s/-es[3] boys

s sound (cats)
-ise/-ize emphasize

-ism tourism


[3]: -s/-es suffix
Whether the -s/-es suffix is pronounced with a z sound or with an s sound depends on the final sound before the suffix.

Non-phonetic z sound words

The z sound is often overlooked in the pronunciation of high-frequency words that end in the letters s or se. Although the following high-frequency words are not non-phonetic, their z sound pronunciation should be memorized, as these words are frequently mispronounced by ESL/ELL students.

The z sound is underlined in the following words:

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High-frequency Words: -s, -es, 's ending


sh, zh, s, z sounds quiz

Sound Practice

fricative z

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