Pronunciation of -ise in Verbs and Nouns

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The letter s represents two sounds in English, the unvoiced sound /s/ heard in sister, and the voiced sound /z/ heard in rose.

Note: The “voiced” s sound buzzes, like the sound of /z/. The unvoiced s sound is “soft,” like the hiss of a snake.

When the spelling combination -ise occurs in verbs and nouns, the s is usually voiced, but not always.

Verbs in which the s in -ise is voiced:
compromise (BUT: promise with /s/)

While on the subject of -ise endings in verbs, a comment is probably in order on the widespread misconception that the verb ending -ize as in synthesize is an American corruption of lovely English verbs that “should” end in -ise. The OED recommends the -ize ending for verbs that derive from Greek, and, as demonstrated by the list above, Americans have not altogether abandoned the -ise ending. The usage differs only with verbs in -yze, like analyze and paralyze. OED prefers analyse and paralyse for etymological reasons.

In its entry on the suffix -ize, the OED states the rationale for preferring the -ize spelling:

the suffix itself, whatever the element to which it is added, is in its origin the Greek -izein, Latin -izāre; and, as the pronunciation is also with z, there is no reason why in English the special French spelling should be followed, in opposition to that which is at once etymological and phonetic.

For a fascinating comparison of views on the subject of -ize vs. -ise, see Mike Horne’s “The -ize have it!

Nouns in which the s in -ise is voiced:
valise (British)

Nouns in which the s is unvoiced:
treatise (a secondary pronunciation with /z/ is given in the OED)
valise (American)

Some of you may be surprised to see expertise listed with the nouns in which the s has the /z/ sound. The pronunciation of expertise with the unvoiced s is rampant on American television, but both the OED and Merriam-Webster Unabridged agree that the pronunciation is [EK-spur-TEEZ]. Some other dictionaries now list the unvoiced pronunciation as an acceptable alternative, but Charles Elster is having none of it:

”Careful speakers should make an extra effort to hold the line on this one [EK-spur-TEEZ].” –The Big Book of BEASTLY Mispronunciations, page 189.

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8 thoughts on “Pronunciation of -ise in Verbs and Nouns”

  1. It is interesting that the word “chemise” is pronounced with the “z” sound. I double-checked it, and that is correct. “Chemise” is one of those words that I had read in catalogs and advertisements, but I had never heard anyone say it. Thus, I just assumed (wrongly) that the word rhymed with “Greece”, “police”, and “valise”.

  2. When it comes to words that end in “ase”, there are lots of words having to do with enzymes in which the “ase” has the sound of “aze”. For example, there are amylase and transcriptase. These words rhyme with “amaze”.

  3. Now that “ise” has been taken care of, the window is wide open for “ase”, “ose”, “use”, and “yse”.
    As has been mentioned above “yze” is the American way to do it, such as in analyze, catalyze, and paralyze.

  4. Another way to spell the unvoiced “ise” sound is “ice”.
    Not usually in these cases. The unvoiced -ise in the relevant instances here are usually pronounced “iss” as in miss, kiss, bliss, and are an unstressed syllable. Paradise, vise, valise (-ees) are really exceptions, not the rule.

  5. The -ice for the voiceless s (iss) and the -ise for the voic’d s (ize) AND voiceless s is an unneeded befuddling. Many of these hav simplified spellings that can be noted (often found in the old Century Diction and/or Wiktionary) tho many are listed as “archaic” … promis, surprize, enterprize, rize (noted by Spencer in the Faerie Queene), advertize, and so forth. It would be better in the long run to write with these simplified and more fonetic riffs than the mess we hav now.

  6. @AnWulf: I agree. In many, many cases there are eazily availabl fonetic spelings for wurds. Without embracing enormous spelling reform, quick and obvious things like replacing the voiced S with Z, getting rid of PHs and GHs in many cases, replacing lots of Cs with Ks and Ss, and going to tho, (or at least thoe), thrue, fone, laff, cauff, and yes, donut, make perfect sense. Altho Spencer himself gives you Queene. Come on, how many Es do you need for one vowels sound! Jeeez.

  7. Someone has to dream up ways to argue with:
    Another way to spell the unvoiced “ise” sound is “ice”.

    Note: “practice”. When someone says “Another way to do something”, then all he/she needs is ONE example.

    Now, I will sit on my can and let you look for more.

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