Monday 27 August 2012


The guilty verdict and the sentence passed on Anders Breivik, thought the Norwegian commentator interviewed on Sky News, would hopefully bring the whole matter to a kləʊs.

We native speakers of English, though, hope (if we do) that it will bring it to a kləʊz.

The pronunciation of the various words spelt close is remarkably difficult for the spelling-based learner of EFL — even for those who, unlike Scandinavians and speakers of Spanish, have no difficulty with the s – z opposition and who, unlike Germans and Russians, are not tempted to devoice all word-final obstruents.

The verb to close, meaning to shut, has z, and closed, antonym of open, accordingly has zd. Likewise closing and the 3sg (he) closes, both with -z-. The noun used by the commentator is the deverbative form of the same, which is why it too has z.

Quite different is the adjective close meaning adjacent or near. It has final s, as do its comparative, superlative and adverbial derivatives closer, closest, closely.

Strangely enough we have another, rather infrequent noun, one that is prounounced like the adjective, i.e. with s. It means ‘an enclosed place, an enclosure’ (OED), and in contemporary English (BrE only) is restricted to (i) the area and buildings surrounding a cathedral and (ii) proper names, including the surname Close (for example, R.A. Close, author of A Reference Grammar for Students of English) and the names of certain dead-end streets. This is what is appropriate for Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem

There’s a breathless hush in the close to-night —
Ten to make and the match to win —
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play and the last man in.

Teachers will be familiar with another word, homophonous with the verb to close but spelt differently, namely cloze. It refers to a kind of reading test in which someone has to supply missing words deliberately omitted from a passage. This word appears to have been coined by W.L. Taylor in the 1950s, and is supposedly based on closure (which, nevertheless, normally has ʒ).

A quick test for NNSs: pronounce correctly close your eyes; hold me close; they’re close friends; too close for comfort; a close shave; a close (sic!) vowel; a close run thing; to sail close to the wind; behind closed doors; drawing to a close, the close season (AmE the closed season).

Next up: when is supposed pronounced with z(d), and when with s(t)?


  1. In Scottish English (at least in the Glasgow area), 'close' is the normal word for the entrance and staircase in a tenement. In fact, I don't know what else to call it. :-)

    1. Yes, I was thinking that.

      There are dozens of words for that across Britain. The article states that "close" in this sense has final [s] rather than [z].

    2. OED:

      An entry or passage. Now, in Scotland, esp. one leading from the street to dwelling houses, out-houses, or stables, at the back, or to a common stair communicating with the different floors or ‘flats’ of the building. Also variously extended to include the common stair, the open lane or alley, or the court, to which such an entry leads.

      Would you then say that entry and passageway are good English synonyms?

    3. Thomas W

      In Edinburgh the entrance and stairway of a tenement is known as the common stair.

      The OED entry for close says:

      An entry or passage. Now, in Scotland, esp. one leading from the street to dwelling houses, out-houses, or stables, at the back, or to a common stair communicating with the different floors or ‘flats’ of the building.

      Your Glasgow sense is covered thus:

      Also variously extended to include the common stair, the open lane or alley, or the court, to which such an entry leads.

      Close survives as a street name in Edinburgh; not all former closes are called Close. A different street name Lane was used for a passage to stables.

      I pronounce it kləus, but I'm not Scottish. (This is a country where gross rhymes with loss.) I'm sure of the voiceless s, though. Indeed, some spellings in the past used -SS.

    4. Thomas W

      I take it back!

      After posting this morning I went to my usual bus stop and looked more seriously than usual at the sign Leven's Close. From the street it looks identical to all the tenement entrances around. But this one has a street sign over it, and the addresses on the bell pushes are like house numbers — not the usual 1F1, 2F2 etc. I presume this is what your Glasgow closes are like.

  2. I'd say that, in street-names, even native speakers hesitate between -s and -z.

  3. Plenty of closes (narrow cul de sacs) in Edinburgh - eg Lady Stairs Close, which wikipedia suggests is pronounced with a /s/:'s_Close

    There is also a Seton Close in Singapore.

    1. But Lady Godiva's Close would be /kləʊz/, wouldn't they?

  4. The "Next up" seems easy enough for me to do:
    - with z(d): "I suppose(d) so."
    - with s(t): "You're not supposed to park here."

    1. OK, solve this. The word chinoiserie. According to Wellsian allophonic syllabification, it is ʃɪn ˈwɑːz ər i. The first syllable here is, I suppose a syllable with the rank 2 (pre-tonic secondary stress) even though there is no secondary-stress mark here.

      Let us remind ourselves of the rules 1 and 2:

      (1) Subject to certain conditions (discussed below), consonants are syllabified with the more strongly stressed of two flanking syllables.

      (2) Where adjacent syllables are of equal grade, consonants are (again subject to stated conditions) syllabified with the leftward syllable.

      So if i here can stand for either ɪ, or i, is the syllabification correct? It is if the vowel is ɪ because then the last two syllables are of equal rank. But if the vowel is , then r must go with it. Correct? But what about that elusive i? Is that a weak vowel or a strong vowel?

    2. I'm not sure how this fits into the thread, and I've always been weak on syllabification. However, I can make the observation for that for me the final vowel is long and stressed: ʃɪn ̩wæzəˈri:. Either that or as a French word in my less than perfect French accent.

    3. Er, doesn't the initial syllable in /ʃɪn ˈwɑːz ər i/ look as if it was absolutely unstressed?

    4. Yes, David, that kind of pronunciation exists in LPD. Kind of (the vowel in the second syllable is the broad a).

      Yes, it does, Beatrice, but in those five degrees of importance, I can fit it nowhere else but as pre-tonic secondary.

  5. And similarly used. Are there others?

    1. There's a song I've heard in British an American versions — originally, I'm told, a verse circulated on beer mats. Some of the rhymes are relevant:

      Said the little red hen
      To the big black rooster
      Well, you don't come around
      As often as you used to


      You silly little hen
      I'm not the rooster
      So the hen could tell
      That the gander had goosed her

    2. Some English speakers (though not me) devoice the final consonant of "have", "has", and/or "had" when used in the sense of obligation or compulsion, giving e.g. "I'll ha/f/ to make some soup" but "I'll ha/v/ tomato soup".

    3. Yeah, I have devoicing in the "have" of obligation, just as in "used" and "supposed". Out of curiosity, would this feature be considered part of modern RP?

    4. Devoicing (v→f, d→t, z→s) is usual in "have to, had to, has to", but not of course in "having to".

    5. They opposed us (d) vs as opposed to (t).

    6. Hmm I would have /d/ in both "opposed"s. But then I don't devoice "have" either.

    7. I have devoicing in "has to", "have to", "used to" and "supposed to", but not in "opposed to" (or in "had to", which I've always parsed with /d.t/ sequence despite the others).

  6. "Close vowel" always annoyed me, because of the incomplete analogy with "open", and the corresponding pronunciation problem. They should either change it to "closed", or "open" to "far", or we should all just use "high" and "low".

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