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  2.18 Voiced and voiceless 's'

Some consonants can be produced with vibrating vocal cords (voiced consonants) or without vibrating vocal cords (voiceless consonants). And on the other side, you have consonants like 'm' which are always voiced as well. Vowel are always voiced. In Italian you have some consonants which exist in a voiced and a voiceless version.

  voiced s
  voiceless s

If you are not sure what "with vibrating vocal cords" means, put your hand on your larynx and say mmmmmm or nnnnnnn. You are going to feel a vibration because 'm' and 'n' are always voiced. Then, say fffffffffffffff, you are not going to feel any vibration because this sound is always voiceless.

Example (voiceless)
  sapere = to know
  sognare = to dream
  secco = dry

If the s is followed by a voiced consonant, it is always pronounced as a voiced s.

Example (voiced)
  smettere = to stop
  smorfia = grimace
  sviluppo = development
  sbaglio = error
  snidare = to take out of a nest

Voiced and voiceless 's' in the phonetic transcription
  voiced smettere = to stop
  voiceless   sapere = to know

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