How to Pronounce “x” in American English

“X” is for “xylophone.”  That’s what all the kids learn, anyway.  For adults who are learning American English pronunciation, “x” is for /ks/ or /gz/.

Two Consonants

The letter “x” typically represents TWO sounds, either /ks/ or /gz/.  For non-native speakers, it can be tricky to produce both consonants in these consonant clusters.  Think about the words “text” and “test.”  If you don’t pronounce the /k/ sound in the word “text,” it will sound exactly like “test.”  Make sure to pronounce both sounds.  Record yourself to double check your accuracy.

Two Pronunciations

In words like “extra” and “extension,” the “x” should be pronounced as /ks/.  In words like “exam” and “exactly,” the “x” should be pronounced as /gz/.  The only difference between these two sets of consonant clusters is that /ks/ is voiceless and /gz/ is voiced.  Having trouble remembering what voicing is? Check out this blog post I wrote about what voicing is and how to use it.

Here is the general rule: When the sound following the “x” is voiced AND when the following syllable is stressed, the “x” is pronounced as /gz/.  In other cases, such as when the “x” is followed by a voiceless consonant, the “x” is pronounced as /ks/.  For example, “exam” is pronounced with /gz/ and “extra” is pronounced with /ks/.   When the word ends with “x,” the “x” is pronounced as /ks/.

Let’s look at some examples…

Voiced Sound Following “x” AND Stressed Syllable Following “x”:

  • Examine
  • Example
  • Exhausted (*note that the “h” is not pronounced)
  • Executive
  • Exist

Voiced Sound Following “x” BUT “x” Not Followed by Stressed Syllable:

  • Taxi
  • Taxes
  • Texas
  • Execute
  • Exercise
  • Dixie
  • Toxic
  • Oxygen

Voiceless Sound Following “x”:

  • Excited
  • Except
  • Extra
  • Contextual
  • Ambidextrous
  • Mixture

Other “x” Words:

  • Exit – can be pronounced with /gz/ or /ks/
  • Obnoxious – “x” pronounced as “ksh”
  • Sexual – “x” pronounced as “ksh”
  • Exaltation – primary stress doesn’t follow the “x,” but still pronounced with /gz/

About the Author: Jane Rupp is owner of Voices of the World Speech Training, a business in Austin, Texas that specializes in accent reduction training.