Some Very Rare Spellings of [s]
2. You should have found four different spellings of [s]. The first spelling occurs in nine words. The second spelling occurs in three words, and the third and fourth spellings occur in two words each. Label the four groups below and sort the words into them:
3. In words like castle and fasten, where there is an <le> or an <en> right after the <st>, the <t> is not pronounced. It was pronounced a long time ago, but not anymore. Notice that we still pronounce the [t] in some words, like consistent or restless - though you can feel how hard it is to keep it in a word like restless. It is the loss of that earlier [t] that leads to the rare <st> spelling of [s].
The <w> is not pronounced in answer because the [w] sound tends to drop out when it is weakly stressed and is followed by [r]. Notice that there is also no [w] in conquer, with a following [r], but there is one in conquest, with no following [r]. The same pattern holds in liquor and liquid. Answer is related to the word swear, in which the <w> is pronounced, because swear is usually stressed. Remembering the relationship with swear can help you remember to put the <w> in answer.
The <w> is not pronounced in sword because [w] is sometimes lost in front of certain vowel sounds. This is the same thing that led to our dropping the [w] sound in two.
The [s] in words like waltz and quartz comes from German. In German <z> is pronounced [ts]. So in these words [s] is spelled <z>.