Assimilation (When Sounds Change)

While elision means dropping a sound, assimilation means changing a sound, due to the influence of neighbouring sounds.  Let’s take a look at some of the most common assimilations in American English, or how sounds change.  

Assimilation of D

We saw how the /d/ is often dropped when a word ending in /nd/ is followed by a consonant sound. When /d/ occurs in other combinations, however, the sound can sometimes change to a completely different sound! 

 

D becomes B

When followed by /p/, /b/ or /m/, the /d/ becomes /b/

 

  • could be better → “coub be bedder” /kʊb bi ˈbedər/ 
  • You could publish it. →  “coub publi-shit” /kʊb ˈpʌblɪʃ ɪt/ 
  • They could make it. → “coub may-kit” /kʊb meɪk ɪt/

 

D becomes G 

When followed by /k/ or /g/, /d/ becomes /g/

 

  • You should come. → “shoug come” /ʃʊg ˈkʌm/
  • We could go. → “coug go” /kʊg ˈgoʊ/

 

D becomes /dʒ/ (The “dr” sound) 

When d is followed by an r, the combinations blend to create a /dʒr/ sound where the /dʒ/ sounds like the j in Joe. 

Practice Words

 

  1. drive        3. drip          5. hundred   7. drama       9. syndrome
  2. dream     4. address    6. drain        8. children  10. drink

 

D becomes /dʒ/ (The “du” and “d + y” sound)  

When d is followed by a u or y, the combinations blend to create a /dʒ/ sound which sounds like the j in Joe

Practice Words

 

  1. durable      4. educate        7. Did you
  2. gradual      5. schedule      8. Had you
  3. graduate   6. individual     9. Should you

 

Assimilation of T

T becomes /tʃ/ (The “tu” and “t + y” sound) 

When a t is followed by a u or a y, the combination often results in a /tʃ/ sound, like the like the ch in chick. This is the phenomenon we hear when “Got you” is pronounced as “Gotcha” (meaning “I understand.”) 

Practice words 

 

  1. actual        3. ritual        5. virtue      7. picture          9. Don’t you
  2. situation   4. venture    6. fortune   8. Aren’t you   10. Can’t you

 

T becomes /tʃ/ (The “tr” sound) 

When an /r/ follows a /t/, the t sound changes and becomes a /tʃ/ or “ch” sound.

To create this sound correctly, say /tʃ/ as in chair, but tense up the tip of the tongue when it touches your upper gums, and focus on creating a stop of air. The The /tʃr/ “tr” sound is found in the following words: 

Practice Words 

 

  1. travel     3. contract       5. trick         7. try              9. turn
  2. True       4. introduce    6. interest   8. extreme   10. Traffic

 

Assimilation of N

N becomes M  

When it’s followed by /p/, /b/ or /m/, the /n/ becomes /m/

 

  • One percent. → “wom percent”    /wʌm pərsent/
  • Ten bills   → “tem bills”     /tem ˈbɪlz/
  • Better than me.   → “bedder tham-me”     /bedər ðəm ˈmi/

 

N becomes NG  (/n/ → /ŋ/) 

When followed by /k/ or /g/, the /n/ becomes /ŋ/

 

  • Ten cups. → “teng cups”    /tɛŋ ˈkʌps/
  • Then go!  → “theng go”    /ðɛn goʊ/

 

Need help? 

Check out these other articles on how to connect your speech more naturally when speaking English:

Would you like a little more coaching on your pronunciation with a professional ESL teacher?  To learn more about assimilation, English pronunciation and practice it in conversation, join SpeakUp, a dynamic program that engages you in authentic conversations on relevant topics and provides you with feedback from a professional experienced English teacher.  The first week is free for you to try it out!  

 

Anita Collins

Anita Collins

Anita is a long-time English teacher and language enthusiast from Canada, currently living in the multilingual city of Montreal. She majored in linguistics, dabbled in translation, and has been teaching students from all over the world for over a decade. She now spends each morning trying to balance her two loves: planning the next trip and spoiling her beagle. The rest of her day she spends on curriculum design and language classes, with the beagle underfoot.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *