The Many Sounds of T

You’re probably very familiar with the voiceless /t/ sound as you would pronounce it at the beginning of words like time. The tip of the tongue taps behind the front teeth to release a puff of air. However, the t can be pronounced in several different ways, depending on where it falls in a word and depending on the other sounds that follow it. Yes, it can sound like a d, it can be “stopped,” it can be silent and it can even change to a different sound when followed by certain sounds!  These are the many sounds of t!

1. Stop T

When t is the final letter in a word, we pronounce it as what is sometimes called the ‘stop t.’ Make this sound the same way you would make a regular ‘t’ sound, only stop your tongue and don’t release that final puff of air.  See our article on stops and continuants here.  

Examples:    hat      that      site      put       sit 

 

2. Elision of T (“Held t”)

The t is the most commonly “held” consonant in American English and this phenomenon is one of the most distinguishing features of the American accent. Other English accents and non-native speakers usually release the final t sound when the next word begins with a consonant. (See this article to learn about elision, or other “held” sounds in English.) 

How is the t held? 

  • Method 1: Your tongue should touch just behind your teeth, with no release of air. 
  • Method 2: Stop air flow by closing your vocal cords.  

When should you hold the t?

Hold the t when the next letter is a consonant, within a word or in the next word. Examples: “nightmare,” “can’t complain” 

A. Held t before consonant

Always hold the t when the next sound is another consonant.

  1. can’t go       3. might not     5. football     7. eight months
  2. might do    4. last night      6. atlas          8. not that

B. Held t before /ən/ syllable

  1. rotten      3. mountain     5. shorten      7. eaten          9. forgotten
  2. button     4. lighten          6. Britain       8. written     10. certain

C. Held t after n 

Did you know that Americans usually do not pronounce the t after an n? For example, instead of saying “twenty” they will say “tweny.”  No, this is not limited to casual speech or slang – it’s considered fairly standard, and is distinctly American! 

  1. interview              5. plenty                9. international
  2. interpersonal      6. internet           10. center
  3. disappointed       7. quantity           11. advantages
  4. accountable         8. advantages     12. dentist

3. The Flap T (or Fast D) 

The t is pronounced as a “flap t” or “fast d” sound in certain cases. This sound is produced when you quickly tap the tip of the tongue just behind your front teeth when pronouncing it.

How do we know when to pronounce the “flap t”?

  1. Between two vowels: water sounds like “wadder” 
  2. Before an “l”: little sounds like “liddle” 
  3. After an “r”: party sounds like “pardy”
  4. After a ‘c’ /k/ or /s/ sound: doctor sounds like “dokder”  

Exception alert:  Don’t pronounce t as a “fast d” sound if it’s in a stressed syllable. For example, attack is NOT pronounced as “addack” since the t sound falls in the stressed syllable. 

Practice

  1. pretty      3. better     5. computer    7. meeting
  2. doctor     4. total       6. matter          8. city

When T is Between Two Words

The flap t sound also occurs when it comes between vowels in two different words. For example: at eight is pronounced as “a-date” 

  1. it is         3. what if     5. at eleven       7. Put it on
  2. get up    4. eat it        6. wait a sec      8. I bought it

Check out this video to hear the flap t sound demonstrated:

4. The /tʃr/ Sound: tr

When an /r/ follows a /t/, the t 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 /tʃr/ “tr” sound is found in the following words: 

Practice Words

  1. travel        3. contract        5. trick           7. try               9. traffic
  2. true         4. introduce      6. interest     8. extreme

 

5. The /tʃ/ Sound: “tu” and “t + y”

When a t is followed by a u or a y, the combination often results in a /tʃ/ sound, like ch in chick.

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

Need help?

Do you need some feedback to determine if you’re on the right track? To learn more about 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 and 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.
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