Speaking

The American T Sound

The American T sound is one of the common letter pronounced wrongly by ESL learns. Indeed, The American T is made by intonation and its position in a word or phrase. It can be a little tricky if you try to base your pronunciation on spelling alone. In this lesson you will learn thoroughly how to pronounce the letter T.

The American T Sound
The American T Sound

T’s with a non-t sound:

TH-/θ/ or /ð/ (no rules to know the difference)

  • Thing /θɪŋ/
  • Then /ðen/

-TION- /ʃn/ (sh-n) words ending in –tion

  • Station /steɪʃn/
  • Creation /kri:eɪʃn/

Silent T- The letter T is not pronounced in some words (you need a dictionary to learn which words):

  • castle
  • whistle
  • chestnut
  • Christmas
  • fasten
  • listen
  • often

(With T)

  • soften
  • mortgage
  • mustn’t
  • thistle
  • mistletoe…

(In the cluster TCH)

  • catch
  • watch
  • kitchen

Final T in many modern words with a French origin:

  • beret
  • ballet
  • buffet
  • chalet
  • gourmet
  • valet
  • depot
  • debut… (the final French -et is pronounced /eɪ/ )

The American T Sound

American T Rule 1

Official T /t/ == at the beginning of a word, at the beginning of a stressed syllable, etc.

A. If the T is at the beginning of a word, it is a strong, clear T sound.

  • Tom, table, take, tomorrow, teach, ten, turn.
  • Thomas tried two times.
  • It took Tim ten times to try the telephone.

B. If the T is at the beginning of a stressed syllable in the word it is a strong T sound.

  • Pretend, fourteen, itinerary, particular, attend

C. If the T is part of a consonant cluster (two or more consonants together in the same syllable) wherever the cluster comes in the word, the T will have an official T sound.

  • Stop, train, street, star, connect, left, tilt, first, kept.

Exception: If the word ends in “nt” we often find the Stop T (see below) in American English:

  • elephant, rampant, saint, (but an official T is also common)

Note: grammatical words with a weak/reduced pronunciation (often pronounced with a schwa /ə/) may behave like just a new syllable instead of a new word, so in the sentence:

  • “I go to work.”

The preposition “to” can often be pronounced with a flap T (see below) because it sounds “goto”, so the T goes between vowels, not at the beginning of a stressed syllable (grammatical words have no stress), so it may sound “go-da”/goʊdə/ .

For the same reason, the phrase “I want to go” may sound “I wanna go” because the rule N+T=N applies here (“wantto” > “wanto” >”wanna”). A similar phenomenon gave us “gonna” (going to > goin’ to > gon’ to > gonto > gonna).

American T Rule 2

Flap/Tap T /d/ == between vowels (v+T+v) or R and a vowel (vr+T+v), etc. (This is a strong and quick version of D). The proper phonetic name for the flap T sound is alveolar tap.

A. If the T is in the middle of the word, intonation changes the sound to a soft D.

  • “Letter” sounds like [ledder].
  • Water, daughter, bought a, caught a, lot of, got a, later, meeting, better

B. If the T is between vowels, (v+T+v), the same soft D sound is made:

  • Peter, better, waiting, mutter

C. If the T is between an R and a vowel (vR+T+v) the soft D sound is made.

  • sorting, quarter

D. If the T is followed by a vowel in the next word, the soft D sound is often made.

  • “what about it?” = “wadaboudit?”
  • “part of me” = “pardov me”.

Exception: When the sequence is vowel + T + schwa + N, the T is pronounced as a Stop T (see below) for example:

  • “written” = /rɪt|ən/ (that is because the schwa disappears in that position so the real pronunciation is in fact /rɪt|n/, and the T doesn’t go between vowels anymore.

Important fact about American T sounds:

Rule 1 is more powerful than rule 2, so if we have a T between vowels but it begins a stressed syllable, the pronunciation is the official/t/, for example:

  • “atone” /ətoʊn/ (a-TONE) 
  • “between” /bətwi:n/ (be-TWEEN)
  • “beating” sounds like “beedding” /bi:dɪŋ/ (BEA-ding) because the T begins an unstressed syllable.

Practice these sentences:

  • What a good idea. [w’d’ güdäi deey’]
  • Put it in a bottle. [pü di di n’ bäd’l]
  • Get a better water heater. [gedda bedder wäder heeder]
  • Put all the data in the computer. [püdall the dayd’ in the k’mpyuder]
  • Patty ought to write a better letter. [pædy äd’ ride a bedder ledder]

American T Rule 3

N+T=N (T is Silent)

This rule is not part of the American or English accent, but you can hear it very often in American English, especially in some parts of the country, when people have a careless and/or quick pronunciation. This basically means that the T may disappear in American English (not BrE) after an N, so the word “wanted” may sound “wanned”/wɑnɪd/ and “interesting” may sound “inneresting”.

T and N are so close in the mouth that the [t] can disappear.

  • interview [innerview]
  • international [innernational]
  • advantage [ædvæn’j]
  • percentage [percen’j]

American T Rule 4

Stop T /t|/ == used at the end of a word, etc. (we suddenly close our throat to stop the air flow, but make no sound; IPA symbol /ʔ/, called glottal stop)

glottal stop: noun phrase : a speech sound made by briefly stopping the flow of air through the vocal cords. “The ending sound of the word ‘didn’t’ is pronounced with a glottal stop after the n.”

A. When a T is followed by an N sound (usually with an unpronounced vowel in between), the T is held, creating a “Stop T”. The “held T” is, strictly speaking, not really a T at all. Remember, [t] and [n] are very close in the mouth. If you have [n] immediately after [t], you don’t pop the [t]—the tongue is in the [t] position, but your release the air for the [n] not the [t]. Make sure you don’t put a schwa before the [n]. An important point to remember is that you need a sharp upward sliding intonation up to the “Stop T,” then a quick drop for the N.

  • Written, certain, forgotten, sentence
  • He’s forgotten the carton of satin mittens.
  • She’s certain that he has written it.
  • Martin has gotten a kitten

B. If the T is at the end of a word, you almost don’t hear it at all.

  • Put, what, lot, set, hot, sit, shot, brought.
  • That’s quite right, isn’t it?

In the exceptions we have seen, we already commented two cases:

Exception to rule 1: The ending cluster NT (sent, paint, environment)

Exception to rule 2: v+T+schwa+N = v+T+N =/t|n/ (tighten, written) But most of all, we find this pronunciation at the end of words or syllables (about, fitness)
There are two exceptions (because rules 1 and 2 are stronger than rule 3)

Rule 1: Consonants clusters have the official T except NT, which may also have stop T in American English.

Rule 2: If a final T is followed by a vowel (example: “but I don’t”) then it’s pronounced with the flap T (/d/: “bud-eye don’t”).

When “T” has a “Ch” sound (tʃ) 

The sound [ch] is represented by the combination TU in two common suffixes: “-ture” and “-tual”. It can also happen colloquially in the non-standard phrase “what you” when the verbs “are” or “do” are dropped: “What (are) you doing?” becomes “Whatchu doing?” and “What (do) you want?” becomes “Whachu want?” More standard examples follow.

“T sounds like a CH — I’m not sure I’ve come up with a specific rule here yet. But I know it often happens in words like ‘actually’ and ‘puncture’ but not every CTU case, like ‘cactus’. It also happens a lot, though not a part of the official pronunciation, in the phrase ‘what you’ when reducing by dropping the ‘are’: whachu doing?”- According to Rachel from Rachel’s English.com

2-syllable words 

  • capture              nature 
  • creature             pasture 
  • culture               posture
  • feature               puncture 
  • fracture              sculpture 
  • fixture                structure
  • future                 texture
  • lecture                torture
  • mixture              vulture
  • moisture

3-syllable words

  • adventure
  • departure
  • furniture
  • miniature
  • signature

4-syllable words

  • agriculture
  • horticulture
  • literature
  • manufacture
  • temperature

Make your own examples and sentences with words having the “tu” pronounced like “ch” sound. Please feel free to leave your feedback about the article in the comment box below.

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