T is one of the trickier consonants to pronounce in English. Its pronunciation changes based on where it is in a word and what letters it’s next to. However, there are fairly consistent rules to how to say T, and once you learn them, T will become less of a mystery.
Before you start, say these words aloud: “tune,” “dune,” and “noon.” You’ll notice that your tongue is in the same position, on the ridge behind your teeth, for all three sounds. This will help you as you understand the different pronunciations of “T.”
In the recordings below, I left space after each word, so that you can practice by repeating them aloud.
When T sounds like T:
The standard T sound is almost always used when T is the first letter of a word.
Examples: tip, tango, target, Timothy, tickle, top, tell
Practice repeating after me:
Ts in “consonant clusters” like ST, TS, TR, CT, LT and sometimes NT combinations keep the regular T sound as well.
Examples: contents, tricky, control, crested, intractable, altar
When T sounds like D: Between Vowel Sounds
When T is between two vowel sounds (A,E,I,O,U, and sometimes Y) or between a vowel and L or R (linguists call these “syllabic consonants”), it becomes a D sound. In phonetics, this sound is called a “flap,” which means the tongue quickly taps the ridge behind your upper teeth. It should be a soft, light sound. This is a key difference between British and American speech.
- If T is before a stressed syllable, like “photographer” or “attention,” then it retains its T sound, even if it’s between two vowels. There are also random exceptions, like “politics” and “manatee.”
Examples: water, fatter, sweater, hearty, unity, better, bottle, cattle, theater
Sounds like: wadder, fadder, sweader, heardy, unidy, bedder, boddle, caddle, theader.
When T is Silent: When it comes after N
In informal or quick speech, the T sound is often dropped when it comes after N.
- The word “into” is common and generally retains its “T” sound, sounding like “inta” in informal, quick speech.
- When “in” or “con” is a prefix to a base word beginning with T, or when T begins a stressed syllable, you do pronounce the T. For example: “intention,” “internal,” “contents,” and “entire.”
Examples: wanted, twenty, Internet, plenty, international, don’t know,
Sounds like: wanned, twenny, innernet, plenny, innernational, don-no
When T is a Hard N (or a Held T): When T comes before N
When T is before an N, the sound is stopped and turns into what is called either a hard N or a held T. This sound is more difficult for non-native speakers. The final N should be strong. It is also called a “glottal stop” because in the middle of the word, you stop the airflow at the back of your throat, aka your glottis.
To pronounce this correctly, it’s helpful to remember that he position of your tongue for N and T is almost the same. When you pronounce a T followed by an N, don’t sound the T, but stop the air in the back of your throat while keeping your tongue in position. Then release the air and sound the N.
It might be best to listen for it for a while before trying it yourself. You won’t be misunderstood if you pronounce the T in these words, but it’s very rare for native speakers to pronounce it.
Examples: button, mountain, kitten, written, fountain, gotten, important
Sounds like: bu-N, mou-N, ki-N, Wri-N, Fou-N, Go-N, Impor-Nt
When T is a Stopped Sound: At the end of a word.
When T is at the end of a word, you almost can’t hear it at all in normal speech. It’s more like you put your tongue in the “T” position, then stop the sound.
This one can also be difficult to master, so listen for it first, especially when people say “It’s hot!” or “That’s that.” In emphasized or formal speech, native speakers often do sound the T. Also, it’s helpful to keep in mind how your native language influences you to pronounce the end of words. For example, Mandarin speakers, whose native language doesn’t emphasize the end of words, might do this naturally, whereas Russian speakers, whose native language does emphasize end-of-word consonants, might need to practice this.
Examples: hit, fit, hot, might, get, right, mat, heat, height
Now Practice saying these sentences out loud:
Tom might go to the doctor, to get a splinter taken out of his foot.
Otters played in the mountain water.
The Internet helps me connect to students, teachers, and photos of kittens.
Tammy Talbot was certain that she’d read the title of the fairy tale.
I wouldn’t mind a better bottle of water.
The articulate actor practiced his glottal stops with gusto.
T’s can be tricky, but with practice, careful listening and attention, you should be able to master them. Look out for more articles about EVEN MORE ways to pronounce T, including two examples in the last sentence. Read it again: can you find another form of silent T and a T that sounds like “SH?”