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American English Pronunciation: The Sounds of T      

sounds of T     

Say "time," "dime" and "nine."  Notice how T, D, and N are made with the tongue in the same place inside the mouth.  This will help you understand the rules below.  

T Rule
Rule
Notes on Rule
Examples

T = T

The regular T sound is almost always used when "t" is the first letter of a word. 

ST or TS always keep the regular T sound as well.   table, tall, test, best
all first letter T's

T = D Between Vowel Sounds 
When T is between two vowel sounds (A,E,I,O,U) or between a vowel and L or R (these letters are called semi-vowels to linguists),
it becomes a D sound.  In phonetics, this sound is called
a "flap," which means the tongue touches the roof of the mouth quickly. 
It should be a soft, light sound.  This is the key difference
between British and American speech.  This rule is widely applicable—
you may find a few exceptions, but you will be more surprised by
how well the rule works. **
Practice with: computer, water, bottle, heater, better, matter, ability, university, put it on,
great idea

Say: compuder, wader, bodul, header, beder, mader, abilidy, universidy, pudidon, gread'idea

T = Silence When after N
When T comes after N, the T sound is dropped in many words. 
This rule is not as important, as it's informal.
It is mostly used when people speak quickly, but it's good
to be able to listen for this change.  
It is also good to remember
not to pronounce a strong T at the middle or end of a word. 
When not at the beginning or stressed, a T should be fast and soft
or barely heard at all.
Practice with: interview, interstate, international, wanted, don't know, printer, enter, twenty

Say: inerview, inerstate, inernational, wanned, don'know, priner, ener, tweny

T = Hard N When before N
When T is before an N, the sound is stopped and turns into a hard N.
The final N should be strong.  This sound is more difficult. 

It may be best to listen for it for a while and then start trying to use it. Practice with: mountain, fountain, curtain, written, forgotten, important, sentence

Say: mou-N, fou-N, cur-N, wri-N, forgo-N, impor-Nt, sen-Nce

T =  Stopped Sound
When T is at the end of a word (and this is not followed by a vowel), the sound stops. 
To say this correctly, emphasize the preceding vowel, put
your tongue into place and simply stop the sound. 

This one too can be difficult to master, so listen for it first, especially when people say "It's hot!" or "That's that." hot, hat, mat, fat, lot, rat, pat, foot, want, sit, sat, fit, bat, pot

** This T = D rule applies also when T is at the end of a word and the word is followed by a vowel sound, such as "put it on."  This phrase would read "pudidon."  This is very common in expressions that use "what" and "that," as in "what a good idea" or "wada good idea."  Remember: this is only true for vowel sounds.  If the vowel is silent, the rule does not work.  Note the word "write."  The E is silent, so the T is not a D sound.  This rule does not apply when the middle T sound is stressed, such as "Italian."

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