The American T sound is unique. There are three ways this sound can be pronounced, and it all depends on where the T occurs in the word, or if you are saying the word by itself or in a sentence.
There are some rules about what type of T pronunciation a native speaker will use, and I reviewed those in a previous video. I’ll give a quick recap of the rules now, but I’d suggest you go back and watch that video if you haven’t seen it.
T Pronunciation #1
In some words, the T is pronounced like this: /t/. This is probably the way that you learned to pronounce it. /t/, /t/, /t/. This T is called the true T or the released T. The tongue tip comes up to the bumpy ridge behind your front teeth, air builds behind the tongue, and then as the tongue comes down, the air is released. /t/, /t/, /t/.
We use the true T when T is at the beginning of a word or syllable, like in the words teacher, true, and attack. We also use the true T when T is part of a consonant cluster, like the “tr” in tree and the “str” in street.
T Pronunciation #2
The second pronunciation of the T is called the flap. You make a flap by quickly touching the tongue tip to the roof of the mouth. This is the sound we use in the words water and butter. The flap is a frequent substitution for the true T sound. We use the flap when T occurs between vowels in unstressed syllables. This can happen within a single word, like water. Or across word boundaries in a sentence, like in this sentence: I sat at a table. I used a flap for the T in sat because the T came between two vowels - AA in sat and at.
T Pronunciation #3
The third pronunciation of the T is called the glottal T or the glottal stop. You make a glottal stop with your vocal cords by quickly closing the vocal cords to stop the airflow. AH-AH-AH. We use a glottal stop when T comes before N in final, unstressed syllables, like in the words written, cotton, and forgotten. We may also use a glottal stop across word boundaries when one word ends in a T and the next word begins with a stop consonant, like in hot dog, Kit Kat, and potluck. And finally, we may use a glottal stop when T comes at the end of a word, like in hat.
Let’s practice these three T sounds in sentences. I’m going to say a sentence, and I want you to decide which T I used. I’ll say the sentence at my normal pace, and then I’ll say it slowly. Don’t worry if you don’t have the rules memorized - try to rely on what you hear.
1) Put it on the table, please.
put → flap
table →true T
2) Oh - that fruit is rotten!
that → glottal stop
fruit → flap
rotten → glottal stop
3) You better give it to me!
better → flap
it → glottal stop
to → true T
Thanks so much for watching! And I'd love to hear from you - contact me to learn how we can work together to perfect your American English pronunciation!