All About the Flap (aka Flap T)

Dec 21, 2020

All About the Flap (aka Flap T)

12/21/2020

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What's the easiest way to sound more like a native speaker of American English? Use the flap! The flap occurs everywhere in American English, and if you want to sound natural to a native speaker, you must learn how to pronounce it and when to use it!

(Video Transcript)

 

Hi, I’m Julie with San Diego Voice and Accent, and in this video you’ll learn all about the flap, also known as the flap T.

 

The flap is everywhere in American English, and if you want to sound natural to a native speaker and have good English rhythm, you must learn how to pronounce it, and when to use it.

 

The flap as the /t/ and /d/ consonants

If you’ve been studying English for awhile, you’ve probably learned that the flap is called the flap T, and it can take the place of a T sound in words like: 

 

Water

 

Butter

 

And better

 

Yes, this is true, and I often call this sound the flap T. But that’s only half of what the flap can do. Did you know the flap can also take the place of a D sound in words like:

 

Video

 

Ladder

 

and the name Adam

 

So from here on out, I’ll be referring to this sound as the flap, not the flap T. 

 

How to make the flap

Let’s review how to make the flap:

 

The tongue tip touches the alveolar ridge, and it’s a quick movement - just long enough to make contact, but not long enough to fully stop the airflow. The flap is voiced, meaning the vocal cords vibrate. 

 

This is similar to a D sound; it has the same tongue placement and the same voicing. But the airflow is different. The D sound is a stop consonant, which means the airflow is completely stopped, air pressure builds up behind the stop point, and then the airflow is released.

 

/d/

 

/d/

 

/d/

 

But this doesn’t happen with the flap. There is no build up of air, and no subsequent release of air. The tongue tip just flaps up quickly and makes very brief contact with the alveolar ridge. The flap is a lighter D sound - lighter and faster.

 

IPA symbol for the flap /ɾ/

Let’s talk next about the IPA symbol for the flap. When the flap takes the place of a T consonant, you may see this symbol or this symbol. And depending on the dictionary you are using, you may not see any special symbol at all - you’ll just see the true T symbol. This is the symbol that is used in the IPA to represent the flap, so this is the symbol that I use. 

 

Another thing to know is when the flap takes the place of a D consonant, you will almost never see the IPA symbol for the flap in the transcription. This symbol is only used when the flap takes the place of a T consonant.



Other names for the flap: Alveolar flap, tap, and alveolar tap

There are three other names for the flap. You may hear it called the alveolar flap because the tongue tip touches the alveolar ridge. You may also hear it called the tap or the alveolar tap. There are slight differences between a flap and a tap, but I’m not going to discuss those differences in this video, so let’s keep it simple and agree that these terms are referring to the same sound - the flap. 

 

Using the flap in other languages

The flap is the same as the R sound in some languages, like Spanish. In Spanish, the word pero means the conjunction “but”, as in “I wanted to go, but I was really tired.” The R in pero is pronounced with the flap. A single flap of the tongue tip to the alveolar ridge.

 

Pero

 

The word perro means "dog". Both words have the letter R, but perro has a trilled R, which means the tongue tip touches the alveolar ridge more than once. 

 

Pero uses the flap - the tongue tip touches the alveolar ridge only once.

 

When to use the flap in American English

Now for the rules of the flap in American English. The flap can take the place of T or D when they occur between vowels, and the second vowel is in an unstressed syllable. This can happen within words, like in:

 

Automatic

 

Wedding

 

and batter

 

I’ll say these words again, both with the flap and without the flap. Listen to the difference in the T or D sounds.

 

Automatic, automatic

 

Wedding, wedding

 

Batter, batter



Linking with the flap

Another very important rule to the flap has to do with linking. When a word ends in a T or D consonant, and the next word begins with a vowel, the T or D can become a flap if they are between two vowels and the second vowel is in an unstressed syllable.

 

Here are some examples of linking using the flap:

 

But I have to. 

 

The T in but becomes the flap because the T is between two vowels, and the second vowel is in an unstressed syllable.

 

Put it away. 

 

The T in put and the T in it become the flap because both of the Ts are between two vowels, and the second vowel is in an unstressed syllable.  

 

Did I go?

 

The second D in did becomes the flap because the D is between two vowels, and the second vowel is in an unstressed syllable.



Practice: The flap in words

Now let’s practice using the flap. I’m going to read a list of words, and the sounds that should be the flap will be highlighted in green. I’ll say each word three times, then you’ll have a chance to repeat.

 

Letter

 

Rider

 

Matter

 

Spider

 

Waiter




Practice: Linking with the flap

Now I’ll use the flap to link two words together, and the sounds that should be the flap will be highlighted in green. I’ll read each sentence three times, then you’ll have a chance to repeat.

 

He’s at it again.



I needed a pen.



I added it to your bill.



He owed a lot of money.



Let’s eat at eight o’clock.



I hope this video helped you to feel more confident about using the flap in American English. Thanks for watching, and let me know how I can help you master the American accent!