Here’s a simple tip that will make you sound more like a native speaker: pronouncing the stop T correctly.
We’re not exaggerating when we say that you’ll encounter the stop T in almost every sentence. It’s present in the most common English words such as “not,” “that,” and “it.”
How you pronounce it affects your spoken English a lot. This isn’t just for American English, either – you’ll hear it too in British and American English.
The stop T is actually one of the three main T sounds in English. It might seem like there’s only a single way to pronounce T, but in American English, people can switch through three T sounds quickly in a single sentence.
In this blog post, we’ll be focusing on the stop T. We’ll look into how to pronounce the stop T sound itself, along with when to use it – and we’ll be giving plenty of examples along the way.
Stop T Pronunciation
The stop T is also called the glottal T. This is because you use your glottis to pronounce it. The glottis is the space between your vocal folds – you can open or close it to control the flow of air through your mouth.
To see this in action, here’s a quick exercise: say the phrase “Uh-oh.” Instead of “uhhhhhh” followed by “ohhhhhh,” you say each syllable abruptly, with a sudden pause in the middle. It’s almost like getting interrupted – you stop the sound right away. This quick stop is possible because of your glottis, which shuts off the airflow so you don’t make a sound.
It’s similar when you pronounce the stop T. With the regular T, you’d normally put the tip of your tongue on the ridge above your front teeth then release a puff of air through your mouth. For the stop T, it’s the same tongue position, but there’s no release of air. You can think of it as a regular T that’s stopped short.
For example, the word “hat” uses the stop T. Say it out loud with a regular T first, then finally with a stop T. There should be a hitch in your throat, similar to when you’d say “uh-oh.”
The stop T feels natural to say at the end of a word. It’s also quieter, and if you put your hand close to your mouth, there’s no airflow.
Once the stop T clicks for you, you’ll be able to include it naturally in your English speaking. Even a slight adjustment here will make a huge impact because words with the stop T are everywhere. If you’re looking for a more interactive guide that will show you exactly how to pronounce the stop T, the Creativa course on Mastering North American Pronunciation has you covered. It has an entire video episode that’s all about the main T sounds in English, complete with detailed instructions on stop T pronunciation.
Beyond that, it also breaks down various aspects of English pronunciation that are crucial to sounding like a native speaker, from the schwa sound to intonation. Curious about it? Here’s a free video straight from the course.
When to Use the Stop T
You just have to remember two main situations for using the stop T:
1. The T is at the end of a word or a syllable
This is the most natural placement of a stop T.
○ Did you hear the latest news report about the accident?
○ We got Sophie a pet cat.
○ Andrew bought pizza for everyone.
○ Shut the door every time you go out, please.
○ I quit my subscription last month.
○ We’ve encountered a setback at these locations.
○ They’re doing weight training as part of their fitness regimen.
○ Let’s get tickets for the football game this weekend!
○ She always has a notebook in her bag.
○ We’re trying to figure out where the footprints came from.
2. The T is followed by a vowel and N
This includes letter combinations like “-ten,” “-tain,” “-tant,” and “-ton.” When you pronounce these, there’s a very quick pause after the T. For example, the word “bitten” sounds like “bitt_n.” Your tongue stays at the top of your teeth for the stop T, then transitions to N.
○ He’s scared of getting bitten by stray dogs.
○ You’ve gotten better at singing!
○ It’s important that we finish this before the deadline.
○ She wants to change careers and be a consultant instead.
○ This shirt has a missing button.
Exceptions to Stop T Rules
Now that you know about when to use the Stop T, let’s explore the exceptions:
1. The T should be followed by a consonant sound
A T can be at the end of a word or syllable, but it has to be followed by a consonant sound to be a stop T. Otherwise, if it’s followed by a vowel sound, then it’s actually a flap T instead.
Let’s look at the word “it,” which is a classic stop T example. In the sentences below, the T in “it” remains a stop T:
- It makes me feel nauseous.
- You can leave it behind.
This is because “it” is followed by a consonant sound
However, when the T is followed by a vowel sound, it becomes a flap T, which sounds like a D. This is not a stop T:
- It is amazing.
2. The T shouldn’t be part of a consonant cluster
When T is part of a consonant cluster (except for NT), it becomes a standard T instead. These consonant clusters include -CT, -PT, -ST, -FT, and -LT.
The following words don’t use a stop T, even if T is at the end of the word:
3. Occasionally, if you want to emphasize a word, you can use a regular T instead
In this sentence, the word “not” would normally end with a stop T:
- “I’m not going there.”
However, English speakers tend to switch to a regular T if they’re saying “not” with strong feeling, as if in protest:
- “I’m not going there.”
Practice Sentences for Stop T
Now that you know all about the stop T rules and exceptions, you can move on to including the stop T in your spoken English. Try reading the following sentences out loud – we’ve underlined the words with a stop T:
- This would have to be my favorite mountain trail.
- The dentist arrived early at the clinic and put me at the top of the list.
- Did you bring a notepad? We’ll have to write down our calculations there.
- They had a quick chat before heading to the exit.
- The seat was already taken, so he went to the other side of the room instead.
One reason why English learners don’t notice the stop T is that all of the T sounds have the same symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet: /t/. Because of this, they default to saying the regular T every time. However, native speakers usually say the regular T at the start of words but change to stop T at the end.
But even if many English learners only use a regular T, you can still understand their English fine. Still, if you’re aiming for a neutral accent, then it’s essential to pronounce the stop T – after all, you’ll hear it often in American, British, and Australian English.