Flap T

Often in ordinary American speech the T sounds like a D. This happens when the T is after a vowel or an R, and before an unstressed vowel. It also happens in some other cases. It’s optional to use the flap T, but sounds much more natural than a regular T.

These pairs of words sound the same in ordinary American speech:

catty caddy

latter ladder

waiter wader

waited waded

fated faded

Examples of words where the T is usually pronounced like a D:

Metal

Whatever

Butter

Party

Seventy

Eighty

City

Sometimes the next word changes a stop T to a flap T, for example:

“What” Here, “what” ends in a stop T

“What about” Here, “what” ends in a flap T, and “about” ends in a stop T

“What about it” Here, “what” ends in a flap T, “about” ends in a flap T and “it” ends in a stop T

See if you can find the flap Ts in this text (The answers are at the bottom):

Ball Lightning, from Wikipedia:

British occultist Aleister Crowley reported witnessing what he referred to as “globular electricity” during a thunderstorm on Lake Pasquaney in New Hampshire in 1916. He was sheltered in a small cottage when he “noticed, with what I can only describe as calm amazement, that a dazzling globe of electric fire, apparently between six and twelve inches (15–30 cm) in diameter, was stationary about six inches below and to the right of my right knee. As I looked at it, it exploded with a sharp report quite impossible to confuse with the continuous turmoil of the lightning, thunder and hail, or that of the lashed water and smashed wood which was creating a pandemonium outside the cottage. I felt a very slight shock in the middle of my right hand, which was closer to the globe than any other part of my body.”

R.C. Jennison

Jennison, of the Electronics Laboratory at the University of Kent, described his own observation of ball lightning:

I was seated near the front of the passenger cabin of an all-metal airliner (Eastern Airlines Flight EA 539) on a late night flight from New York to Washington. The aircraft encountered an electrical storm during which it was enveloped in a sudden bright and loud electrical discharge (0005 h EST, March 19, 1963). Some seconds after this a glowing sphere a little more than 20 cm in diameter emerged from the pilot’s cabin and passed down the aisle of the aircraft approximately 50 cm from me, maintaining the same height and course for the whole distance over which it could be observed.

Here are the words that have a flap T, in the order they appear in the text:

British, reported, electricity, cottage, noticed, what, that, 15, 30, cm, diameter, at, it, quite, that, water, creating, cottage, part

University, seated, metal, 539, Washington, 1963, little, cm, diameter, 50, cm, distance

Eating food or foot?

In English, Ds are almost always pronounced the same. A D at the end of a word is usually pronounced the same as a D in the middle or at the beginning of a word. For example, the D in “feed” is the same as the D in “feeding” or “feeds.” The D in “head” is pronounced the same as in “heading.” Both Ds in “headed” are pronounced the same. Both Ds in “did” are pronounced the same. The D in “dog” is the same as the D in “food.”

These words all sound different:
oat owed
pat pad
port poured
pot pod
quit quid
route rude
short shored
slight slide
sought sawed
tent tend
tight tied

An exception to this is for some verbs in the past tense, ending in ed, the D sounds like a T. For example diced, tasked, wiped, and watched.

In English, D is a voiced sound:
Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds

Voiced and Unvoiced Sounds

Many pronunciation problems can be solved by learning about voiced and unvoiced sounds.

Voiced sounds use your vocal chords, unvoiced sounds don’t. All vowels in English are voiced. Unvoiced sounds are not very loud. If you put your hand against your throat while talking, you’ll feel the vibrations from your vocal chords when you’re saying voiced sounds, but you’ll feel no vibrations when saying unvoiced sounds. When you whisper, the sound you make is unvoiced.

The difference between the Z and S sounds is that the Z is voiced, the S is unvoiced. (In written English, sometimes the S makes the S sound, and sometimes it makes the Z sound.) Here are some examples:

Z, S:
zip, sip, zoo, sue, razor, racer, rays, race, phase, face

Similarly, the main difference between the D and T in English is that the D is voiced, the T is unvoiced:
drip, trip, dry, try, fried, fright, feed, feet, seed, seat

Often students make mistakes if a word ends in a voiced sound. For example, if a word ends in D, the D should not be pronounced like a T; a D at the end of a word should be pronounced the same as a D at the beginning or in the middle of a word.

Here are more pairs of letters where the main, or only, difference is that one is voiced and the other is unvoiced:

B, voiced, P, unvoiced
blob, plop, beer, peer, back, pack, robe, rope, mob, mop

G, voiced, K, unvoiced
grab, crab, god, cod, mug, muck, lug, luck, rag, rack

V, voiced, F, unvoiced
view, few, vine, fine, invest, infest, save, safe, wave, waif

J,voiced, CH, unvoiced
gin, chin, jive, chive, jello, cello, edge, etch, ridge, rich, badge, batch

TH: th is used for two sounds, one that is voiced, and one that is unvoiced.

Some examples of words with voiced TH: this, that, other, the, and bathe

Some examples of words with unvoiced TH: theory, thorn, with, month, and bath

Pronunciation Exercises, Free Ebook

Here’s my book of pronunciation exercises. Most of the exercises use minimal pairs to help you hear and say the sounds of American English. I use this book when teaching English lessons:

Jonathan’s Pronunciation Exercises

Click here if you’re interested in taking English lessons to improve your pronunciation or fluency.