American English pronunciation of words with a silent t
There is no t sound in words like listen and whistle.
Hi everyone, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English Pronunciation Podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 50th episode.
I hope you enjoyed last week's video podcast about the long i and short i sounds. Next week I'll do another video podcast that compares the short i to the short e and long e. I hear so many people who cannot say the short i properly, that I think it is well worth the time to compare those three similar sounds. Plus, I really want to focus on what these sounds look like from outside the mouth, so I want you to be able to see me say these sounds.
Today, since I'm getting good feedback from people saying that you're enjoying these topics, I'm going to continue talking about words that have unusual silent letters. You can send me your thoughts about past or future shows as well. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, or you can also post them on the forums on the Pronuncian website.
Today's topic is the silent t in words like listen and whistle. That's right, those t's are absolutely silent. Don't say them. There are two different spelling patterns here to be aware of, the -sten pattern, as in the word listen, and the -stle pattern, as in the word whistle. Both of those patterns are pronounced with no t sound.
Let's look first at the word listen. Listen to the word, listen. You are not hearing lisTen. What other words follow this pattern? Well, there aren't a lot of them, but enough for me to call it a rule.
Here are the words that end in the spelling -sten; they all have a silent t:
I know, it isn't very many words. But, if you happen to be an engineer, you may say the word fasten or fastener quite often. And we all need the word listen.
Now, for the -stle spelling, as in the word whistle. Words in this category include:
Again, for some of you, those words don't matter very often, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't learn the rule, and maybe some interesting vocabulary as well. It is important to start noticing spelling patterns and how the pronunciation matches. That is how you take control of your own English learning. The more aware you are, the faster you'll notice these weird silent letters. I want to make you as aware as possible.
Let's practice saying the words in those lists again, so you can become more familiar with them.
I liked adding the inflectional suffixes (those are suffixes like the -ed and -s ending) to the words 2 weeks ago for a little extra practice, so I'm going to do that again. All of the words we've practiced today end in either an n sound or an l sound, which are voiced sounds, so the s, when added to these words, will sound like a z sound. For a review of this concept, go all the way back and listen to episode 3 again.
Here we go, with an added -s ending.
Now, let's add the -ed ending to the verbs. I can add an s to all of the words above because I can either make the nouns plural, or conjugate the verbs in the third-person singular. However, I can only add the -ed ending to verbs, so this list will be shorter. Again, all of the words end in a voiced sound, so the -ed ending will be pronounced as a d sound. Review episode 19 for a review of this concept.
Here we go, with an added -ed ending.
There you go, two new rules to add to your list. Words that end in -sten or -stle are pronounced without a t sound.
I'm going to be talking about how to link words that end in -ed to the word that follows it in two weeks. I'm working on my next pronunciation book, which will focus on the rhythm and intonation of English, so we're going to have some fun new podcast topics coming up. I'll mix them in with the videos.
I also want to mention that Seattle Learning Academy has a Pronunciation intensive class coming up in April. You get a discount for registering for the class before March 15. So if you are in the Seattle area, or would like a visit to the Seattle are, and you want an intense, 3-day class covering all the sounds and syllable stress rules of English, you should check this class out. Go to www.seattlelearning.com for more information.
I want to thank those of you who have subscribed to Pronuncian or made a purchase from the site, or have added an iTunes review. We really rely on the support of you, our listeners and site users, to be able to keep adding new educational content to Pronuncian, and to be able to continue to create and publish these podcasts. If you value this service, please, help us support it.
That's all for today everyone. Please continue your comments and forum posts, and please, keep on learning.
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About the ESL/ELL Teacher
Mandy has been teaching ESL, pronunciation and accent reduction since 2005 at Seattle Learning Academy, an English language school in Seattle, Washington, USA. She uses her experience with intermediate to advanced students to create the topics that most affect students living and working in the United States and can help them communicate better and more clearly.