American English Phonetics

Another American English Faculty Project

Three Related Processes

In ordinary conversational styles, ambisyllabic /t,d/ are realized either as [d] or [ɾ]. The first arises through t-voicing, and the second through /t,d/-flapping. A third possibility arises because of /t,d/-elision. As a result of these processes, the opposition between ambisyllabic /t – d/ tends to be lost, so that pairs like atomAdam, parityparody but also winter and winner tend to be homophonous.

atom – /ˈæt̬əm/ [ˈæɾəm]

Adam – /ˈædəm/ [ˈæɾəm]

parity – /ˈpɛrət̬i/ [ˈpɛrəɾi]

parody – /ˈpɛrədi/ [ˈpɛrəɾi]

winter – /ˈwɪntər/ [ˈwɪ̃nə̃r]

winner – /ˈwɪnər/ [ˈwɪ̃nə̃r]


t-Voicing will affect ambisyllabic /t/ after /n/ in certain words only. These words will vary from speaker to speaker, but common examples are seventy, certainty, carpenter. So pronounce these words /ˈsɛvn̩di/ etc.

seventy – /ˈsɛvənti/ [ˈsɛvə̃ndi]

Ambisyllabic /t/ may also be voiced to /d/ word-finally, as in the moment is, the treatment of. These /-nd/ clusters do not undergo flapping, and are treated like any such cluster in words that have –nd in the spelling, like sender (Rhodes 1992).


t/d-Elision occurs after /n/ in a strong syllable, as in center, fantasy, mental, and in phrases like went on, can’t afford, in front of.

center – /ˈsɛntər/ [ˈsɛ̃nə̃r]

fantasy – /ˈfæntəsi/ [ˈfæ̃nə̃si]

in front of – /ɪn ˈfrʌnt əv/ [ɪn frʌ̃n əv]

Elision of /d/ is less common; it may occur in words like fundamental, indication, under, kinda (i.e. kind of) and in phrases like send it, stand up.

fundamental – /ˌfʌndəˈmɛntəl/ [ˌfʌ̃nəˈmɛ̃nəl]

kinda – /ˈkaɪndə/ [ˈkaɪ̃nə̃]

Verging on substandard are pronunciations like /ˈɪnərˈduːs, ˈhʌnərd, for introduce, hundred, where the switching around of /r/ and /ə/ creates the environment for the elision of /d/.


In words like atomAdam, metalmedal, writerrider both /t/ and /d/ are normally voiced and pronounced as a single tap of the tip of the tongue against the alveolar ridge. The articulation of flapped /t,d/, for which the symbol [ɾ] is used, is not unlike that of Spanish /r/ in pero, or Amsterdam Dutch /r/ in a word like serie. However, flapped /t,d/ do not have the friction that may be heard in the Dutch sound.

Flapping typically affects ambisyllabic /t,d/ after vowels. There may also be an /r/ before /t,d/. Recall that ambisyllabic consonants are created by WSP (I) or by liaison (II). Here are some examples. Pronounce them.

t d t d
hitting kidding hit Annette read all of it
liter shoddy hit Anne hid a treasure
bottle heading write a letter made in Taiwan
Bottom rider quite at ease (2x) ride a horse
Ghetto avocado meet a friend he invited Ollie
Waiting wading bright eyes a bad egg
hearty hardy start off shored up


Here are some questions you should be able to answer. Why don’t we get flapping in a tease, but do we get it in at ease?

a tease – /ə tiːz/ [ə tʰiːz]

at ease – /æt iːz/ [æɾ iːz]

And why don’t we get it in latex, but do we get it in later?

latex – /ˈleɪtɛks/ [ˈleɪtʰɛks]

later – /ˈleɪtər/ [ˈleɪɾər]

And why in my late ex?

my late ex – /leɪt ɛks/ [leɪɾ ɛks]

Also recall that in words like button, cotton, mountain, where /t/ appears before syllabic /n/, we always get t-glottaling, even though /t/ is ambisyllabic.

As a result of flapping, the members of pairs like futilefeudal, writerrider, literleader, metalmeddle, waitingwading, latterladder are homophones.

futile – /ˈfjuːt̬əl/ [ˈfjuːɾəl]

feudal – /ˈfjuːdəl/ [ˈfjuːɾəl]/

writer – /ˈraɪt̬ər/ [ˈraɪɾər]

rider – /ˈraɪdər/ [ˈraɪɾər]

liter – /ˈliːt̬ər/ [ˈliːɾər]

leader – /ˈliːdər/ [ˈliːɾər]

metal – /ˈmɛt̬əl/ [ˈmɛɾəl]

meddle – /ˈmɛt̬əl/ [ˈmɛɾəl]

waiting – /ˈweɪt̬ɪŋ/ [ˈweɪɾɪ̃ŋ]

wading – /ˈweɪdɪŋ/ [ˈweɪɾɪ̃ŋ]

latter – /ˈlæt̬ər/ [ˈlæɾər]

ladder – /ˈlædər/ [ˈlæɾər]

In at least one context, however, Canadian English maintains a distinction. This is when /aɪ, aʊ/ precede /t,d/, as in writerrider, right on!ride on!, a lout in the houseallowed in the house. Before voiceless obstruents, Canadian English has centralized [ʌɪ, ʌʊ] (which causes about the house to sound somewhat like ‘abote the hoce’ or ‘aboot the hoos’). These allophones are also used before /t/ in a flapping context, so that writerrider, for instance, are different, not because of the consonants, but because of the vowels: [ˈrʌɪɾər] – [ˈraɪɾər].