112: Dropping the /d/

Here is a little-discussed rule about omitting the d sound in certain consonant clusters.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 112th episode.

Here is a little-talked about topic, omitting the d sound. Yes, I said d sound, not t sound. Not this time.

Way back in episode 63, I talked about the t sound being omitted when it occurs after an n sound and before a vowel sound, l sound, r sound, or schwa+r. Examples include pronouncing the words printer, percentage, and disappointed, as printer, percentage, and disappointed. If you're not familiar with the concept that the letter t can be pronounced in many different ways depending on the sounds that surround it, go back and listen to episodes 63, 65, and 66 before listening to this one.

A few weeks ago I was teaching an advanced pronunciation class to a group of about 20 engineers. I love teaching engineers because, to give a broad stereotype, engineers like rules. Engineers want to know why something is the way that it is, and so do I. So we get along very well in the classroom. In this group, the word grandmother came up. I was asked if I say the d sound in the middle of the word: grandmother.

No, I don't and I was impressed that this student had caught the pronunciation. The word grandmother perfectly illustrates that, like the t sound, the d sound can be omitted in certain words. Before I tell you when it can be omitted, me also tell you that this can be considered informal. I would say, however, that most native speakers do omit this sound much of the time without ever thinking about it, no matter how formally they are trying to speak.

The rule is pretty straightforward:

When a d sound occurs after the n sound and before another consonant sound, the d sound can be omitted.

This rule is true whether the d sound is in the middle of a word, such as in the word grandmother, or happens to be at the end of a word with the next word beginning with a consonant sound, as in the phrase second_month. The main point is that the d sound must occur between an n sound and another consonant.

Let me first give you some easy examples. These words all end in the n sound, then d sound, and can have an s sound added to make the word plural or to conjugate a verb. I'm going to say the word, then spell it, so I can be sure you hear me correctly:

sends: s-e-n-d-s
pounds: p-o-u-n-d-s
errands: e-r-r-a-n-d-s

If I actually tried to say any of those words with a d sound included, it would sound like I was trying to be very, very formal. Listen to me saying them formally:


And here it is in within some other words; I'm not going to spell these words:


Likewise, if I were having a conversation with another native speaker and I said the d sound in those words, the listener might think I was talking a little oddly. It would sound like this:


I'll say those three again, first informally, then formally. I'll leave time for you to repeat after I say the pair:

grandmother, grandmother
handsome, handsome
sandwich, sandwich

Now let's play with linking. I'll say a short phrase or sentence that links a word ending in the n sound followed by the d sound to a word that begins with another consonant sound. The d sound will be omitted in these examples. I'm going to say the phrase, then a short sentence, then the phrase again so you really get a chance to hear it:

February is the second month of the year.
The game should end_by 10:0
Grandma found_someone to help her.

Now I'll say the phrases again, first with the omitted d sound, then by keeping it in place. I'll leave time for you to repeat me after the pair.

second_month, second_month
end_by, end_by
found_someone, found_someone

Like everything I seem to teach you to do, I immediately turn around and teach you when to not do it as well. So, here it is: you cannot omit the d sound when it is added due to an -ed ending. So, if a verb ended in the n sound, and the -ed ending would be pronounced as a d sound (because the n sound is a voiced sound), the d sound should be linked to the word that follows it, not omitted. This link can be hard to hear because the d sound is a discontinuous consonant, but the stop for it still exists, and is important to include.

Listen for the -ed ending in the following phrases:

planned_my party

Yes, I know it was hard to notice. I'm going to say those phrases one more time, first in the simple past with the -ed ending, then in the simple present (with no -ed):

planned_my party, plan_my party
remained_confident, remain_confident

Since I know those are SO hard to hear, I'm going to repeat them one more time. I'll leave time for you to repeat the pairs after me:

planned_my party, plan_my party
remained_confident, remain_confident

The moral of today's show is not that it is necessary to learn every minute, tiny rule of English pronunciation, the moral is to learn to trust your ear and ask questions when you think you heard something surprising. Many of you have no choice but to be autonomous learners, meaning that you are responsible for finding ways to learn by yourself. The best way to do that is by paying close attention, and by noticing the things that don't seem to follow the rules you know so far. English pronunciation is a deep, deep subject, and there are many lessons still to learn. Always listen closely, trust what you think you've heard, and ask questions.

Don't forget that you can always ask questions on our forums, and I will answer them as quickly as I can get to them. Just go to: www.pronuncian.com/forums. You can also learn a lot by reading through and commenting on other people's questions. The forums are a free service of pronuncian.com.

I'll link to related t sound rules and the discontinuous consonant linking lesson from this show's transcripts. You can find transcripts for all of our shows at www.pronuncian.com/podcast.

That's all for today everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening.