137: 'ct' spelling plus -ed and -s ending

Difficult consonant combinations explained.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 137th episode.

English allows a large number of consonant sounds to occur next to each other that other languages don't allow. Not surprisingly, this causes problems. One set of sounds that seems particularly difficult is the k sound followed by the t sound, as in the word act. By the way, the word act does have the most common spelling for the k sound followed by the t sound, c plus t. Other examples are the words expect and product.

This sound combination causes even more problems when an ending, such as the -ed ending or -s ending is added to the k sound plus t sound.

One reason this sound combination is so difficult is because both sounds are stops. By stops, I mean that both sounds are created by using the vocal tract to first stop the air, and then aspirate, or release it.

To create the k sound (k sound), the back of my tongue lifts until it touches the soft palate. The soft palate is that soft, mushy area at top of the back of the mouth. Make the k sound with me to feel where it's located (k sound, k sound).

The t sound touches the tip of the tongue to the tooth ridge. The tooth ridge is that hard bump right behind your top front teeth. Make the t sound with me to feel where this sound is located (t sound, t sound).

So to make the k sound followed by the t sound, the tongue needs to move very quickly, first rising in the back of the mouth to stop the air, then releasing it as the tip of the tongue rises. It allows us to create (k sound+t sound, k sound+t sound).

We're going to practice some verbs that end in the k sound plus the t sound. Repeat after me:




To make it a little more difficult, we're now going to add the -ed ending to those words to notice how the t sound changes a little bit. Listen to the word acted, acted. The aspiration, or puff of air, that occurs at the end of the t sound of acted is so small that you may hear it as a d sound, acted. If I didn't lessen the aspiration and instead created the sound identically to how I create the t sound at the beginning of a word, I would be pronouncing it as !acted. Can you hear the difference?

I'll say them both again. The first example will be the way Americans normally produce this sound when it occurs mid-word, and the second example is with a fully aspirated t sound. The second example is the way you will not normally hear it pronounced.


First: acted
Second: !acted


I'll say them both again.




Let's practice saying the normal, less aspirated, mid-word t sound. I'm going to take the same five verbs we practiced before, and this time I'll add the -ed ending. Repeat after me:




Now let's switch and add an -s ending to the verbs to demonstrate something that might be unexpected. When I say the word acts, I don't actually say the t sound, acts. This is the normal American pronunciation of this combination. Listen to it again: acts. If I were to force that t sound back into the word, it would be pronounced as !acts. Can you hear the difference? I'll say them both again, first with a normally dropped t sound, then with the more unusual pronunciation that includes the t sound.


First: acts
Second: !acts


I'll say them again.




This will probably sound more normal to you if I use the word in a sentence:


My cat acts like a kitten.


One more time:


My cat acts like a kitten.


This dropping of the t sound when it occurs between two other consonant sounds is normal, and it's not just the k sound plus t sound plus s sound that causes this. Any time the t sound is between two consonants, it is likely dropped. Let me emphasize that this doesn't have anything to do with speaking formally or not, it's commonly pronounced this way, no matter what the audience of the speaker is.

The error that I often hear is non-native speakers dropping the k sound instead of the t sound in words like acts. Sorry, but that is not the correct pronunciation. If you say !ats instead of acts, you could cause a miscommunication to occur. So don't do that.

Here are our five verbs from before, this time with an -s ending:




If you'd like more practice with this combination of sounds, we've created a new exercise on Pronuncian.com with the most frequently-used words in American English. Sorry, but only Pronuncian subscribers have access to our exercises. You see, we rely on your subscriptions to be able to pay our bills, and those include everything that keeps this podcast freely coming to you. So, if you can, help support this show by going to www.pronuncian.com/join. In return, you get full access to all of Pronuncian's exercises, quizzes, and videos.

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Finally, I want to mention our free stuff on Pronuncian. You can read the transcripts for this podcast, as well as all of our past shows, by going to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. I link to any relevant free lessons from each show's podcast page to help you learn as much as possible, yes, for free. So check it out. That was 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.