138: Pronunciation of 'often'

/t/ or no /t/, and what about the 'o'?


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 138th episode.

I was recently asked if the word often, spelled o-f-t-e-n, has a t sound or not. This is a word I hear pronounced both ways, often (no t sound), and often (with a t sound). The Longman Pronunciation Dictionary's 1993 preference poll says that 78% of Americans prefer the no t option.

Based on that, you can choose which pronunciation you prefer and neither option is wrong, but the no t option is quite a bit more common.

If that was all I said in this episode, it would be pretty short, so I decided to add a bit more information and talk about the pronunciation of the letter o at the beginning of the word.

If you do not distinguish between the short o sound (short o) and the aw sound (aw sound), you can use which ever sound you like. Yes, I am referring to the cot-caught merger. If you want to know more about this, I will refer you to episode 67, which is all about the aw sound.

For now I'm going to assume that, like most Americans, you use two different sounds. If this is true, the aw sound is the pronunciation most often used: often.

The letter o frequently causes this kind of confusion. Which sound do we use? Luckily, there is a pattern here. If the letter o is followed by the f sound, it is usually pronounced as the aw sound. Note, however, that this is only true when the o falls on a stressed syllable, otherwise schwa is the more common pronunciation.

Here are some examples of the letter o pronounced as the aw sound. In these examples, the letter o falls on a stressed syllable and is followed by an f sound:




The only exception I found to the above pattern is the word profit, which is pronounced with a short o sound instead. Listen closely: profit, not *profit.

To read the transcripts for this podcast, along with all of our other podcasts, go to www.pronuncian.com/podcast. I will also link to our free web lessons that reinforce these ideas from this show's transcripts page.

Don't forget, you can also practice pronunciation by listening to an audio book while seeing the text in a physical book. Yes, half of learning about good pronunciation is through careful listening practice. You can get a free audio book by signing up for a free 2-week trial of Audible.com. You get to keep your audio book even if you cancel your subscription before the trial is complete. Just go to www.audiblepodcast.com/pronuncian.

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.