177: -ate suffix revisited--advanced lesson

Highly fluent speakers understand this suffix.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 177th episode.

Last week, we released our short i video to YouTube. You can see that video by going to the SeattleLearning YouTube channel or by clicking the Videos tab on Pronuncian.com. There's a section in the short i video that explains which suffixes are pronounced with a short i sound. If you want to skip straight to the suffixes part of the video, there's a link at the beginning of the YouTube channel version that allows you to jump straight to the suffixes section. In that section, I mention the -ate suffix.

The -ate suffix is, I think, a real chameleon of a suffix. A chameleon is a type of lizard that changes itself according to its situation, and -ate suffix pronunciation changes in a lot of ways.

Becoming highly fluent in an American English accent means understanding this suffix and being able to manipulate it accordingly. This can be easier to accomplish with a teacher. And so if, in addition to learning from podcasts, you'd also like to get American accent and pronunciation training from a Seattle Learning Academy teacher, just send an email to info@seattlelearning.com and let us know that you'd like us to contact you. One of our teachers will get back to you right away! We teach in person and via Skype. You can find tuition rates and more details on the Seattle Learning Academy webpage: www.seattlelearning.com.

Let's get back to the -ate suffix. I've talked before about this complex suffix and the fact that it's pronounced with two different vowel sounds: the short i and the long a. This change is based on which part of speech the word containing the -ate suffix is being used. If the word is a noun (such as the word certificate) or an adjective (such as the word accurate), the -ate is pronounced as /ɪt/ with a short i vowel sound. If it's a verb, as in the word celebrate, the -ate is pronounced as /eɪt/, with the long a sound.

Again, the -ate words pronounced /ɪt/ were the noun, certificate, and and adjective, accurate. The -ate verb was the word celebrate, pronounced /eɪt/.

The vowel change is just one part of how this suffix's pronunciation changes, though. The t sound of the -ate suffix can also change. Don't get too frustrated with this; we'll just take it slow.

I've mentioned in previous podcasts that the t sound pronunciation changes based on the sounds before and after it. These changes are called allophones of the t sound, and they're very common. For instance, if you can hear a quick d sound /t̬/ in the middle of the word city, c-i-t-y, you're noticing a t sound allophone. Can you hear that quick d sound in city: city? Compare that to me saying the t sound as a normal t sound: city. With a d sound in a normal English American accent: city; with a t sound: city.

One circumstance that causes the t sound to be pronounced as a quick d sound is when the t sound occurs between vowel sounds. The word celebrate, a verb pronounced with the long a sound, obviously ends in a t sound. If we put the word in the past tense, the -ed ending will be pronounced as short i plus d sound, just like all of the other regular verbs that end in a t sound. When the -ed ending is added, we get celebrated, with the t sound now between the long a and the short i. Therefore, the t sound changes to a quick d sound: celebrated. Can you hear how the final syllable of celebrated sounds like /dɪd/: celebrated?

Listen to the difference in the word celebrate in the simple form and in the past tense:


This change will happen when any verb ending in -ate is put into the past tense. Decorate becomes decorated and demonstrate becomes demonstrated.

The same change to a d sound will occur if those verbs have an -ing ending added instead of -ed. Compare the common American English pronunciation of celebrating to a more formal sounding strong t sound in celebrating.

Repeat the following words after me:


Another allophone of the t sound is the glottal stop. The glottal stop is the sound in the middle of the word uh-oh. The glottal stop happens deep in your throat when the gap that allows air to pass through the vocal cords is briefly closed. Say uh-oh and notice how the air stops: uh-oh.

One of the circumstances causes the glottal stop to occur is a t sound following a vowel sound and coming before an l sound. If I take the adjective, accurate, and add the -ly ending to it, making it into the adverb, accurately, the t sound will be pronounced as a glottal stop. Listen to those words again:


The glottal stop pattern holds for all adverbs ending in -ately. Repeat the following words after me:


The complete lessons about these t sound allophones and their related practice exercises are available on Pronuncian.com as well as in our textbook, Pronunciation Pages 2. I know many people go to our products page and see Pronunciation Pages 2 and then see that we also have a Rhythm and Intonation ebook and don't know which one to get. Well you're in luck, since we now offer a bundle of both books for a reduced price! When you purchase the ebook versions, you can immediately download your books and the MP3 audio that go with them. Go to www.pronuncian.com and click the "Products" link for details.

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