When a plosive is at the beginning of a word, the pronunciation naturally flows into the vowel which follows it. The extra vowel sound following the plosive seems to give the plosive a very obvious end. When the plosive is at the end of a word, I find myself releasing the stop with an extra bit of sound at the end which does not seem to be part of the plosive itself.

Consider "cat" which is generally transcribed as [kæt]. I feel like I pronounce it more like [kætə].

Another example is [med]. I find that I cannot detect the difference between [med] and [men] unless I audibly release the [d] in [med]. (This also begs the question of how to pronounce a word which ends in a nasal followed by a plosive on the same articulation point like [lænd]).

I'm looking for two pieces to the answer:

  1. Is the extra sound an actual feature of the pronunciation of the plosive?
  2. If yes, is this feature unique to English or is it common to all languages with plosives at the end of a word.
  • 3
    It's possible to pronounce an unreleased plosive, but only at the end of an utterance. Otherwise you have to release it to get to the next phone. It happens in English with short words like Yup and Nope, where the final /p/ is simply the gesture of shutting the mouth. Normally plosives are released in English, and under the appropriate circumstances, they are aspirated or affricated during the release. The actual sound produced during transition may be significant (as with aspiration) or not. In any event, there is no contrast. Jan 18, 2014 at 19:30
  • As I pointed out in another context earlier today, unless I actually "release the plosive" in order to start another sound, it doesn't seem to make any difference to me whether my yup ends with a /p/ or a glottal stop. Jan 18, 2014 at 21:56
  • @JohnLawler we have to release even utterance final plosives. An unreleased plosive is usually fatal! Oct 9, 2015 at 12:00
  • Not if your nose works. Oct 9, 2015 at 14:24
  • @JohnLawler Ah ,but that would just be a (ninaudible) nasal release. Oct 9, 2015 at 23:33

1 Answer 1


This may be a more linguistic than ELL answer, but here goes:

(1) The stops t, p, k, when syllable-final, undergo glottal reinforcement in English. This minor glottal occlusion does not wholly impede the airstream. So, when the stop is released, the remainder of the air is released too. This is reminiscent of an unvoiced schwa, which accounts for what you hear after the t in cat. In terms of IPA transcription, one tends not to write the fine, automatic phonetic detail, and, so, for English, one marks only the preglottalization, as in [kʰæˀt].

(2) Crosslinguistically, the behaviour of syllable-final t, p, k varies. In Kiowa, for instance, as described by JP Harrington, t and p undergo complete glottal closure and are unreleased. In German, they are lightly post-aspirated. There are, however, only a certain number of perceptually distinct things you can do with your articulatory tract. So, my guess is, there'll be other languages that behave as English does.

  • Does a native Kiowa speaker hear a difference between the unreleased syllable-final plosive sound and a nasal (or other similar sound)? I find I cannot detect a difference between [men] and [med] if I do not audibly release the [d] in [med]! Jan 18, 2014 at 22:59
  • @just.another.programmer Is English your native language? I find I never release the /d/ and can still see a minimal pair.
    – Ledda
    Jan 18, 2014 at 23:22
  • @Ledda Yes, I was raised speaking US English (San Diego to be precise). I know very little about defining / detecting the difference between sounds (I only took one linguistics course in college), but there's no feature I could define which distinguishes between the two. Jan 18, 2014 at 23:30
  • @just.another.programmer Really?! A vowel preceding a nasal coda is generally partly nasalized, so that should give you one difference between men and med. Moreover, if you don't release the d, then you should get a substantial durational difference between the n, a continuant, and d, a stop. Jan 18, 2014 at 23:35
  • <med> might sound like <men> when you have a cold? Have you tried that out? A nasal and a voiced stop are very articulatorily different and I myself can quite easily tell the difference between the two. Do you think you could be able to provide a recording of your saying of each one?
    – Ledda
    Jan 19, 2014 at 3:08

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