I'm faced with difficulties how to pronounce contractions like don't, wouldn't, and etc. correctly.

Somehow I read from some grammar British student book that "t" is not pronounced but I didn't pay attention to that just because I think it's may be common for the UK (hi, pronunciation of "got") or depends on people (everyone to his taste).
Watching movies, shows it seemed to me that native speakers pronounce "t" but may be it's not strongly pronounced because of strong pronunciation of "d", "o".
Yesterday I watched a video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dthn7A9AmaM where a lady talks we should miss the sound "t" in contractions "n't". I thought that's fine, I'll do.
But the another video I came across was that http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3xmedFIhm0 ....
Yes, it has a few views comparing to the previous link. But it has another opinion and the lady from the last video says that we should pronounce "t". So, I don't know what to think about that. It's really strange. How is it possible ?

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    A link to another part of original question here english.stackexchange.com/questions/295649/…
    – Vadim
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 10:47
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    Thanks for answers ! It would be nice to listen more opinions especially from native speakers. I don't want to start a holy war between citizens from different countries. As a not native English speaker I appreciate ANY opinions. In the UK I would try talking like an Englishman, in the US - like an American and so on. I believe any used language is developing as a live organism and of course there can be differences even between people inside the same country.
    – Vadim
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 11:34
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    Wow! Thanks for the video, the lady's pronunciation is very clear. I'll look into it
    – Vadim
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 13:29
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    @Vadim usually you can hear the difference (by the hints others have noted). But sometimes not. Then you say like anybody: "Was that 'can' or 'cannot'?" Or something similar.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 24, 2015 at 14:28
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    @Araucaria thanks! I could have done it right away but I wanted to see if there was any agreement first.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 28, 2015 at 17:32

5 Answers 5


The /t/ in negative contractions in English can have three main realisations. In decreasing order of likelihood (all other things being equal):

  • it can be a glottal stop
  • it can be dropped altogether
  • it can be a full [t]

It does not matter at all in negative contractions whether the following sound is a consonant or not in terms of dropping the /t/ altogether. It can easily be a vowel that follows.

So in terms of what native speakers actually do, by far the rarest realisation is with a canonical [t]. However, it is never wrong to use a normal [t] sound. Knowing that a [t] will usually not be present will greatly improve non-native speakers' listening skills though.

The other reason to be aware of the fact that there may not be a [t] present is that it enforces that fact that it is stress which is the most important factor for distinguishing negative contractions from normal auxiliaries. Negative contractions are stressed in English, whereas other things being equal most auxiliaries aren't when occurring in positive sentences. So when trying to distinguish between She can come and she can't come we will listen out for the following rhythms:

  • ba ba BOM
  • ba BOM BOM

The first is what we expect from the positive polarity sentence. The second is the negative.

Assimlatory processes

The final [t] in negative contractions may be affected by the sounds following it.

For example, if the word following the contraction normally starts with [j], as in the first sound in you, then the /t/ and the /j/ may coalesce to form an new affricate sound, /tʃ/. This is the first sound that we hear in words like chair. So the string don't you may be realised as:

  • 'doʊntʃu (Gen Am) "donchu"
  • 'dəʊntʃu (British RP) "donchu"

Also if the following sound is not alveolar, both the /n/ and the /t/ may change their place of articulation according to the place of the following sound. So for example if the following sound is bilabial, the /nt/ cluster may be realised as /mp/. It is quite common to hear RP speakers saying I cam'p believe it, for example.

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    And the difference in stress often also leads to a difference in vowel quality (due to reduction of unstressed vowels in the "weak forms" of verbs like can and have).
    – herisson
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 11:52
  • @sumelic Absolutely so. Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 11:59
  • The following sound may also be a vowel, which increases the chances of the realisation being [t] ("I don't actually" = /ˌaɪ.doʊn.ˈtæk.ʃə.liː/). Also, just to nitpick, I believe RP refers more to the model or ideal ("BBC English") pronunciation rather than common British pronunciation, so "donchu" and "cam'p" aren't what I would call RP. Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 12:23
  • @TimPederick That ch assimilation is often used my rather silly people to characterise 'non-standard' English. However, this form of coalescent assimilation is used by the vast majority of RP speakers including the queen. Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 12:32
  • I certainly don't mean to say it's "non-standard", much less bad (that would be hypocritical of me), and I don't know that I've ever heard the Queen say "don't you" (or "don't use", "want you", etc.), so I'll take you at your word that she says /tʃu/ and not /tju/. Even so, it was my understanding that RP isn't equivalent to "ordinary British"; Wikipedia says that RP is representative of about 3% of Britons! Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 12:55

Glottalisation is common in the UK, but whether it is used or not depends on the regional accent. This is not quite the same as completely missing the "t" off the end of words, but it might sound as such if you are not used to hearing glottalised consonants.

For non-natives I would not suggest missing the "t" off the end of words consciously. Pronouncing the "t" will not make you sound weird. If you live among native speakers for a while you will probably find yourself naturally adapting to their pronunciation and accent.


At least in my part of the U.S., the "t" is neither fully pronounced nor completely left out, but rather modifies the sound of the preceding "n". Compare "I can think of..." and "I can't think of...". In the second case, the sound of the "n" is much shorter and a noticeable silence occurs before the next word. Whereas in the first case the "n" sound flows right into the next word. It's as if only the first half of the "t" sound is pronounced, with the release left out.

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    Simply labeling it (t-)glottalization, though accurate, does not communicate the "modification of the previous 'n' sound" feature I was trying to describe for the OP.
    – Jeff Y
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 11:37
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    I'm an idiot. I read your first line, thought out my comment, read the rest of your post, realised that my comment wasn't relevant, and then somehow forgot that and posted it anyway. My apologies.
    – AndyT
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 11:43
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    No worries! It is useful to know that my last sentence is a description of what "glottalization" (of "t") means. (The online definitions are so complex that they often obfuscate that.)
    – Jeff Y
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 11:51
  • Well, what part of the U.S. are you from ? (I'll know where I cannot understand anything. Joke. :)) I've heard that people from southern states talk similar to people from the UK (anyways, not like people from northern states), or if we are talking about so called "glottalization" it doesn't matter and it depends more from a state ?
    – Vadim
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 11:56
  • @JeffY - Your last sentence is a great description of glottalisation, and I agree that trying to understand the online definitions is nigh-on impossible.
    – AndyT
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 12:03

Yes, you should pronounce the "t" of negative "n't", unless you don't pronounce any "t"s in this position after "n". That is, in the American English I'm familiar with, the "t" might be lost, but it is not especially vulnerable to loss because it's part of a negative contraction.

All the alveolar stops, "t/d/n", are often lost or assimilate in position to a following stop. "t/d" can delete after a consonant (other than a glide or liquid) and before an initial consonant of the next word, for instance. Along with the other stops "p/k", "t" can glottalize before a following consonant, then the glottal "t" can lose its tongue closure and become just a glottal stop.


As an Englishman I watched, more in sorrow than anger, the video of the American lady teaching bad English pronunciation. Missing off the "t" when pronouncing words like "don't" and "wouldn't" is every bit as bad as doing the same for words like "hunt" and "count". Don't do it! It's just lazy.

I would just add that well-educated American friends of mine pronounce these words correctly. They, like me, have lived and worked in countries where English is not the first language and so clear pronunciation is an important communication skill.

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    Maybe you should write to the queen and tell her that she can't speak English properly :D Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 11:10
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    @Vadim 50 years ago the upper classes said things like "huntin', shootin' and fishin'" whereas everybody else said "hunting, shooting and fishing". When a book can't differentiate between "You can come in here" meaning "You can come in here" and "You can' come in here" meaning "you can't come in here" you know it is giving bad advice. Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 12:35
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    @Araucaria the Queen doesn't miss the t off.
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 15:20
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    @Araucaria this answer just irritates me to no end...only educated people pronounce English the right way! Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 15:40
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    @Araucaria maybe you are unable to discern the subtlety but it is definately not missed out entirely
    – JamesRyan
    Commented Dec 23, 2015 at 15:51

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