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After doing some research, I have noticed I have been saying the word "to" as [tʃu:], while most dictionaries and sources say I should pronounce it as [tu:]. But I have the impression that "to" is not pronounced with a clear t, at least in the most common variants of English. This also seems to happen with other words beginning with "to", such as "tomorrow" and "today".

Is this pronunciation of "to", [tʃu:], valid?

Are there any variations regarding the "t" in this word (excluding the "quick" informal pronunciations, which I am aware of)?

I am not a native speaker.

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    I don't know how all native speakers pronounce things, so I can't state definitively that none of them say [tʃu:], but I would certainly recommend against using it if you are learning English.
    – herisson
    Feb 13, 2016 at 20:02
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    Are you hearing this from Americans, Brits, or Australians? Oct 31, 2022 at 1:44

4 Answers 4

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Your pronunciation [tʃu:] of the word to is not correct. In fact, that's how the word chew is pronounced.

What you hear when native speakers pronouce the word to is an aspirated T. So to is pronounced [tʰu:] when stressed. See Wiktionary for more details.

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    I understand. I was in doubt because it is really common for Brazilians (like me) to say "to" as "chew" when stressed, even for teachers! Probably it is our approximation for the aspirated t. Curiously, this only happens before an "o". Feb 13, 2016 at 20:38
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    @RoggerAlves: yes, I have heard this pronunciation is used by some Brazilians. But I have never heard of a native speaker using it.
    – herisson
    Feb 13, 2016 at 20:41
  • So this is part of what would be your "Brazilian accent" when you are in the US.
    – GEdgar
    Feb 13, 2016 at 20:54
  • Note that aspirated /t/ is also somewhat affricated in most dialects of English, making it something more like [tˢʰuː]. That affrication is what makes speakers of some languages hear it as a [tʃ]. Jul 26, 2017 at 8:17
  • @JanusBahsJacquet I don't think it's true of most English, or even Irish accents, although I think that there's an element of it in Welsh and Scottish speech. In most English ones including RP there is more of a tendency to shorten, or even drop, the 'o' rather than soften the 't' so you get "I'm going t'get my car serviced". The only word I can think of with a softened 't' is "Tuesday' which very often comes out as "Chewsday".
    – BoldBen
    Nov 1, 2022 at 9:29
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You'll hear [tʃu:]in inner-city Dublin - it would not be considered a good example of how to speak

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    Well, if you were in inner-city Dublin, it would be
    – No Name
    Oct 30, 2022 at 20:18
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Funnily enough, while most dialects of English don't affricate the /t/ in "to", there are several that affricate the /t/ in "Tuesday". Why? Etymology: The "ue" was once pronounced /ju/; as time went on and English evolved, some dialects simply dropped the /j/, while others assimilated it with the /t/ into an affricate /tʃ/. Same thing happened to "due", which some dialects affricate (the same ones that affricate "Tuesday") while others don't.
And /j/ is not the only approximant that affricates /t/ and /d/. Almost all dialects affricate /t/ and /d/ before /ɹ/, and many do it before /w/, producing /tʃɹ/ and /tʃw/. Do note that while /tʃɹ/ and /dʒɹ/ are fairly standard, /tʃw/ and /dʒw/ are not - you're more likely to hear /twelve/ and /dwarf/ than /tʃwelve/ and /dʒwarf/.

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  • Shchtrongly related. :)
    – tchrist
    Oct 30, 2022 at 22:11
  • To is almost always pronounced /tə/.
    – Xanne
    Oct 31, 2022 at 2:01
  • @Xanne When it's unstressed, which it admittedly usually is. But when it's stressed, "to" is /tu/, just like "too" and "two"
    – No Name
    Oct 31, 2022 at 2:23
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Since (many varieties of) Brazilian Portuguese palatalizes /t/ and /d/ before high front vowels /i/, (tia 'aunt' [tʃia], dia 'day' [dʒia]) and /u/ is a high back vowel, it's not uncommon for Brazilian Portuguese speakers to pronounce English /tu/ as /tʃu/ but this doesn't match most English pronunciations of these words.

The English pattern is made more confusing since many English speakers do palatalize some /u/ sounds, although these are always orthographic 'u' or 'ew' and never orthographic 'o'.

So words like to, two, do, toot, cartoon are always pronounced [tʰu] or [du] if the syllable containing the /u/ is stressed. Since infinitival and to and prepositional to are usually unstressed, they are usually pronounced as [tʰǝ].

Words with orthographic 'u' like tune, Tuesday, due are pronounced in many varieties of English as either [tʲu] or [tʃu] or [dʲu] or [dʒu].

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  • There is also the fact that tomorrow and today versus to noun or infinitive are not the same.
    – Lambie
    Oct 31, 2022 at 20:27

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