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Why shouldn't we pronounce the second "T" in word "potential"? Any english rule about "t" in words?

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    You do pronounce it. Just not as a "hard" T.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 13, 2016 at 3:32
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    [pə'tenʃl] right?
    – Kevin
    Nov 13, 2016 at 3:54
  • The same as prudential, essential, credential, tangential, confidential. The "-tial" ending is generally pronounced as "shul". If you didn't pronounce the T, it would sound like "ee-ul".
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 13, 2016 at 3:59
  • Got it. Thank you. I should remember the "-tial"'s pronounce.
    – Kevin
    Nov 13, 2016 at 4:13
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    Although this post has been re-opened, the original poster found the following question useful, and I think other visitors to this page might as well: What rules of English allow the first t in “patient” to make an sh sound?
    – herisson
    Nov 13, 2016 at 16:51

1 Answer 1

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Potential is usually pronounced /pə'tenʃl/. However, many native speakers, and learners as well, will put a /t/ in between the /n/ and the following /ʃ/. This is called /t/-epenthesis.

This phenomenon will happen very often in English when we have /n/ followed by /ʃ/. So it is perfectly possible to say /pə'tentʃl/ in English. However, notice that this is not because there is a T in the writing. We also find an epenthetic /t/ in words like mensh where there is no orthographic T, no written T, between the N and the following SH, which represents the /ʃ/ phoneme.

An epenthetic /t/ is caused by the velum rising to make the /ʃ/ sound before the oral closure for the /n/ has been released. In other words, as we pass from making the nasal sound to making the 'sh' sound, our tongue and velum may be slightly out of sync. In the in-between phase the articulation becomes the same as that for a /t/, and so we get an incidental /t/ in the word.

We find the same thing when we get /n/ before an /s/, so the following words sound identical for many speakers:

  • mince/mints
  • prince/prints
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    As a student of linguistics, do you know of any language with minimal pairs /nts/,/ns/ in any language? (which is to say, if you haven't figured, that I don't think there is any articulatory or perception difference at all for anybody).
    – Mitch
    Nov 13, 2016 at 16:36
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    @Mitch: There certainly are. Some varieties of English have had, or still have, the distinction.
    – herisson
    Nov 13, 2016 at 16:52
  • @suməlic Oh. Can you give some examples of those varieties and the words that have different meanings with only that one change?
    – Mitch
    Nov 13, 2016 at 16:54
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    @Mitch: John Wells for example has written that he distinguishes "prince" and "prints."
    – herisson
    Nov 13, 2016 at 16:55
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    @suməlic Good example and Wells would be the best of anybody to know. But even so I find that hard to believe even in the most articulate of speech.
    – Mitch
    Nov 13, 2016 at 16:58

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