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There are many cases where different words are pronounced differently in some English dialects, but not others. A commonly cited example is -- Mary, marry, and merry.

In English, the letter 't' may be pronounced...

  • Aspirated.
  • Unaspirated.
  • As a glottal.
  • Voiced (like a 'd').

I noticed that "its" and "it's" feel different in my brain. (Consider the phrases "it's home", "its home", "it's its home".) So I wonder whether there might be a corresponding pronunciation difference, where the 't' in "it", "its" and "it's" (and perhaps other words ending with 't') may be pronounced differently in some dialects. Perhaps it is a glottal in one, unaspirated in another, and aspirated in the last? Or perhaps it could be pronounced similarly to different unaspirated consonants, which English speakers normally have difficulty distinguishing, but which form minimal pairs in other languages.

(It occurs to me there may be a difference in stressing, rather than pronunciation.)

  • Not in any British dialect, as far as I know. – Kate Bunting Nov 12 '19 at 16:49
  • I think (in my brain) there's a minor difference in the vowel and that this can carry over, somehow, e.g. if the initial tongue position differs, to the dental, but not very far, obviously, if the t is voiceless as much as the s. This would be du to prosody, I guess. I'm not a phono-anything, though, so I'd say the difference is in D-minor (:D) ESL here, by the way – vectory Nov 12 '19 at 18:08
  • @vectory Woe to those who are tone deaf. – xiota Nov 12 '19 at 18:09
  • I can't say I've ever heard it, so I'm also tone deaf, and self analysis is error prone anyhow – vectory Nov 12 '19 at 18:16
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    "It" by itself may have a different t than the others. But not when followed by s ... It saw... Same t as "its" and "it's". – GEdgar Nov 12 '19 at 18:30
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I don't know of any dialects that consistently use different phonemes for the first consonant after the vowel in it and its or it's.

In many dialects, the phoneme /t/ is pronounced differently depending on its environment, and this applies to it and its/it's the same as it applies to bit and bits/bit's, pit and pits/pit's, and so on.

In an American English accent, a word-final /t/ that comes after a vowel sound or after /r/ can be lenited, causing it to be voiced and realized as a "flap" or "tap" sound (typically transcribed as [ɾ], although as you mentioned, to English speakers it often sounds like a "d" sound) before a following word that starts with a vowel sound. This can be heard in sentences like Give i[ɾ] a rest!, I felt a bi[ɾ] uncomfortable, He spi[ɾ] a pi[ɾ] on the ground. The /t/ in words ending in /ts/ cannot be realized as a voiced flap/tap. So you would not hear [ɾ] in its, it's, bits, spits, pits. Word-final /t/ is not flapped before any consonant sound, not even approximants like /w/ and /j/, so the /t/ in it is not pronounced as [ɾ] in sentences like It won't be long or Give it your best shot.

Plosives in coda position tend not to be aspirated when they are followed by another obstruent consonant in the same syllable. So words ending in /ts/ would usually not be heard with aspirated [tʰ]. Likewise, words ending in /ps/ or /pt/ (like gaps and apt) are usually not heard with aspirated [pʰ], and words ending in /ks/ or /kt/ (like ax and act) are usually not heard with aspirated [kʰ].

In absolute word-final position, aspiration of voiceless plosives is occasionally heard, perhaps especially for emphasis. E.g. gap and hack can sometimes be heard with [pʰ] or [kʰ]. Likewise, when /t/ is not replaced with [ɾ], it can sometimes be realized as [tʰ] in word-final position. It seems like a possibility (although not the most likely pronunciation for me) at the end of it in a sentence like Forget i[tʰ]!

Glottalization is also possible for word-final voiceless plosives. Glottalized plosives are sometimes transcribed like this: *ga[ʔp], ha[ʔk] or ga[ʔp], ha[ʔk]. For /t/, glottal replacement may occur, where the resulting consonant just sounds like and is transcribed as the glottal stop [ʔ]. So Forget i[ʔ]! is another possibility. Glottal replacement is considered particularly characteristic of accents in the south of England, but I think it happens in American English accents also.

I think glottalization and glottal replacement are also possible in word-final /ts/ clusters, although I'm not sure if there is a difference in frequency.

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    The t-glottalizations can happen on both sides of the pond, but vary a good bit by speaker and utterance. That means that in perfectly normal speech, utterances like “It’s not easy” can come out pronounced as [ɨʔˌsnɒʔˈiːzi] — and in more rapid speech, little more than [snɒʔˈiːzɨ]. All this can be very confusing to ESL learners unused to the phonological changes typical of allegro rules. (Of course swap in [ɑ] for [ɒ] there in many but not all North American accents.) – tchrist Dec 12 '19 at 23:37
  • @herisson Very informative. Thank you. – xiota Dec 13 '19 at 7:19
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There is no difference in pronunciation between "it's" and "its." Not one that the dictionary notes. They are both pronounced "itz" (Webster's New World Dictionary (4th ed.) puts the pronunciation as its

Of course, "it" is pronounced differently than the other words, but saying the "t" is pronounced differently is stretching it a bi"t".

  • There is no /z/ sound in those words. You're thinking of ids. – tchrist Nov 14 '19 at 5:11

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