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As a non-native English speaker, I just realised that I have probably been pronouncing the word "national" wrong for 20+ years.

I have been pronouncing the "t", kind of like "nat-shoe-null" (but of course as one word :)

I didn't believe it when someone told me it's pronounced "na-shoe-null", so I had to look it up. And sure enough — none of the videos I could find pronounce the "t". Both British and American English. I was shocked.

I'm sure I've heard people say it all the time in movies, Youtube videos, etc., so now I'm really confused - do native English speakers ever pronounce the "t", or have I just been imagining it (perhaps with some help of confirmation bias)?

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    English spelling is weird. In “national”, you should change your perspective that there’s a letter “t” there — but really there’s the digraph “ti” instead, which functions effectively as an atomic letter and is pronounced like “sh” (another digraph). Note even in the word “digraph”, you see a “p”, but it’s not really there — it’s never pronounced — instead you’ve got the digraph “ph” which sounds like an “f”. Digraphs are effectively their own letters. The classic joke is “ghoti” sounds like “fish”, because you’ve got the “gh” from “enough”, the “o” from “women”, and the “ti” from “national”.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 7, 2022 at 18:52
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    @DanBron That sounds like the start of a good answer.
    – Mitch
    Sep 7, 2022 at 19:04
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    @Mitch Glad to hear it — looking forward to reading yours.
    – Dan Bron
    Sep 7, 2022 at 19:06
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    No - that T is never pronounced that way. But your "nat-shoe-null" is (apart from the 'n' of 'null') very like our pronunciation of natural. Could that be where you've heard it? BTW, I think "National" is more like "nash-null" than "na-shoe-null". That 'shoe' syllable virtually disappears. (In the UK.) Sep 7, 2022 at 22:45
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    The comment by @DanBron explains why it's pronounced as it is (the 'ti' is a digraph) but I do wonder whether you pronounce other words containing the 'ti' digraph incorrectly. There are quite a lot of words like that such as "ration" "notion" and "patient". The difficulty is that there a few words like "patio" where the "t" and the "i" don't form a digraph. As with many words in English I'm afraid that you just have to learn the non-standard ones.
    – BoldBen
    Sep 7, 2022 at 23:06

1 Answer 1

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The -tion suffix is fairly common in English. The numbers in parentheses are number of dictionaries in which onelook.com https://onelook.com/?w=*tion&scwo=1&scwo=1&sswo=1 found the word.

In all these cases, it’s pronounced like “shun,” without much emphasis on the vowel.

“tion” also occurs within words, e.g., emotional, abolitionist, exhibitionism.

Although patio has a t sound, the ti in ratio is pronounced sh.

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  • This doesn't answer the question, which seems to be "Do native English speakers pronounce the T in national?"
    – shoover
    Sep 8, 2022 at 5:14
  • Oh, sorry. I didn’t properly save my earlier edits. @shoover
    – Xanne
    Sep 8, 2022 at 5:33

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