On English allophones on Wikipedia, there is an example of the pronunciation differences between "night rate" and "nitrate",

Night rate: unreleased [ˈnʌɪt̚.ɹʷeɪt̚] (without a word space between [ . ] and [ɹ])

Nitrate: aspirated [ˈnaɪ.tʰɹ̥eɪt̚] or retracted [ˈnaɪ.t̠ɹ̠̊˔ʷeɪt̚]

What exactly are the differences? I don't understand the diacritics and the subtle differences between the similar consonants.

  • Wait, why the [ʌɪ] in "night rate"? I'd assume this was related to Canadian raising, but that would happen in both versions.
    – alphabet
    Jun 16, 2023 at 2:49
  • I'll leave this one for someone else who can explain what's going on with the /tr/.
    – alphabet
    Jun 16, 2023 at 3:00
  • 1
    Speaking as someone from the US Midwest, "night rate" does have a bit of a separation between the words, while "nitrate" pretty much runs the syllables together. The difference is not dramatic, but someone from the Midwest would generally be able to hear the difference.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 16, 2023 at 3:13
  • @alphabet It actually makes sense to me that the first one is raised but the second is not. BTW, this is one of those "chrain" and "chree" cases, but this time with "chrate" for the second but not the first. Somewhere we have a question about traitor or trader that talks about this affrication. See here for how trade becomes something like [t͡ʂɻʷeɪd]. Also see these answers.
    – tchrist
    Jun 16, 2023 at 3:43
  • 3
    @Araucaria-Nothereanymore. - It's subtle, but it's there. Perhaps a better way to express it would be to say that with "night rate" one perceives the "T" as ending the word "night", while with "nitrate" the first syllable is "nigh" while the second is "trait".
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 16, 2023 at 12:24

1 Answer 1


To the extent this is about phonetics, I think it's not about English Language & Usage; that would deny dialects, if not idioms.

Ignoring any technicalities from phonetics, the active point is the space in 'night rate', which is pronounced.

To make that sound like 'nitrate' would mean eliding the sound, in pretty-much the same way that 'nitrate' elides the spelling.

  • Nobody really "pronounces" spaces in normal speech, though your brain may trick you into thinking that you do; that said, the word boundary can creates other phonetic changes that are pronounced.
    – alphabet
    Jul 10, 2023 at 21:40
  • Alphabet, I'm sorry to be the one to disillusion you and if you see any useful, or even technical difference between 'pronouncing' and 'leaving a pause for' something, please explain it. If the pause is not pronounced how, in ordinary English, does it exist? Jul 10, 2023 at 21:48
  • There are no actual pauses between words in typical speech. It just sounds like there are. If you listen to (say) a video of ordinary speech at a sufficiently slow speed, you'll be able to hear this.
    – alphabet
    Jul 10, 2023 at 21:50
  • 1
    They do not have identical sounds--not even close! But the difference is not an actual pause, it's a set of phonetic phenomena that occur on word boundaries and would appear in a narrow phonetic transcription.
    – alphabet
    Jul 12, 2023 at 22:32
  • 1
    These include devoicing, glottalization, changes in vowel length, prefortis clipping, etc. For example, the vowel in "night" is significantly shorter than the vowel in the first syllable of "nitrate," and the first /t/ is usually pronounced quite differently. This is what lets you hear word boundaries when there's no actual pause.
    – alphabet
    Jul 12, 2023 at 22:35

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