English Pronunciation: Silent “T”

How do you really pronounce the word “often”? Is it with a T or without T?

We follow a rule when pronouncing Ts. As you know, language evolves and changes over time. If you see these letter combinations: -sten, -ften, and -stle, the T is silent. This is not always the rule, but usually this is the format we follow.

listen =  lis(ə)n

castle = kasəl

moisten = mois(ə)n

soften = sôfən

fasten = fas(ə)n

hasten = hās(ə)n

glisten = ɡlis(ə)n

apostle = əˈpäsəl

thistle = THisəl

whistle = (h)wisəl

wrestle = resəl

In addition to these, T is also silent in the words: Christmas and mortgage.

Now the word “often” is the exemption because it is pronounced both ways, with T or with a silent T. So you either say:

often: ôf(t)ən

OR

often: ôf (ə)n

This is so because of the history of the word. In the 1700s, “often” was pronounced with a T, and after that, they stopped pronouncing it with a T. They pronounced it “ôf (ə)n”. Then later on, people started to pronounce it with T again, “ôf(t)ən”. So nowadays, it is acceptable to say “often” with a T or without a T. It really depends on a person’s accent or what country they are from. But either way, it is acceptable. If you don’t like the T sound in “often”, go for the silent T. It is really your choice and most of the time it depends on where the person comes from.

If you see the letter combinations –tly, -stl or -ftl, these are signs that you should pronounce the T sound. Here are examples:

mostly

lastly

justly

softly

swiftly

tightly

jointly

shortly

If you notice, language is always changing and evolving. Language doesn’t stay the same because we adopt words and sounds from other languages. To help you learn them, try to remember the general rules and be aware of the few exemptions.


Author
I have a passion for the English language because it is such a powerful tool for creativity and personal development. I've been writing articles since I was in High School. I represented my school in English writing competitions in the city, regional, and national levels. When I was in college, I wrote a short story which was published in the University Literary Portfolio. In 2006, I worked as a call center agent in Cebu City. In 2007 up to 2008, I worked as an English accent trainer in a startup call center company. I have also been offering ESL lessons as a freelance tutor since February 2016.