Today’s blog post brings you an advanced pronunciation lesson on hard to pronounce English words. Together we will practise words that are difficult to articulate because because they contain multiple consonants in a row, like the word ‘text message’. In phonetics, words like this are said to have ‘complex codas’. Learn about complex codas and practise your advanced English pronunciation with me…
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Advanced Pronunciation: What Is a Complex Coda?
In phonetics, the coda is the name given to the part of the syllable that follows the vowel. It consists of one or more consonants.
Below you can see a tree diagram showing the parts of a syllable. All of the hard to pronounce words that we will practise in this lesson have a syllable coda (consonants after the vowel). But note, English syllables are not required to have a coda. Examples of some one-syllable words with no coda in Standard British English are ‘too’ /tuː/, ‘may’ /meɪ/ and ‘far’ /fɑː/.
Let’s break down the pronunciation of ‘text’ as an example. The vowel in the word is /e/. Following the vowel, we have a string of three consonants in the coda → /kst/. This is an example of a complex coda because we have to pronounce these three sounds together. Try pronouncing the word ‘text’ as it was intended, noticing that it is difficult to articulate a string of three consonants.
Pronunciation Hacks for Difficult to Pronounce Words
Words with complex codas are difficult to pronounce, therefore native speakers tend to simplify them by dropping one or more consonants from the coda.
Consider the pronunciation of the word ‘text message’ in natural speech. The majority of people simplify this word, pronouncing it as ‘tex’ /teks/. For instance, ‘I sent a ‘tex’ message’. Notice that the /t/ consonant has been dropped from the word. This process of dropping consonants from the pronunciation is called elision.
According to some people, saying ‘tex message’ instead of ‘text message’ is an uneducated mistake. But in my opinion, this form of elision is acceptable because it happens all the time in natural speech. Next, we will look at a few more examples of consonant elision in natural speech.
Advanced Pronunciation: Complex Coda Examples
Pronounce texts /teksts/
‘I received a lot of texts today.’
We have the vowel /e/ and then the coda, which is four consonants long → /ksts/. Adding the plural to the previously explained example ‘text’ /tekst/, we need add an extra /s/ sound. When pronouncing this word, you will notice a lot of sibilance and air sounds because all of the consonants in the coda are voiceless.
By applying elision to ‘texts’, we can make the pronunciation easier. The final /t/ and /s/ sounds are dropped from the word, resulting in ‘tex‘ /teks/ once again. The plural and singular of the word now sound the same because we can’t pronounce two /s/ sounds in a row.
Pronouncing ‘texts’ as ‘tex’ is a sloppy but widespread native speaker pronunciation. If you prefer to speak English clearly, then don’t speak like a native speaker! For clear speech, you should pronounce every sound in ‘texts’ → /teksts/.
Pronounce glimpsed /glɪmpst/
When you glimpse something, you see it suddenly and briefly. ‘I glimpsed over the hedge and I saw my neighbour was naked’.
This is another example with a four-consonant coda. When pronouncing ‘glimpsed’, you have to concentrate to be able to hear the /p/. We don’t say glim-p-s-t because the /p/ is a quiet /p/. We can make the word easier to pronounce by removing that quiet /p/ sound → /glɪmst/.
Pronounce instincts /ˈɪn.stɪŋkts/
‘The tiger relies on its instincts.’ When you know something by instinct, you know it naturally without being taught.
Our next example word ‘instincts’ is a mouthful to pronounce! Let’s apply elision by dropping the /t/, so that the word sounds like ‘in stinks‘. Pronounce with me the example sentence; ‘The tiger relies on its ‘in stinks’ to survive’.
Pronounce attempts /əˈtempts/
‘Many attempts were made to climb the mountain.’
This word contains another complex coda with four consonants in it: /mpts/. This coda can be simplified by dropping the /t/ so that the word now sounds like ‘attemps‘. Now pronounce the sentence with me; ‘Many ‘attemps‘ were made to climb the mountain’.
Now pronounce the word ‘attempts’ /əˈtempts/ properly again. Notice that even when you are trying to pronounce every consonant, it is difficult to hear the /t/ in the word. This is because /t/ and /p/ are both plosive consonants, which means they are pronounced with a final puff of air. However, when they are together in a cluster of consonants, only one puff of air is released. In the case of ‘attempts’, it is difficult to hear the /t/ because only the /p/ is released with a puff of air.
Pronounce prompts /prɒmpts/
‘The director prompts the actor to remember his lines.’
A complex coda of four consonants is again simplified by dropping the /t/ → ‘promps‘.
Pronounce lengths /leŋkθs/
‘How many lengths did you swim today?’
The word ‘lengths’ is a very difficult word to pronounce. It surprises most people when they realise a /k/ consonant is included in the four-consonant coda of this word. The pronunciation can be simplified in two ways. Start by saying ‘leng‘ + /θs/. Then if you want to simplify it even further, you can say ‘len‘ + /θs/.
Pronounce strengths /streŋkθs/
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Your strengths are the actions or tasks that you excel at.
‘Strengths’ is one of the hardest to pronounce English words because it has both a complex onset and complex coda.
- The onset of ‘strengths’ contains a string of three consonants → /str/
- The coda of ‘strengths‘ contains a string of four consonants → /ŋkθs/
To simplify the pronunciation, we can drop the /k/ sound from the pronunciation.
Start by saying ‘streng‘ + /θs/. Then if you want to simplify it even further, you can say ‘stren‘ + /θs/.
Pronounce sixths /sɪksθs/
This example and the one below are used in mathematical equations. E.g. ‘Three-sixths of a kilometre’.
These examples are included just for practising your advanced pronunciation. You will probably never need to use them in a real-life conversation!
The word ‘sixths’ /sɪksθs/ contains two /s/ sounds in the coda, which makes it especially hard to pronounce if you have a lisp! Applying elision, the /θ/ and final /s/ can be dropped to make the pronunciation much easier → /sɪks/. To pronounce it, think of the word ‘sick’ and add an /s/ sound on the end: ‘sicks’. The word we are pronouncing now sounds the same as the word ‘six’.
When elision is applied, ‘three-sixths of a kilometre’ sounds exactly the same as ‘three six of a kilometre’ (which doesn’t make sense!). The reason this happens is because we can’t have two /s/ sounds in a row.
Pronounce twelfths /twelfθs/
E.g. Two-twelfths in mathematics.
‘Twelfths’ is pronounced ‘twelf’ followed by /θs/. To make this easier to pronounce, we remove the /θ/ sound, making it ‘twelfs’. Note: Pronouncing the word without the /θ/ sound makes you sound like you have a cockney accent!
Pronounce angsts /æŋ(k)sts/
This is a German-origin word, which means to be in emotional turmoil or pain. E.g. ‘He angsts about modern life.’
The final hard to pronounce word is sometimes pronounced with five consonants in the coda! → /ŋksts/.
The /k/ sound in ‘angsts’ /æŋ(k)sts/ is in brackets because the /k/ is only pronounced in some non-standard English accents. The addition of a /k/ sound to the pronunciation of the word is an example of epenthesis (the opposite of elision), meaning the insertion of a sound that shouldn’t be there. No /k/ should be pronounced in ‘angsts’ because there isn’t one in the original German pronunciation. However, native English speakers tend not to know that, and instead they incorrectly associate ‘angsts’ with the pronunciation pattern that is found in ‘strengths’ and ‘lengths’. This makes them add a /k/ sound which doesn’t belong in the word.
When ‘angsts’ is pronounced with a /k/ (non-standard pronunciation), it creates the most complex coda that it is possible to pronounce in an English word.
Thank you for reading and/or watching today’s advanced pronunciation lesson!
Extend Your Learning
▶︎ Watch my advanced pronunciation lesson on ‘What Is a Syllable‘
▶︎ Watch another advanced pronunciation lesson; ‘How to Speed Up Your English’ (Connected Speech)
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