Sound valueIn English, the letter t represents a voiceless alveolar plosive stop, produced by the release of breath blocked by the tongue being placed against the roof of the mouth behind the front teeth. The aspiration of /t/ is slight after s, the t in stub being less forceful than in tub and rather resembling /d/. Before another stop, or m, or in syllable-final position, t may occasion no audible release of breath, as in hatpin, atmosphere, Wait! Before syllabic l, n, and (in rhotic accents) r the breath may be released nasally (bitten) or past the sides of the tongue (little) or its tip (falter).
Glottalized TIn some accents, especially in Britain, the tongue may not touch the roof of the mouth, the t being spoken as a GLOTTAL STOP, as for example in London and Glasgow working-class pronunciations of a bit of butter.
Voiced TThe letter t may be voiced almost as /d/ following a stressed vowel and before a second vowel. This pronunciation is typical of AmE and AusE, making virtual homophones of such pairs as atom/Adam, latter/ladder, waiting/wading, writing/riding. It is also heard sporadically in BrE, especially in certain rapid colloquial expressions, such as I'd better go, get out, and not a hope.
Palatalized T(1) When t is palatalized before u, it represents the affricate otherwise spelt ch as in church: before -ure (capture, culture, fracture, legislature, picture, temperature), before -ual (actual, intellectual, perpetual), and in some other environments (century, fortune, statue, virtue). Compare palatalized d, s, z in verdure, closure, seizure. (2) This affricate value also occurs before i in the ending -stion (question, digestion, combustion) and in Christian, and before e in righteous. However, in precise, conservative speech, the value of t in such words may be /t/ followed by a y-sound rather than /tʃ/. (3) Elsewhere, when followed by unstressed i and another vowel, t is commonly palatalized to produce the voiceless palato-alveolar fricative sh- sound. This value of ti is found in such words as inertia, patient, ratio, nasturtium, and the proper names Domitian, Horatio, Titian, but particularly in the endings -tial (palatial, essential, initial, partial, potential, presidential, substantial), -tious (conscientious, superstitious, vexatious), and the hundreds of -tion words (association, completion, discretion, ignition, motion, solution). Some of these also have a preceding consonant: action, infarction, mention, adoption. In words ending in -tiate, etc., the i usually remains syllabic: negotiate, substantiate. (4) Uniquely, equation may be heard with zh, rhyming with invasion. Occasionally, some of these words are pronounced carefully with non-palatalized t heard as /s/: inertia, negotiate.
Double T(1) Syllables containing a stressed short vowel double a final t before a suffix that begins with a vowel: mat/matted/matting, bet/betting, fit/fitted/fitter/fittest, rot/rotted/rotting, cut/cutting/cutter, regret/regretted/regretting (contrast wait/waited/waiting, visit/visited/visiting). Format commonly has formatted/formatting, while benefit is found with benefited/benefiting and, less commonly, benefitted/benefitting. (2) Disyllables commonly have medial tt following a stressed short vowel: batter, better, bitten, bottle, butter. (3) T is doubled when the Latin prefix ad- is assimilated to a stem beginning with t: attain, attend, attract. (4) Some cognate words vary in their doubling: Britain/Brittany, catty/caterwaul, letter/literate, matter/material. (5) Few words other than proper names end in tt: watt originated in the proper name Watt; matt, nett are alternatives for mat (not shiny), net (not gross); mitt is a clipped form of mitten; putt originated as a Scottish variant of put; butt (noun) may have retained double t so as to be distinguished from but.
Inflectional T(1) Regular verbs form their past tense with -(e)d, but many irregular verbs use t: deal/dealt, feel/felt. (2) Some have alternative forms, especially in BrE (burnt/burned, learnt/learned, spoilt/spoiled), the t-versions often being favoured as adjectival forms (burnt papers, badly learnt lines, spoilt food). (3) Some reduce a doubled consonant before t: smelt/smelled, spelt/spelled, spilt/spilled, and formerly also past/passed. (4) Some shorten their stem vowel (but not its spelling) before t: dreamt/dreamed, leant/leaned, leapt/leaped. (5) Many shorten sound and spelling before t: cleave/cleft, creep/crept, feel/felt, keep/kept, kneel/knelt, leave/left, lose/lost, shoot/shot, sleep/slept, sweep/swept, weep/wept. (6) Some substitute -t for final -d in their root: bend/bent, build/built, gild/gilt (also gilded), gird/girt (also girded), lend/lent, rend/rent, send/sent, spend/spent. (7) Some make more substantial changes to the vowel and/or final consonant of the stem in adding -aught or -ought: beseech/besought, bring/brought, buy/bought, catch/caught, seek/sought, teach/taught, think/thought. (8) Some have stems with final -t which is preserved without inflection in all tenses: burst, cast, cost, cut, hit, hurt, let, put, quit, set, shut, slit, split, thrust. (9) Some change their stem-vowel, but not final t: fight/fought, light/lit, meet/met.
Epenthetic T(1) The letter t and sound /t/ have sometimes intruded in words originally without them: peasant, tapestry (from French paysan, tapisserie). (2) In against, amidst, amongst, betwixt, whilst, t has arisen parasitically, perhaps by analogy with the superlative inflection of adjectives.
Silent T(1) In word- and syllable-final position in loans from French, both early and recent: ballet, beret, bouquet, buffet, cabaret, chalet, crochet, croquet, depot, mortgage, parquet, potpourri, trait, valet. (2) Elided after s following a stressed vowel: before /l/, especially in the terminal syllable -le, in castle, nestle, pestle, trestle, wrestle, bristle, epistle, gristle, mistletoe, thistle, whistle, apostle, jostle, throstle, bustle, hustle, rustle; before /n/, especially the terminal element -en, in chasten, hasten, fasten, christen, glisten, listen, moisten; and in isolated words such as Christmas, postman, waistcoat. (3) Elided after f in soften and often in often. (4) In boatswain, the elision is reflected in such alternative spellings as bo 's'n, bosun. (5) The historical function of t before ch, typically after short vowels as in match, fetch, pitch, botch, hutch, is the equivalent of doubling a simple letter, but is in present-day English redundant. The redundancy is particularly apparent in ditch/rich, hutch/much.
VariationsSome variation occurs between t and other letters in related words, as between benefit/beneficial, space/spatial, extent/extend/extension (contrast retention).
THThis digraph is regularly used to represent a common, characteristically English phoneme, the dental fricative, both voiced /ð/ as in this and voiceless /θ/ as in thin. Sometimes related forms vary: voiceless smith, but voiced smithy. In OLD ENGLISH, the sounds were represented interchangeably by the runic letter THORN (þ) and ETH (ð), a modification of the letter d. A relic of thorn occurs in the form Ye for the in ‘old’ inn and shop signs, such as Ye Olde English Tea Shoppe, the y being a corruption of handwritten þ. English borrowed the digraph th from LATIN, where it served to transliterate GREEK theta (θ); th superseded other symbols for the dental fricative following the advent of printing. In MODERN ENGLISH th occurs in common words of Old English origin and in many, usually technical, words of Greek origin. The h is ignored in the pronunciation of a small number of words: thyme, Thomas, in BrE but not necessarily in AmE in Thames (for example, the Thames River in Connecticut has a spelling pronunciation), and usually in Anthony, Esther. Th may be silent in asthma, isthmus, clothes. Th in north, south is commonly omitted in nautical language: nor' nor' east, sou'wester. The form good-bye also arose from the omission of th, being a clipping of God be with ye.
Voiced TH(1) Initially in many grammatical words: than, that, the, thee, their, them, then, thence, there, these, they, thine, this, thou, though, thus, thy, but contrast through, in which the following r may have prevented the voicing of the th. (2) Medially: bother, brother, father, further, gather, hither, leather, mother, northern, rather, smithy, southern, weather, wether, whether, whither, wither, withy, worthy, but contrast brothel and the derived forms healthy, wealthy. (3) Some nouns voice final th in the plural (baths, mouths, truths, youths) but not in the corresponding inflected BrE verb baths. (4) A following final e indicates a voiced th, a long preceding vowel, and usually a verb form (contrast breath/breathe): bathe, clothe, lathe, lithe, loathe, seethe, sheathe, soothe, swathe, teethe, wreathe, writhe, but to mouth, to smooth lack final e.
Voiceless TH(1) Initially, in lexical words: thank, thatch, theft. (2) Finally, in both lexical and grammatical words: bath, birth, both, but contrast voiced smooth, and booth with either pronunciation. Th is voiced in the derivatives mouths, northerly, southerly. The word with is variable. (3) In Greek-derived words: antithesis, epithalamium, hyacinth, pathos, theatre/theater, theme, theory, Theseus, but not in rhythm.
Morphological THThe ending -th was formerly a present-tense verb inflection (for example, maketh for Modern English makes), and occurs as the ordinal ending for numerals (fourth, fifth, twentieth, hundredth, thousandth, but with written assimilation of preceding t in eighth, from eight). It creates abstract nouns from several common adjectives often suggesting measurement: breadth, depth, length, strength, warmth, width (but only t after gh in drought, height, sight).
T1 / tē/ (also t) • n. (pl. Ts or T's ) 1. the twentieth letter of the alphabet. ∎ denoting the next after S in a set of items, categories, etc. 2. (T) (also tee) a shape like that of a capital T: [in comb.] make a T-shaped wound in the rootstock and insert the cut bud. See also T-square, etc. PHRASES: cross the T hist. (of a naval force) cross in front of an enemy force approximately at right angles, securing a tactical advantage for gunnery. to a T inf. exactly; to perfection: I baked it to a T, and of course it was delicious. T2 • abbr. ∎ [in comb.] (in units of measurement) tera- (1012): 12 Tbytes of data storage. ∎ tesla. ∎ Brit. (in names of sports clubs) Town: Mansfield T. • symb. ∎ temperature. ∎ Chem. the hydrogen isotope tritium.
t • abbr. long or metric ton(s). • symb. (t) Statistics a number characterizing the distribution of a sample taken from a population with a normal distribution (see Student's t-test).
• Astronomy, symbol for hour angle
• (ital.) Statistics, symbol for Student's t distribution
• Music te (in tonic sol-fa)
• (ital.) Chem. tertiary (isomer; as in t-butane)
• symbol for tonne(s)
• Physics top (a quark flavour)
• (ital.) Chem., symbol for transport number
To a T means exactly, to perfection. Recorded from the late 17th century, this idiom may reflect the idea of completing the letter T by putting in the cross-stroke. However, an earlier expression in the same sense was to a title, so T may be an abbreviation. Attempts to link it with a golfer's tee or a builder's T-square are unconvincing.
1. Symbol for tera-.
2. A dialect of LISP, similar to SCHEME.