Mastering the Glottal Stop in English Pronunciation

Mastering the Glottal Stop in English Pronunciation

Understanding the glottal stop: A key feature of British accents

Glottal stops are important if you want to sound more British. But what is the glottal stop? We’re here to explain what the glottal stop is and how to use it in Modern Received Pronunciation. Listen to this speech by Adele. Think about how many [t] sounds you hear.

How many [t] sounds did you hear?

Probably not as many as you expected. You may have noticed that many British people don’t pronounce the sound [t] in “British”. Instead, they produce a different sound that replaces [t]. 

The art of the glottal stop: learning from Adele’s speech

Adele often uses a glottal stop instead of [t]. This is very common in her regional London accent. The glottal stop is a sound that is produced by closing the space between the vocal folds. When a speaker blocks air between the vocal folds and then releases it, you hear a glottal stop.

The mechanics of producing the glottal stop sound

Have you ever heard someone say “uh oh” (meaning oops, something has gone wrong)?

 In between the “uh” and the “oh”, we’ve got a little pause. This little pause separates the vowel sounds so that “uh oh” doesn’t sound like “uuhhhhhoooohhh”. The little pause you hear in between “uh” and  “oh” is called the glottal stop. In IPA, the glottal stop is written [ʔ]. In English, the glottal stop is often used to replace the sound [t] but in many cases, this happens only in certain positions in a sentence.

Before consonants, /t/ usually sounds like a glottal stop in British English

In the accent model we teach at British Accent Academy – Standard Southern British or Modern Received Pronunciation (RP) – we don’t normally say [‘brɪʔɪʃ] with a glottal stop. We normally say [‘brɪtʰɪʃ]. We only use the glottal stop to replace [t] when the <t> comes before a consonant. If the letter t comes before a vowel sound, we pronounce it [tʰ] – a normal [t] with a puff of air. 

In some accents – like Adele’s regional London accent) – /t/ is usually pronounced as a glottal stop before vowel sounds as well as before consonant sounds. Adele says [‘brɪʔɪʃ], but I usually say [‘brɪtʰɪʃ]. This is because I have a different accent. 

Adapting the glottal stop in everyday speech

These days, most British people will slip the glottal stop in before vowel sounds in informal speech, especially between words. This is even true for those who usually speak with a Standard Southern British Accent or Modern RP, like me.

Enhance your British accent with proper glottal stop techniques

In order to speak as clearly as possible, you should try to use the glottal stop before consonant sounds, but you should try to say [tʰ] before vowel sounds, especially in formal speech. However, if you live in a region where everyone uses the glottal stop in the middle and at the ends of words, you may find it useful to use the glottal stop more often! Learn more about how and when to use the glottal stop in the Complete English Pronunciation Training Kit!