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Why does "don't be" sometimes become "DOMBE"? There is no M in the spelling then why?

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Short answer

Some people pronounce Don't be as dombe because the t is sometimes deleted and the n is assimilated to an m in anticipation of the following b.

Explanation

In Don't be, the /t/ is flanked by two consonants (/n/ and /b/) and in normal or casual speech, some people tend to drop some consonants (such as /t/ and /d/) when they come between two other consonants. The process of deletion is called elision. So when pronouncing don't be in casual speech, the /t/ is sometimes elided:

  • Don't be [ˈdəʊntbiː] → don be [ˈdəʊnbiː]

Another process involved here is assimilation which makes nearby sounds similar. Adjacent sounds often influence each other so they become more similar (assimilated). For instance, the n in ten pies is likely to be pronounced /m/ in anticipation of the following bilabial stop—/p/.

After the elision of the /t/, we're left with:

  • don be [ˈdəʊnbiː]

The nasal /n/ in don be is likely to assimilate to a /m/ in

  • don be [ˈdəʊnbiː] → dombe [ˈdəʊmbiː]

That's why some people pronounce it dombe.

Other examples of assimilation include:

  • handsome → pronounced hansom
  • mission, vision, treasure etc
  • assume pronounced ashoom
  • handbag pronounced hambag etc.
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    The elision of /t/ or /d/ when flanked by consonants requires that the preceding consonant matches in terms of voicing. This isn't the case in don't be where the preceding consonant is a voiced /n/. So you know for future posts, /t/ is freely elided in negative contractions. The relative likelihood is glottal stop, very likely; elision quite likely; [t] relatively unlikely. Feb 15 '21 at 0:27
  • @Araucaria-Nothereanymore.: The elision of /t/ or /d/ when flanked by consonants requires that the preceding consonant matches in terms of voicing /// I didn't know that. Thanks!
    – Void
    Feb 15 '21 at 3:05
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    That’s why you can’t drop the /t/ in built this. (Note as well that consonants in codas don’t have to match in voicing! That’s only true of obstruents) Feb 15 '21 at 3:24

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