My mother tongue, Korean, makes a syllable with vowels. So it’s very hard to pronounce or hear the sounds combined consonants in a row. Would you explain how to make the ‘fts’ sound in tufts, minutely? [audio]

2 Answers 2


Consonant clusters like this are not all that comfortable for native English speakers either. Carefully pronouncing all the consonants is more work than it's worth, and actually sounds unnatural. Usually there is some degree of elision. Each speaker evolves a personal, 'idiolectal' approach; but there are a couple of general tendencies which make these word-final clusters easier.

  • The final consonant is 'carried over' to head the following syllable if this results in an acceptable syllable head. In your example, for instance, the collocation tufts out is read as if it were tuft sout. The cluster /st/ is a frequent syllable head, so the word Borstal is spoken Bor stal. Occasionally this will involve eliding the beginning of the following syllable: tufts had, for instance, would be spoken as tuft sad.

  • Stops (/p/, /b/, /t/, /d/, /k/, /g/) which close a syllable or occur before a consonant are not aspirated, and if a following consonant has the same point of articulation they virtually disappear. In your example, /t/ and /s/ have the same point of articulation, and the /t/ is discernible only as a slight sharpening of the attack on the /s/ -- which, as said, heads the following syllable. There's not even a complete closure of the airflow, only a slightly marked narrowing: /tuf-sout/. (I have no idea how the IPA represents this.) This will be true at the end of a sentence, too, where there's no carryover: He pulled his hair out in tufts .. /tuf-s/

The most useful thing to keep in mind is that people don't speak in words but 'utterances', and they will redistribute the word boundaries to suit established oral patterns.

  • As a not-very-careful speaker, I don't usually even try to enunciate the second "t" in "tufts", so @J.R.'s answer succinctly reflects my position. But this answer is all good stuff too. Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 18:06
  • @FumbleFingers The reader on OP's clip sounds like a pro to me, and he doesn't pronounce it either: he just sort of that it's there in the text if you want to go looking for it. Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 19:24

Cool question. I'll say this: in words like tuft, loft, lift and raft, the t is usually rather pronounced; however, when you add an s, it is rather difficult (even for native speakers) to enunciate all three consonants, so the t is often barely audible. When spoken, these words often sound like homophones (or near-homophones) to tuffs, loffs, liffs, and raffs.

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