I'm not sure how to say the /p/ sound in the middle of words like apple, puppy, happy etc. Those "p" sounds have a puff of air or not.

For myself I think those /p/ sounds have a puff of air but less than /p/ in the first of words like pen, pan etc. Is it correct or not?

However, I just listened a word "apple" from a video of Youtube but I can't hear or catch a puff of air from /p/ in apple. It sounds like /p/ after /s/ like the words spy, spin etc.

  • As far as I know, P's are not pronounced differently basing on the position of the letter in the word. It is not like the American T which would have a different pronunciation basing on the position it has in the word. (Compare Italy with tally, for example.)
    – apaderno
    Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 11:51
  • A related phenomena is that the /p/ can be in either a stressed or unstressed syllable, which does slightly change the intensity of the "puff of air" when pronouncing it.
    – Walter
    Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 14:16

3 Answers 3


If you add the puff of air after /p/ only at the start of a word immediately before a stressed vowel, nobody will notice its absence anywhere else.

This is a question about what phoneticians call aspirate consonants—stop consonants whose release is accompanied by a distinct puff of air.

In IPA phonetic transcription, which represents the actual sounds produced, aspiration is notated with a superscript ‘h’, thus: [ph].

But in English, the contrast between aspirate and nonaspirate consonants is not phonemic, it does not serve to distinguish different words. What determines aspiration is the phonetic context, the sounds which come immediately before and after a consonant. Native speakers are not even aware of the difference unless they have studied phonetics, as linguists or actors or singers. (But they are aware when a non-native speaker employs aspiration differently from the English norm, if only to think "He talks funny".)

Consequently, aspiration is not marked in the spelling of an English word, because it isn't necessary. (Doubling a consonant tells you about the pronunciation of the previous vowel, not the pronunciation of the consonant.) Even the pronunciation guides you find in dictionaries will not tell you whether a consonant is aspirate or nonaspirate, because these guides are phonemic rather than phonetic: they are concerned to tell native speakers how words are pronounced relative to other English words. The actual phonetic sounds representing each phoneme vary greatly from individual to individual and from dialect to dialect. (Note that the IPA pronunciations which Mari-Lou A provides are phonemic, as may be seen from their enclosure in slashes // rather than the brackets [] employed for phonetic representations.)

Speaking generally, in English only the voiceless stops /p/, /t/, /k/ are regularly aspirated, and only in syllable-initial position immediately before a stressed vowel. They are not aspirated after /s/, and they are aspirated only lightly, if at all, before 'liquid' consonants and glides (/l/, /r/, /j/, /w/) and before vowels in in unstressed syllables—this is the phenomenon you observe in apple. The degree of aspiration varies from dialect to dialect.

  • @ StoneyB: Thank you so much for your explanations. It's really useful and helpful. It's what exactly I need to know. For "apple", sometimes I can hear a little puff of air and sometimes I can't hear or catch its puff of air. I wondered about it. However,I got it now that the degree of aspiration varies from dialect to dialect. I really appreciate your help.
    – nkm
    Commented Jun 17, 2013 at 10:25
  • Erm, this ain't quite right old bean. A stop will be aspirated before a fully strong vowel unless preceeded by /s/. According to what you've written here, the /t/ in attack will not be aspirated but it is (check it out). Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 12:59
  • @Araucaria Of course you're right. I'll fix it. "Syllable-initial" should do it, I think? Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 13:04
  • @StoneyB "A fortis plosive is strongly aspirated when initial in a syllable with a strong vowel" is how it's usually put. So that would mean syllable initial apart from in front of unstressed /ə, i, u, ɪ, ʊ/ ... (so if /ɪ/ or /ʊ/ are stressed then the /t/ will be aspirated). Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 13:37
  • @Araucaria 'Strong' vowel's not one they taught me back in the dark ages; and I tend to think of those unstressed vowels as something different. I'm iffy on the liquids and glides. Commented Jun 17, 2015 at 13:52

Unlike Italian, double letters in the English language do not require to be pronounced, English is not phonetic. Look at the phonetic translation of the words you chose:

apple = /ˈæpl/

puppy = /ˈpʌpɪ/

happy = /ˈhæpɪ/

Can you see there is only "p"? That is because in English these words containing double letters, and many others like them, are pronounced as one single letter.

You can see and print an IPA chart including a simple guide to help your pronunciation of VOWELS and CONSONANTS.

  • 2
    The OP is asking about the puff of air that should be part of the P pronunciation. He is not asking about the double P being pronounced.
    – apaderno
    Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 11:47
  • Agreed with @kiamlaluno, the OP could have used "hyper", "repair". or many other examples with /p/ in the middle of the word. The fact that all three examples given were spelled with double-p is mere coincidence and unrelated to the question.
    – Walter
    Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 14:19
  • Thank you! Perhaps, I didn't use good examples.
    – nkm
    Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 14:39
  • 1
    @Mari-Lou A : Double letters in English is one thing that I'm confused to pronounced too. I already saw your IPA chart. It's very useful and beautiful. I like its pictures and I 'm going print it. Your answer is helpful.
    – nkm
    Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 16:27
  • @nkm :) :) I'm so pleased.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 17:02

Just to add to these other answers (which were great) when I see a 'pp' in a word, I do not change the way I pronounce the word. 'application' could be 'aplication' 'sample' could be 'sampple' -- and I would not say either any differently.

  • 1
    Do you think "apron" could be "appron"? Those would definitely be pronounced differently.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 19:28
  • Hmmm - that would be one exception ... isn't the same when I think of other vowel starting words... like epoxy vs eppoxy.. I wonder if it's because we're so accustomed to hearing 'app' in reference to a computer application that my brain start to autocorrect. 'aplication' would be said exactly the same as 'application'...
    – Meeka
    Commented Jun 13, 2013 at 19:50
  • @Daniel I believe, (you have to be extra careful with words on this website) that if such a word existed the double p would still sound like a single "p", it would modify the pronunciation of the initial vowel, a, but otherwise you wouldn't "hear" the double consonant "A-pron" /ˈəprɒn/ but I stand to be corrected.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 6:58
  • @Mari-LouA Yes, that's right. But I think the Meeka is making a more general statement that double letters don't affect the pronunciation of words, which is incorrect.
    – Daniel
    Commented Jun 14, 2013 at 13:05

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