Consonant clusters at the end of words

There are many more combinations of consonant sounds possible at the end of English words than at the beginning. There can be up to four consonant sounds in a final consonant cluster:

Words with.. 2 final consonants 3 final consonants 4 final consonants
honest /st/
jump /mp/
wrapped /pt/
helped /lpt/
next /kst/
crisps /sps/
prompts /mpts/
glimpsed /mpst/
texts /ksts/

Some final clusters with three or four consonants can be difficult to pronounce even for native English speakers, so in some words these are commonly simplified. For example, the middle consonant of the clusters /kts/, /mps/, /mpt/, /nts/, /ndz/ and /skt/ is hardly heard or sometimes even left out.

products → products /ˈprɒdʌks/
camped → camped /kæmt/
hands →  hands /hænz/
 jumps → jumps /dʒʌmps/
clients → clients /ˈklaɪənts/
asked → asked /ˈɑːst/
 Notice also:
 twelfth → twelfth /twefθ/  fifths → fifths /ˈfɪθs/  or fifths /ˈfɪfs/

Leaving final consonants out of consonant clusters at the end of words can cause misunderstanding, and you should avoid this. For example, say:
product (not: product)       jump (not: jump)     hand (not: hand)

In particular, avoid leaving out /z/ or /s/ in plurals and third person singular verb forms, and /t/ or /d/ in –ed verbs and adjectives:
jobs (not: jobs)         sleeps (not: sleeps)
laughed (not: laughed)      curved (not: curved)

Don’t be tempted to add vowels to consonant clusters in order to make them easier to say, as this can also cause misunderstanding. You should –

  • avoid adding an extra vowel (usually /ɪ/ or /ə/) between consonants:
    watched (not: watchɪd) health (not: healəth ) dogs (not: dogəs)
  • avoid adding an extra vowel (usually /ə/ or /u:/ ) at the end of the word:
    last (not: lastə) announce (not: announceə) attempts (not: attemptsu:)
  • avoid adding an extra vowel at the end of an adjective, as this can sound like a comparative form:
    fast (not: fastə because it sounds like ‘faster’)
    damp (not: dampə because it sounds like ‘damper’)

Exercises
1. How many final consonant sounds – 1, 2, 3 or 4 – do the words in the box have when they are spoken slowly and carefully? (Note that the number of consonant sounds may be different from the number of consonant letters.) Put the words in the appropriate row:

accents     against     aspects     attempts     axe     catch     contexts diamonds     ears     earth     grasped     laughed     ledge      next     risked     sculpts     stamps      tempts     touched

1 final consonant sound:
____________________________
2 final consonant sounds:
____________________________
3 final consonant sounds:
accents /nts/____________________________
4 final consonant sounds :
attempts /mpts/____________________________

Check your answers by listening and saying the words.
Answers
chap08_01

2. Listen to some of the words from the same exercise used in conversation. Some final clusters are simplified. Underline the words which are simplified and show which sound is left out or reduced.

EXAMPLES
It was a long jump, but he risked it. – k (the /k/ sound is left out)
He helped us a lot. (no simplification)

1 It’s my turn next.
2 It’s a recording of regional accents.
3 Don’t forget to buy some stamps.
4 I’ve always been against it.
5 The question has a number of aspects.
6 She loved diamonds.
7 It was taken out of context.
8 They grasped it easily.

Answers
Exercise 2
1 next (no simplification)
2 accents t
3 stamps (no simplification)
4 against (no simplification)
5 aspects t
6 diamonds d
7 context (no simplification)
8 grasped (no simplification)

3. Listen and underline the word you hear.


EXAMPLE
I accept / accepted the award gratefully.
1  I couldn’t go on without more paint / pain.
2  The company has some innovative designers / designs.
3  I couldn’t go faster / fast in my old car.
4  The factory makes trays / trains.
5  We wore heavy boots with thick, ridged / rigid soles.
6  They’re one of Brazil’s main exports / exporters.

Answers 
Exercise 3 (Australia)
1 paint   2 designers   3 faster   4 trains   5 ridged   6 exports

4. Anna failed her test to become a newsreader for her local English
language radio station. Look at

the transcript of the news item that
she read. Then listen to the news being read clearly and correct the
words that Anna pronounced wrongly.

The police thin (think) the rose on the south coat will be pack when
the seven Felton Pop Festival beginners neck weekend. Lass
year more than 10,000 pop fan pack into the feel where the
festival was hell. There is simpler accommodation on a nearby
farm, but most people will camper in small tense.

Answers Exercise 4
The police think the roads on the south coast will be packed when the seventh Felton Pop Festival begins next weekend. Last year more than 10,000 pop fans packed into the field where the festival was held. There is simple accommodation on a nearby farm, but most people will camp in small tents.

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