Releasing Your Final Consonants

  • Just stop!
  • You’re such a snob!
  • I don’t get it!
  • I’m so mad!
  • I feel sick!
  • Don’t make me beg!

All these short sentences end in stop-plosive consonants. In more casual, intimate speech, we’re likely to not release these final consonants—we merely make the stop action, but we don’t release the plosion that is associated with them. In IPA I would transcribe my pronunciation of these using the “no audible release” symbol that indicates that there is no sound that comes from the release of the consonant, like this:

  • [dʒʌst stɒp̚ ]
  • [jɚ sʌtʃ ə snɒb̚ ]
  • [aɪ̯ doʊnt ̚ ɡɛɾ ɪt̚ ]
  • [aɪ̯m soʊ̯ mæd̚ ]
  • [aɪ̯ fiɫ sɪk̚ ]
  • [doʊ̯nt ̚ meɪ̯k ̚ mi bɛɡ̚ ]

You’ll notice that there are a few instances where I’m using the “no audible release” symbol in places other than the ends of phrases, such as when a stop butts up against another stop, as in [doʊ̯nt ̚ ɡɛt] or before a nasal stop, as in [doʊ̯nt ̚ meɪ̯k ̚ mi ].

However, as I get more emphatic, more theatrical, I want to release those final consonants. For the ones ending in a voiceless consonant, [ p, t, k ], this is done with a puff of air we call aspiration.

  • [dʒʌst stɒpʰ ]
  • [aɪ̯ doʊnt ̚ ɡɛɾ ɪtʰ ]
  • [aɪ̯ fiɫ sɪkʰ ]

For the voiced stop-plosives, their final release isn’t aspirated. We have to be careful to not extend that release into what singers call a ghost-vowel, a little schwa that is inserted after the release to make the consonant even more audible. You may have heard Southern Preachers used this declamatory style. You want to save that for really extreme situations! Do this:

  • [jɚ sʌtʃ ə snɒb]
  • [aɪ̯m soʊ̯ mæd]
  • [doʊ̯nt ̚ meɪ̯k ̚ mi bɛɡ]

Not this:

  • [jɚ sʌtʃ ə snɒbə]
  • [aɪ̯m soʊ̯ mædə]
  • [doʊ̯nt ̚ meɪ̯k ̚ mi bɛɡə]

Finally there is one other option that people sometime employ to emphasize the final consonant while containing it, and that is to use an ejective articulation (that we mark in IPA with an apostrophe). With an ejective, we close off our vocal folds and then compress the air trapped between the larynx and the closure where we are articulating the voiceless stop consonant. FYI: Beat boxers use this strategy to make ‘ts’ sounds to emulate a hi-hat cymbal. Like this:

  • [dʒʌst stɒp’ ]
  • [aɪ̯ doʊnt ̚ ɡɛɾ ɪt’ ]
  • [aɪ̯ fiɫ sɪk’ ]

Whether you release the final consonant or not is a matter of taste, and it really relates to the environment and context in which you’re speaking. If you really need to energize your speech, fully aspirated and released stops with help increase your intelligibility, even when you’re working outdoors, in a very noisy environment, or performing in a cavernous theatre. Try exploring a text you know and see how releasing final stops affects your sound.

Eric Armstrong is the voiceguy. Eric is a dialect, voice, speech and text coach based in Toronto, Canada, where he normally teaches full-time at York University’s Dept. of Theatre. Eric has been teaching voice for the actor full-time since 1994, and has taught in Canada and the US, at the University of Windsor, Brandeis University, Roosevelt University, Canada's National Voice Intensive and York University. He has worked for nationally and internationally recognized companies such as Crow’s Theatre, Volcano, SoulPepper, & Canadian Stage in Toronto, and The Court Theatre and Steppenwolf in Chicago. Eric holds a BFA from Concordia University (Montreal) in Theatre Performance, and an MFA from York University (Toronto) in Acting. His mentors were David Smukler (York, Canada’s National Voice Intensive) and Andrew Wade (Royal Shakespeare Company). He has also studied at the Drama Studio, London, and Il Stage Internazzionale di Commedia dell’Arte in Reggio Emilia, Italy. He’s a long time member of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, where he has served on the board, as a conference planner, photo editor for the Voice and Speech Review, Founding Director of Technology and Internet Services, and has written numerous peer-reviewed articles, essays and reviews for the VASTA Newsletter, the VASTA Voice, and The Voice and Speech Review.

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