The “t” in “Often” is Silent

This page was first created on the 10th of March, 2016 and last updated on the 10th of March, 2016 by Patrick Carpen.

Tags: Caribbean English, English Errors, Common Pronunciation Mistakes, Lack of Standard English, Colloquial English, Teaching English as a Second Language.

Tip: You need to soften the “t” in “often”. – Simon Warner

I grew in the once British colony of Guyana, South America. Britain ruled the country for about 200 years, until it became independent in 1966. The official language spoken in Guyana is English, but the “de facto” language of the natives of Guyana is “Creolese”. Creolese is a broken down form of the English language influenced by dialects from India and Africa.

Even the most learned Guyanese scholars make enormous mistakes when it comes to English speech; and I’m living proof of this.

For this reason it is not reliable for Guyanese to put themselves in positions of authority when it comes to the English language.

In this lesson: The “t” in “often”, more often than not, is silent.

Most learned pronunciation of the word “often” leaves out the “t” – both in Britain and North America. In Guyana however, we almost always hear the “t” pronounced.

Some time back, I had just completed creating a book of twenty lessons to teach English to Brazilians. I contemplated for months whether I should do the audio recording myself, or outsource the task to a native speaker of English from the USA or England. After pondering the issue for several weeks, I decided that the best approach was to give my users the best learning experience possible. And this requires handing over the task of pronouncing the audio to someone in whom the English language had been ingrained for generations – I preferred a third or fourth generation US or Britain native; and preferably someone with a college degree.

I met Simon Warner, a Jehovah Witness who had traveled to Guyana on missionary work. I discussed the idea with Simon and he agreed to do the “British Accent” for a small fee. Simon was, at the time of this writing, a male in his thirties of Caucasian descent. During the recording process, Simon pointed out quite a few grammatical mistakes in my work. One such was “out of the blues”, which was a common Guyanese mistake of the idiom “out of the blue”.

After Simon finished the recording, I reviewed them for perfection. I found a few things that needed correction; but something was questionable to me. Was the “t” in often silent? Simon had read the word “often” with a silent “t” in all the lessons where the word “often” appeared.

I questioned Simon about the correct pronunciation of the word “often”. He said that he says “offen” but some people also say “often”; and that if I would like, he could say “often” for the purposes of my lessons.

I came home that day and did some research on the correct pronunciation of the word “often”. I learned that while the pronounced “t” may be acceptable in limited audiences, the most “educated” pronunciation of the word “often” is with a silent t.

99% of Caribbean speakers don’t know this. It is for this reason that Caribbean natives, regardless of how educated they may be, cannot be considered an authority on English language speech and writing.

On the other side of the coin, here’s a question for my British and American counterparts: why all this disparity in the rules of English writing and speaking? For the love of God, make it simple and uniform.

Related: The trouble with the English Language.

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