When we first learn the English alphabet, we are taught that there is only one /n/. While this may be true of our written language, there are in fact two very important and different ways in which /n/ can be pronounced in spoken English. The first [n] is what often comes to mind as the regular [n], such as the [n] in the words “nice”, “never” and “knowledge”. This [n] is a short and sweet sound that temporarily directs air through your nose before the next sound quickly redirects it back into your oral cavity.
The second and perhaps more obscure pronunciation of the /n/ consonant is called the syllabic [n]. The syllabic [n] is very important in the production of the North American English accent and it is characterized by an elongated direction of air through the nose. In other terms, the syllabic [n] is simply held for longer than the regular [n]. It is very easy to identify the syllabic [n], because it appears every time the [n] is the last sound in a word. For example, common words such as “phone”, “mean” and “button” all contain the syllabic [n].
The bolded words in the following sentences contain the syllabic [n]. Practice reading these out loud and remember to hold any [n] that is the last sound of a word. Can you distinguish between the two different types of [n] sounds?
1. Transportation - The bus is an efficient source of transportation.
2. Phone - Pick up the phone!
3. Earn - How are we going to earn money?
4. Complain - He came to complain about an employee.
5. Croon - The singer continued to croon well into the night.