How to Pronounce Can vs. Can’t

If we don’t pronounce a clear T in “can’t”, how can one tell the difference between it and “can”?  Though it’s subtle, there is still a difference in the pronunciation of these two words.

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Video Text:

Today I’m going to talk about the difference between can and can’t. How to hear it, how to say it. You’ve probably noticed that you cannot rely on hearing — tt — a good T sound because most Americans when they’re speaking everyday speech –tt — don’t release final T’s. First of all, if you haven’t seen the video N’T contractions, watch that first. In that video, you learned that the N’T is pronounced nt. A nasal N sound here in the nose cut very short by a stop T.

So let’s compare the two words. Can. Can’t. Can, can’t. What do you hear being different? Let’s not even limit ourselves to just the sounds, but anything. Can, can’t. Can you tell that the first word is longer? The stop T of can’t chops it, makes it a little more abrupt. Can, can’t. This may be something that is difficult for you to distinguish right now. But if you know to listen for can: a little bit longer, a little smoother, versus can’t, can’t: a little shorter, a little bit more abrupt, it may help you develop an ear for this.

A note on the pronunciation of the word can. You’ve probably noticed that this word often reduces. The ‘aa’ as in ‘bat’ vowel is changed to the schwa. Kn, kn, kn, I can do it, kn. The word can’t does not reduce. That vowel sound never changes into the schwa sound. So that’s another way to help you distinguish between these two words. Let’s look at some sentences. I can understand. I can’t understand. Could you hear the difference? I can understand. I can’t understand. Can, can’t, can, can’t. The vowel sound is different because in the first sentence it’s being reduced to the schwa.

And here. Can you help later? I can’t. I can. I can’t. I can. Do you sense that the first response is a little bit more abrupt? I can’t, I can’t. And the second one a little bit more relaxed. Can, can, can, a little smoother. That one might have been a little harder because the vowel didn’t change. I told her I can’t. I told her I can. Again, the vowel is the same in both of them. I told her I can’t. I told her I can. But do you notice that the last can, can: a little smoother and a little bit longer. I told her I can’t. More abrupt in that first sentence.

You can come. You can’t come. You can come. You can’t come. In the first sentence the word can is reduced so much — kn, kn, kn, kn — You can come. It’s almost not even there. You can come. You can’t come. So the two tricks here are: 1) If the sound is abrupt and chopped, can’t, can’t, then it’s the word can’t. And 2) if the vowel sound changes to the schwa, then it’s the word can. Kn, kn, I can do it. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.