What are function words? Learn what they are and how important they are for providing rhythmic contrast in spoken English.
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This video will focus on function words, or, the words that will be lower in pitch, often very quick, sometimes lower in volume, and sometimes even reduced. Reduced means a sound in the word may be altered, or dropped altogether. If you’re not familiar with what stressed means, you might want to watch the Intro to Word Stress Video first. Intonation is the idea that we vary pitches throughout a sentence, throughout speech. We do not speak always on the same pitch. We vary our pitches a lot. This is part of what makes it easier to understand what’s being said.
Understanding the pitch patterns of American English, that’s an important part to being understood. So how do you know which words should be stressed, higher in pitch, and which should be unstressed, lower in pitch? Well, content words are the words that will generally be stressed, and function words will generally be unstressed. There are several categories and subcategories of function words. This video is just an overview. Later videos will more specifically categories with examples.
Articles are function words. For example, a and the. In the sentence Do you have the time?, do you have the, the time? Do you see how the word ‘the’ is low in pitch? Do you have the, do you have the, do you have the time? Auxiliary verbs are function words. Auxiliary verbs are also called helping verbs, and in English grammar they are paired with main verbs. There are several kinds. First, the kind of auxiliary verb that helps to make the passive voice.For example, the sentence: The wall was painted yesterday. The wall was painted, it didn’t paint anything. Passive. The wall was painted yesterday. In this sentence, the word ‘was’ is the auxiliary verb. The wall was painted, was, was, was painted. Do you see how it is lower in pitch? The wall was painted yesterday.
We also need an auxiliary verb to help make the -ing, or, progressive form. For example in the sentence: You are speaking too fast. The word ‘are’ here is the auxiliary verb. You are speaking too fast. Do you see how it is lower in pitch than the word speaking? You are speaking too fast. These cases are often written as contractions. You’re speaking too fast. Another kind of auxiliary verb is the one that helps to make the perfect tense. For example, in the sentence: She has given up. The word ‘has’ is our helping verb here. She has given up. She has, she has. Do you see how the word ‘has’ is very low in pitch? It’s actually been reduced and I’ve dropped the H. She has, she has, she has given up. Modal verbs are also auxiliary, or helping, verbs. For example, might, could, and can. Take for example the sentence: I can go tomorrow. I can go tomorrow. Do you see how it is lower in pitch. It’s unstressed. I can, can. It’s actually even reduced, kn, kn, from can to kn. I can, I can, I can go tomorrow. I can go tomorrow. Prepositions are also function words. For example with, on, beside. And so are pronouns. For example our, she. In the sentence He came with his friends, the word ‘with’, a preposition, low in pitch, unstressed. He came with his friends. Also, the word ‘his’, a possessive pronoun. He came with his, with his, just like ‘with’, very low in pitch, unstressed. He came with his friends.
Conjunctions are also function words. For example and, but, if. In the example sentence I’ll come if you want, I’ll come if you want. You can see that ‘if’ is one of the words that is not stressed, it is lower in pitch. I’ll come if you want. To review, function words are the words that will generally be unstressed in a sentence. So this means they will be lower in pitch, sometimes lower in volume, often very, very fast. Sometimes they will even reduce, which means, a sound will change or will get dropped. They are the opposite of content words, which will generally be stressed within a sentence. This contrast of stressed and unstressed is very important in American English. So now that you know a bit more about it, do try to use it while speaking. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.