English is full of idioms. Learn how to use and pronounce ‘Taken to the Cleaners’ comfortably in conversational English: what words or syllables to reduce, how to link everything together, and the melodic shape of the phrase.
YouTube blocked? Click here to see the video.
In this American English pronunciation video, we’re going to go over the idiom ‘taken to the cleaners’.
To be taken to the cleaners can mean the same thing as the idiom ‘ripped off’, which we’ve already studied: They charged me double, I was taken to the cleaners. But it can also mean to be bested by someone, to be defeated. For example, my team was taken to the cleaners in the last game of the season. That doesn’t mean that we lost by one or two points. That means we lost by a lot.
Taken to the cleaners begins with the True T, your teeth have to come together, your tongue has to go to the roof of the mouth, tt. Then we have the AY as in SAY diphthong. Common problem is not dropping the jaw enough for the first sound. Ta-. This is a stressed syllable. The second syllable is unstressed. Ta-ken, -ken, -ken. Super fast — so it’s the K, schwa/N sound. For the K sound, the back part of the tongue comes up and touches the soft palate here, the tongue tip stays down. Then you quickly release the K and the front part of the tongue goes to the roof of the mouth for the N, -ken. You don’t need to worry about making a separate schwa vowel sound, enough of one will happen as you transition. Now we have TO and THE, both unstressed in this sentence fragment. I’m going to reduce the vowel to the schwa in TO, and I’m even going to reduce the T to a Flap T instead of a True T. So, it’s going to sound like ‘de’ instead of ‘te’. I’m going to link it to the word THE. The two words link together and they’re going to be very flat and quick, ‘to the’, ‘to the’. Actually, I’ve made a video on these two words specifically, how the mouth moves to make these two words together, so check that out. To the, to the, to the. Not clear on its own, right? Taken to the, taken to the. Taken to the cleaners. Cleaners, a noun, a content word, is stressed. It has two syllables, and just like ‘taken’, stress is on the first syllable.
Cleaners. ‘Cleaners’ begins with the KL consonant cluster. So the back part of the tongue lifts and touches the soft palate here. But this time, rather than the tongue tip being down, the tongue tip can be in position for the L, here. That way when you release the K, you’re ready to go for the L, kl, kl, kl. Next, the EE as in SHE vowel — tongue tip down, cl-, cl-, but front part of the tongue very close to the roof of the mouth, clea-. Corners of the lips may pull back a little bit, clea-. And the last syllable, unstressed, quite fast, -ners, -ners, -ners. Tongue tip will be up here at the roof of the mouth for the N, clean, and then pull back for the R, cleaner-. Again, you don’t need to think about making a schwa sound between the two. The schwa is sort of absorbed by the R anyway. And the S is pronounced as a Z, -ners, -ners, -ners. Cleaners, taken to the cleaners.
Practice your English: Make up a sentence that uses this idiom, record a video, and post it as a video response to this video on YouTube. I can’t wait to watch!
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.