I’m having so much fun with it! If you can pronounce all 10 of these words exactly right, you’re doing very well.
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Today you’re getting the next video in the 100 most common words in English series, this is video 8. In this series, we’re studying the real pronunciation. This is likely different from what you learned in English class. You see, in American English, we have all sorts of words that are unstressed or even reduced: that means we change the pronunciation. The set of the 100 most common words in American English contains many, many words that reduce. If you haven’t already seen video 1 and the other videos in this series, I do suggest you start there. These videos build one on top of the next, so click here to watch video one.
Today, we start with number seventy-one, and that’s the word ‘than’. Fully pronounced, we have voiced TH, AA as in BAT, followed by the M consonant. Than. Than. When AA is followed by N, we relax the back of the tongue and change the sound: thaaa— thaa— than. Than. Aa-uh, aa-uh. So it’s not aahh thaaan, thaaan, but ‘than’, aa-uh, aa-uh, aa-uh. There’s an extra sound in there from relaxing the back of the tongue, sort of like an UH vowel. Thaaaa— Than. Than. Than.
But we don’t need to focus too much on the full pronunciation of this word since it is a word that reduces. Remember, when a word reduces, that’s called a reduction, and that’s when we change or drop a sound. So rather than saying ‘than’ in a conversation, it will be ‘thn’. We change the vowel to the schwa, which is absorbed by the N, so you don’t even need to think about making a vowel there. Than, than, than, from the TH to the N. Very fast. Than. We use this with comparisons: she’s taller than I am, than, than, than I am. They’re older than we are. Than, than, older than. Taller than, older than, than, than, than. A reduction, not a fully pronounced word. If you go around fully pronouncing every word, it will not sound natural, so you need to know and use these reductions.
Number seventy-two, a very similar word, ‘then’. THAN is used with comparisons, and THEN is used with timing, sequences, and if/then statements. It got really dark, then it stormed for two hours. Or: if we go grocery shopping, then we can cook dinner. You won’t always hear it reduced, but often you will. I reduced it in both of those sentences.
Fully pronounced, it has the EH vowel. Theh— THEN. But reduced, we change it to the schwa. Then it sounds just like ‘than’ when we reduce it. Then, then. It was really dark, and then it stormed all night. Then, then, then. And then it, and then it, and then it. And then it stormed.
Those three unstressed words together are not very clear: and then it. And then it. And then it. ‘And’ reduces, ‘then’ reduces, ‘it’ is said quickly with a Stop T. Some people might think, that’s very unclear, that’s not good English, but I want to stress that it is. Good English is made up of a contrast between stressed words and unstressed words. You have to have the unstressed words for this contrast. And then it stormed all night. And then it stormed all night.
If we go grocery shopping, then we can cook dinner. Then we can cook dinner, then we can, then we can, then we can, then we can then we can. Do you hear that ‘can’ reduction? That was number 53.
It’s interesting that our first two in this video, two different words, sound exactly the same when they reduce. THAN and THEN both become ‘thn’. That’s okay. This is true of a few other reductions as well. Because of the context of the sentence, there isn’t confusion.
Number 73, the word ‘now’. This is one word that doesn’t reduce. It’s an adverb, and adverbs are one of four kinds of content words: adverbs, verbs, nouns, and adjectives. We generally don’t reduce content words, or make them sound unstressed. Generally, these are stressed in a sentence. This is what provides that contrast that I was talking about being so important in American English. Stressed and unstressed or reduced. Long and short.
NOW has the N consonant and the OW diphthong. For the diphthong, we start by dropping the jaw, then let the jaw come up as you round the lips, ow, now. For the N, keep the tongue nice and wide as it lifts for the sound, nnn, now. Now.
Number 74, the word ‘look’. What part of speech is the word ‘look’? It’s a verb most of the time. Look at me! It can also be a noun: She gave me a look. Noun, verb, these are both content words. Stressed words. And yes, this word will be stressed in a sentence. There are six different pronunciations possible for the letters O-O. I made a video about all of the possible pronunciations recently, I’ll put a link to that video at the end of this video, also, in the description below.
In this word, the pronunciation of OO is ‘uh’ like in ‘push’. Uh, uh, luh, look, look. It’s not ‘Luke’, oo, oo, where your lips round more. Luke. The lips are more relaxed: uh, look, look.
Number 75: the word ‘only’. This is another content word. At the beginning of this 100 word series, most of the words we were covering were reductions. Now we’re getting down the list, we’re getting a lot more content words.
I can tell you one mistake that I hear all the time with the pronunciation of this word. Instead of ‘only’, people will say ‘only’. Uh, uh, uh, uh. The vowel is more like the AH as in Father or the AW as in Law. But the correct pronunciation is a diphthong. That means we change the mouth position. Ohh. Jaw drop then lip rounding. Oh, oh
So make sure your mouth isn’t staying stationary. Oh, oh, only.
Only, oh, oh. There has to be that movement, jaw drop, then lip rounding.
Right after the Oh diphthong, a flat, wide tongue goes to the roof of the mouth for the N, only, then light L, IH vowel, unstressed, only.
Another possible mistake here is to make the unstressed syllable too relaxed. Then it sounds like: only, ih, ih, ee, ee. It should be ee. The tip of the tongue is down but the front part is arched reaching towards the roof of the mouth. Ee. If it’s too far away from the roof of the mouth, then it sounds like IH instead of EE. Only. Only. You’re the only one. If only it were true.
Number 76 the word ‘come’. This is a verb. So yes, it’s a Content word. And generally, we don’t reduce this or make it unstressed in a sentence. It’s one of the stressed words. Oh, Come on. Why don’t you come over for dinner? It’s the K consonant, the UH as in butter vowel, and the M consonant. Come. Come by later. Cuh, cuh. This vowel is very relaxed. If there’s any tension in the back of your tongue, it will sound different. Cuh, uh, come. Keep it relaxed. Come on over.
Number 77. It’s. Not with an apostrophe. That’s the contraction ‘it is’. This word is showing possession. It’s pronounced just like IT apostrophe S but it has a different meaning and is grammatically different. Where’s the remote? It’s in its usual place. Here, I used IT apostrophe S as a Contraction, it is, and then also without the apostrophe showing possession, the usual place of the remote.
It’s not unusual for Americans to drop the vowel and just make this the TS cluster. It’s gone. It’s gone. There I’m using the contraction ‘it is’. Ts. Ts. It’s gone.
This can also happen with the possessive ‘its’ though it might be a little less common. Let’s look at an example.
Where’s the remote? Its usual place. Its usual place. There I’m just making the TS sounds. But usually, this word is not at the beginning of a sentence, then I would pronounce the vowel. Its, its, its, its.
The watch is in its case. Its. Its. Its. Said quickly. So even though I’m not dropping the vowel,
It’s still unstressed. I’m saying it very quickly. This is not a stressed word.
Number 78, the word ‘over’. This is usually a preposition. That’s not a Content word. So usually this word won’t be stressed. It will be unstressed. But no sounds reduce. We don’t change or drop anything. Just like ‘only’ we start with the OH diphthong, jaw drop, then lip rounding. Oh. Oh. Over. A quick v schwa R, ver, ver, ver, ver.
Unstressed. The schwa is absorbed by the R so you don’t need to try to make a vowel in that second syllable. Just make a quick, low simple R sound. Ov— rrrrr— Over. Over. For the V sound at the bottom of the lip comes up to gently vibrate on the bottom of the top front teeth. Over. We jumped over the creek. We jumped over the creek. ‘Jumped’ and ‘Creek’ are stressed. The rest of the words, including ‘over’ are unstressed. We jumped over the creek. We jumped over the creek. We traveled all over Italy. All over. All over. Over. Over. Over. Over.
Unstressed, less clear than ‘all’. All over— Flatter in pitch, less clear.
Number 79, the word ‘think’. A verb, a Content word, a word that is usually stressed. Fully pronounced. This word is tricky to pronounce.
It’s got that unvoiced TH at the beginning. The only way to make the sound is to bring the tongue tip through the teeth. The air should flow, there should not be a stop. Th, th, th. But rather, thhh. Flowing air. Two common mistakes would be to make an S instead. Sink. Or a tea instead: tink. Try to avoid these substitutions and get comfortable with the TH sound. Th—th—
Now an IPA, this would be written phonetically with the IH vowel. Ih— But when IH it is followed by NG, it changes. It becomes more like: ee-ih-ee. Let’s compare this with the word ‘thin’. The first two sounds are the same. TH, IH vowel. In ‘thin’, it’s followed by the N sound. And in ‘think’, it’s followed by the NG sound, which as I said, Changes the vowel. So let’s start with ‘thin’. Thin, ih, ih, ih. Thin. And now, ‘think’: thing, thi, thing, thing, thinnggg, thin. Ee, ih, ee, ih.
Do you hear how the vowel sound is different? Thiiiink. Think. Think. So even though it says IH, it’s a lot more like EE in real life.
You may say why is this letter N the NG sound? There’s no letter G. That’s true. When the letter n is followed by the letter K, Then the pronunciation of n is usually the NG sound: nggg— where the back of the tongue touches the soft palate. This is also where the K sound is made. Nnggkkk, nnggkkk. Think.
Think. Other examples. Sink. Siiinnggkkk.
So both of these words, the N represents the NG sound.
Number 80, the last word for this video, the word ‘also’. This is an adverb and generally it’s stress in a sentence. I also want to get coffee. Or, that was also a problem. I Want to make sure you know not to fully pronounce that L.
It’s a dark L because it comes after the vowel in the syllable. Don’t lift your tongue tip for this L.
Make a dark sound with the back of your tongue. Ohhlll, ohhll, ohhlll.
Lifting the tongue tip it brings a sound forward and tends to mess people up. It’s a dark sound. Ohhlll, ohhll. Back of the tongue doing the work, tongue tip can stay down.
This word ends with an OH diphthong. It’s an unstressed syllable. So there won’t be as much jaw drop or lip rounding. Still make sure your lips around a little bit to give us that feel. Also. Alllso. I also want to get coffee.
As we get to the end of the 100 most common words in American English, we’re finding more that are fully pronounced. In this video, we had four words that are unstressed or reduced, and six that generally are stressed. Before this video, we had only eleven words of the first 69 that were always reliably stressed.
Most of the words in the most common words in American English list are unstressed or reduced. We have 20 words left. What will we find? We’ll find out soon.
Back at number 74 when we study the word ‘look’, I told you I would put a link to a video that goes over all six possible pronunciations of OO. Here is that link. It’s an interesting video. Two letters. OO. But six different ways this combination can be pronounced
Let’s keep going down this list of the 100 most common words in English to study the pronunciation. And I don’t mean the full official pronunciation, I mean how the word is actually used in a sentence in America English. Look for the next installment in this series coming soon. That’s it. And thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.