I hope you feel on top of the world today. Learn how to pronounce this idiom 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 on Top of the World.
I’m on top of the world! What does it mean? It doesn’t mean that I’m hanging out at the North Pole. It means I’m really happy, I’m overjoyed. Maybe I just got a new job, or won the lottery! It feels like everything is going my way.
This picture comes from an illustration that shows many different idioms for expressing happiness. Click here or in the description box to see them all in my Kaplan International Colleges sponsored blog post.
Let’s study the pronunciation of “on top of the world”. First, let’s look at the rhythmic pattern. Which are the content words in this idiom? Content words are nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. In this sentence fragment, that would be TOP and WORLD. ON, OF, and THE are function words, less important for understanding the meaning. So TOP and WORLD will be longer, and will have the shape of a stressed syllable: top, world. ON and OF THE will be quite different, flatter, lower in pitch. So we have short, long, short, short, long. da-DA-da-da-DA. On Top of the World. da-DA-da-da-DA.
ON begins with the AH as in FATHER vowel. You need to drop your jaw for that. Then the tongue goes to the roof of the mouth for the N, on. Luckily that’s where it needs to be for the T consonant. All we have to do is close the teeth, stop the air, then release it with the jaw, on to-, to-. Here again we have the AH as in FATHER vowel. Here it’s in a stressed syllable, so it will be longer and come down in pitch, to-. Then we have the P sound. It’s ending the word, and the next word begins with a vowel, so we want to link this ending consonant to the beginning vowel. On to-pv. So we’re going to link it to the schwa, almost as if it begins the next word. With OF we have a choice. We can either say the V sound, or drop it. If we drop it, uh-the, we simply have the schwa, the voiced TH, and the schwa. So to make that TH between the two sounds, you just need to quickly and lightly bring the tongue tip forward, of the, of the, of the. Since it’s so fast in these unstressed words, you may find that the tongue tip doesn’t push through the teeth much. That’s ok, just make sure it’s not lifted, at the roof of the mouth like a D, or pressing down, like for the Z sound. It should just be straight forward, pressing against the teeth. Uh-the. If you say the V, it’s a little more complicated. The bottom lip comes up and touches the bottom of the top front teeth before the TH. So, in slow motion, we have of the, of the.
And finally we have ‘world’. This can be a really tough word. It has an R sound, and a dark L. Some people have a hard time making WORLD sound different from WORD. Here’s a trick. It’s a one-syllable word, but you can try to make it feel like two syllables. It begins with the W consonant sound, so your lips need to make a tight circle for that. Then we have the UR as in HER vowel and the R consonant. The UR vowel isn’t separate from the R consonant. It’s just one sound. It’s basically the R consonant acting like a vowel. So don’t try to make an extra vowel sound here, wor-, wor-. The tongue should pull from here, for the W, where the tongue tip is down and forward, wor-, straight back to the R. The tip shouldn’t be touching anything for the R, and the jaw doesn’t need to drop much. Wor-. Now we have the Dark L, which will feel like another syllable. To make the dark sound, we want to pull the back part of the tongue back, here. So the tongue goes from this position, where the middle was raised, to something flatter as the back part pulls back. Then lift your tongue in the front to the top, so the flat part is touching the roof of the mouth, dd, dd. This is to make the D sound. World. The most important thing to practice, to make this word different from WORD, is pulling back the back part of the tongue for the dark part of the Dark L. Also, don’t forget the shape of a stressed syllable. World. It should go up in pitch a little at the beginning, and then down in pitch. World.
On top of the world. da-DA-da-da-DA
Practice your English. Make up a sentence with this idiom and post it as a comment below. Or, better yet, record it, 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.