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Here you will learn the most important words in the English language, getting detailed analysis on each word’s use and pronunciation. Love it? SHARE it!
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Today you are getting the next video in the 100 most common words in English series, this is video 9. 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.
We start today with number 81, the word ‘back’. A noun, a verb, this word is a content word and WILL usually be stressed in a sentence. Please step back, or, It was moving back and forth. Please step back, back and forth. Stressed. We have the B consonant, the AA as in BAT vowel, ba-, and finally, a K sound. The back of the tongue lifts to touch the soft palate and released. Back. Careful with the vowel, aa. The back of the tongue stretches up, aa, aa. And the jaw drops. You might lift your top lip a little bit too. Baa-, back. back.
Number 82, the word ‘after’. This word can be a content word or a function word, depending on how it’s being used. So it can be stressed or unstressed. We don’t reduce this word though, we don’t change or drop a sound. Let’s look at a stressed example: It’s raining, so we can’t go to the beach. Well, let’s go to the movies. After all, I already took the day off. After all, after. It has that same AA vowel in the stressed syllable, doesn’t it? AA, aa, after. Next we have F, then a really soft T. After, tt, tt, tt. It’s a True T but it’s not as sharp or strong as it is at the beginning of a stressed syllable like ‘time’. Time, tt, tt, after, tt, tt. So a soft T, then a quick schwa-R ending. Flat, low in pitch, said quickly. After.
Usually this word will be unstressed. For example, in the phrase ‘after all’, I could stress ‘all’ instead of ‘after’. Now it sounds like this: after, after, after. Let’s compare that with the stressed version: After all, after, after, after, after. The stressed syllable in the stressed version is longer and has more of that up-down shape of a stressed syllable. Untressed, after, after, it’s flatter, less clear, a little more mumbled. Let’s look at another sentence. He left after everyone went to bed. Left after, after, after. Unstressed. Let’s leave after dinner. After, after. Unstressed. LEAVE and DINNER are stressed. Let’s leave after dinner. So the unstressed words are less clear, said more quickly, and are flatter and lower in pitch. The contrast is the stressed words, with longer stressed syllables and an up-down shape in pitch, in intonation. That contrast is what makes good English.
Number 83: use. This is one of those words that’s pronounced differently depending on the part of speech. As a noun, USE, the final sound is an S. As a verb, use, the final sound is a Z. Lots of word change like this, depending on the part of speech. For example, house the noun ends in the S sound. House the verb ends in S. Address the noun can have first syllable stress, address. But the verb has second syllable stress, address.
Use, use. Both nouns and verbs are content words, which means they’re stressed in a sentence. They both being with the EW diphthong, u-, u-. The tongue tip presses the back of the bottom front teeth, the middle part of the tongue presses forward along the roof of the mouth, yy, yy, yu-, then the lips round. U-, use with an S or use with a Z.
What’s the use? a noun. Or, I’ll use it later. We’re on number 83, and this is the 19th word that is reliably stressed in a sentence. That means we’ve covered a lot of words that can be unstressed or even reduce.
What about number 84? Nope, this is another content word. The word ‘two’. This word is interesting, because it’s a homophone. That means it shares a pronunciation with a different word. It sounds just like T-O-O. The number two. I like it too. Two, too. Exact same pronunciation.
You might say, this is just like T-O. That’s also pronounced TO. Not really. Fully pronounced, sure. But we don’t fully pronounce the word ‘to’. That’s one that reduces. So it’s not truly a homophone with T-W-O. We learned the TO reduction back in the first video in these series. It’s number 3 in the most common words in American English list.
So the number two, T-W-O, will be fully pronounced in a sentence. Its pronunciation is simple. A True T, and the OO vowel, which has quite a bit of lip rounding. Two, two. The OO vowel is tricky because you don’t want to start with your lips in a tight circle, two, two. Let them be more relaxed to start, then come in, two, two. The game’s at two-thirty. Two.
Number 85. A question word, the word HOW. We already studied ‘what’ at 40, ‘who’ back at 46, ‘which’ at 48, and ‘when’ at 51. Question words are generally stressed. Let’s look at a few sample sentences. How did it go? How tall are you? How hungry are you? In all three of those sentences, HOW was one of the words that was stressed: longer, clearer, and with the up-down shape of stress. How did it go? How tall are you? How hungry are you?
For this word, we have the H sound and the OW as in NOW diphthong. Make sure your H isn’t too heavy hhhhow, or dropped, ‘ow. How, how. Light, easy H, then jaw drop, back of the tong lifts: ho-, How. Then the lips round. How, how. How did it go?
Number 86, the word ‘our’. Now, this is a function word, and it will reduce. So when I’m saying the word on its own, giving it a full and clear pronunciation, I say ‘our’. And you might be thinking, fully and clear? Good. That’s how I want to pronounce things. But remember, good English is made up of a contrast of more clear and less clear words, so we have to have the less clear for good contrast, for good English, for English to sound natural and be understandable. It’s ironic: sometimes we have to pronounce things less clear for English, overall, to be more clear.
This is a pronoun, and pronouns are function words, that is, the less clear words. Fully pronounced it’s ‘our’, which sound just like the word relating to time, hour, I’ll see you in an hour. Reduced, we can say it with the AH as in FATHER vowel, our, or the schwa-R, er. Both are said very quickly. Our, er, our, er. Let’s look at some example sentences. What time is our meeting? Our, our, our. What time is our meeting? Now I can say it with the other pronunciation, what time is our meeting, our, our, our, our meeting. Really, they sound almost the same, the two reductions. The thing that matters is that they’re said really quickly, they’re low and flat and pitch, and they’re less clear. They don’t sound like the stressed version, our. And that’s what we want: a definite, unstressed feeling. Not ‘our’, but ‘our’.
It’s our son’s birthday tomorrow. It’s our son’s, our, our, our. Listen to how that’s different from ‘son’s’, which is stressed: our—son’s. our—son’s. Unstressed—stressed.
Number 87, the word ‘work’. Work is a verb, that’s a content word, and that’s a word that will be stressed in a sentence. So this one is longer, clearer, and has the up-down shape of stress. Now, I know this is one of the hardest words out there. All of the words with the R-vowel is tough for most non-native speakers, because they feel like they should make a vowel and then an R. But let’s learn this right now. In American English, this symbol is always followed by an R, and the two symbols together make just one sound, rrrrrr. W-rrrrrr-k. Don’t drop the R and make it sound like ‘wuk’, that’s not clear enough. We want the R, and we want the up-down shape. W-rrrrr-k.
The biggest problem for people is how to make this R. The lips round, but they’re not as rounded as they are for the W. So they will relax out some. Wor-, wor-. The tongue movement is simple: the tip is forward for the W, wor-, then the tip pulls back and up a bit, it’s not a huge movement, and your jaw drops just a bit. Wor-, wor-. If you know you’re not getting the right sound, one thing to do make sure you don’t drop your jaw. Focus only on the tongue. Wor-, wor-, work. I have a video with some illustrations on this vowel, I’ll put a link to that video at the end of this one. If you struggle with this word or vowel, you’ll definitely want to check it out.
Let’s look at this word in some sentences. We’ll work it out. Work, work. She doesn’t work Mondays. Work, work.
Number 88, first. Interesting: another word with this R vowel. You see the letter I, you try to make a vowel, don’t do it. Just the R sound. F-rrrrrr-st. Light F sound: fff. Pull back the front of tongue, don’t drop your jaw, rrr. fir-. And the S-T cluster. St. Make your S with your teeth together, then lift the tongue tip to touch the roof of the mouth which stops the air, release to make the T. As you release the tongue, the teeth part for the release of the T. St, st, first. First of all, first of all, first, first, a True T in the ending cluster.
If you’ve seen many of my videos, you know that the pronunciation of the T can change, depending on the word. In this ending cluster, S-T, it’s a True T, st, unless it’s followed by a consonant. Let’s look at two examples:
First, I want to try this.
First, Jon wants to try this.
First I, first I, st-I, st-I, an ST cluster. But with ‘Jon’, I drop the T: first Jon, first Jon, firssssss-Jon. This is really common in words that end in ST. When they link into a word that begins with a consonant, we drop the T.
So this is a content word, that means we will normally stress it in a sentence, but because of this T, we do sometimes make a reduction by dropping the T for a smoother connection into the next word.
Number 89, the word ‘well’. We use this words lots of different ways, as an adverb, adjective, or noun. These are all content words where we’ll stress it: Things are going well. I wish him well. All is well. W consonant, EH as in BED vowel, and Dark L. The Dark L. When it’s at the end of a thought group, that means, when it’s followed by a pause, or when it’s followed by a word that begins with a consonant, we don’t lift the tongue tip, ll. We just make the dark sound with the back of the tongue, keeping the tongue tip down, uul. All is well, well, uul, uul, uul. I don’t lift my tongue tip at all. Things are going well today. Here, the Dark L is followed by the T, a consonant. So again, I will not lift my tongue tip, I will not finish that Dark L. Wellllll today. Well today. I just make the dark sound with the back of the tongue, ul, ul. I do this by pressing down and pulling back a little. Ul, ul. Keep the tongue tip down, ul. Wellllll today. Then I make the T sound. There is no finishing the L with the tongue tip up. Well, well, up-down shape of stress.
But this can also be an interjection, and then it’s often unstressed. We use this a lot at the beginning of sentences: well, I want to leave by seven. Well I want to leave, well I want to leave. Well, well. There it’s really just the W and a dark sound. I’ve dropped the EH vowel to a schwa, which gets lost in the Dark L. Well, well, try that with me now. Well, well. Well, I want to leave by seven. Well, that’s not what she said.
So this word definitely can reduce, depending on how it’s being used.
Number 90, the last word for this video: the word ‘way’. This is fun. This reminds me of a video I just made for my online school, Rachel’s English Academy, where my Dad and I were talking about my way, your way, the best way, the wrong way. This is a noun, and it is stressed in a sentence, it’s fully pronounced and has the up-down shape of stress, way, way. W consonant, and the AY as in SAY diphthong. We’ve had a lot of words beginning with W in this video, haven’t we? Work, well, way. Lips come together in a tight circle, ww, ww, way. Then the AY as in SAY diphthong. First jaw drop. Wa-, way. Then the jaw relaxes back up as the front of the tongue arches towards the roof of the mouth while the tip stays down. Way, way, way. Get out of the way! We need to find a way to solve this problem. You’ve come a long way. Way, way.
When we were going over the word ‘work’, I told you that I’d share a link to the video that goes over the R vowel. This is for the word ‘first’ as well. Ur, ur, click here, or in the description below, to see that video that goes over that vowel, and has some illustrations so you can see what the tongue is doing inside the mouth.
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 or official pronunciation, I mean how the word is actually used in a sentence in American English. Look for the next installment in this series, coming soon.
That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.