By now, you may recognize the importance of stressing the strong syllables in content words, but you may be wondering how the function words are left unstressed. The easiest way to do this is by “reducing” the effort in pronouncing function words. Luckily, you may already know how to do this by making contractions. Let’s take a look at common contractions and their pronunciations.
|he would||he’d||He’d like to see you now.|
|why have||Why’ve||Why’ve you come?|
|I will||I’ll||I’ll think about it.|
|where did||Where’d||Where’d you get that?|
|they are||they’re||They’re already here.|
|who is||Who’s||Who’s your professor?|
|what will||What’ll||What’ll you have?|
|can not||can’t||I can’t believe it.|
|how have||How’ve||How’ve you been?|
Practice saying the example sentences above, focusing on the contractions.
In addition to contractions, many function words have shortened sounds. Check out the following table to compare the “full” pronunciation with the reduced pronunciation of some common function words. Keep in mind that reducing function words is not considered informal or impolite; on the contrary, reduced speech is appropriate in all contexts, be they professional, academic, or social.
|Full Pronunciation||Reduced Pronunciation||Examples|
|and||/ən/||apples and oranges|
|or||/əʳ/||sugar or cream|
|as||/əz/||might as well|
|to||/tə/||Talk to me.|
|for||/fəʳ/||looking for trouble|
|worst of all
film of the year
|have||/ə/ or /əv/||could have gone|
|has||/əz/ or /ə/||Where has she been?|
|can||/kən/||I can ask.|
|will||/əl/||They will come.|
|he||/i/||Could he cheat?|
|you||/yə/||I gave it to you.|
|his||/ɪz/||Use his notes.|
|her||/əʳ/||Use her notes.|
|him||/ɪm/ or /əm/||Give him time.|
|the other day
the red one
|a, an||/ə/ or /ən/||What a shame.|
Read the following sentences out loud, paying attention to the reduced pronunciation of the function words. To help, start by identifying all of the content words and giving them focused stress. After reading each one out loud, check your answers by listening to each sentence. Remember that rhythm is not about speaking quickly, but instead about contrasting between stressed and unstressed words.
- Would you like to go?
- There is an exam this Thursday.
- Carlos would have gone if possible.
- Send her to him.
- She has gone to the office.
- Is he here yet?
What do you do now?
First, practice reading the above sentences out loud. Record yourself and check to see if your rhythm matches that of the sentences. Make a list of other contractions you’ve read or listened to before, and record your pronunciation of these contractions and reduced function words.
Second, come see a speech consultant to check your understanding of content and function words, learn more about rhythm and how to master it, and improve your intelligibility.