In English pronunciation, there is a special group of words that are sometimes called “grammar words.” These are words that are common, predictable, and have very little semantic content. Their purpose is usually just to create a verb tense, show a relationship, or in some other way help with the structure of the sentence.
SEE ALSO: The long and short vowels of English
More specifically, these are:
- auxiliary verbs,
- conjuctions and
The verb to be can also be included in this group, even when it isn’t functioning as an auxiliary verb.
To understand this idea of “little semantic content,” consider, for example, the meaning of the word have in the sentence the children have eaten dinner. Here it does not contribute any new meaning to the verb eat; its only purpose is to help form a verb tense (which is why these words are called auxiliary verbs).
Correct pronunciation of these words is important because they are extremely common. Since they are so predictable, we almost always know they are present, which is why their full pronunciation becomes less important. Most often, their vowels are shortened and their pronunciation is slurred; sometimes they are even completely lost.
The other word classes listed above also undergo this same sort of reduction because of their frequency and consequent predictability.
1. Articles and prepositions
These two classes of words are among the most frequently reduced. Consider both the preposition and the article in the sentence John went to the store. If you listen to a native speaker say this, you’ll notice both to and the are unstressed and seem to be attached to the word store.
Furthermore, the vowel in to, which is usually a lot like the vowel in the word boot, ends up turning into schwa (the first vowel in about).
The string to the store is therefore pronounced /T AH0 DH AH0 S T AO1 R/ (IPA /təðə’stɔr/). Remember that they are pronounced as one word with the stress on store.
Pronouns are a bit more fun and interesting in these contexts than articles and prepositions. The word you frequently becomes something more like ‘ya’ in sentences such as Where’d ya go? Often, they will merge with the d or the t at the end of a word, leading to results such as doncha for don’t you.
Other pronouns also undergo changes. For instance, the h in he is very frequently lost in sentences such as Where’d he go?, which ends up more like Wherdee go?
Again, note that in both examples above, the word is joined to another word. In such cases, however, the pronoun receives the stress and the word preceding it gets attached and loses its stress.
3. Auxiliary verbs
These words usually become contractions, which is something we will not discuss here.
More interesting, however, is the fact that they are often completely omitted from pronunciation. This usually happens when they are predictable.
On Facebook, for instance, a person’s status might be something like, “Having a wonderful time with the woman I love!” As you can see, the pronoun I and the auxiliary verb am that should be at the beginning of the sentence have both been completely omitted. This is because in such a context the meaning of the sentence is still clear without them.
The conjunction and is probably the most common of its class to undergo any sort of reduction. Usually, the a is lost or becomes schwa. Also, the d is frequently lost.
In the sentence Bill and Jane went to the liquor store, you will often hear something more like “Bill an’ Jane” or even “Bill ’n’ Jane,” with the d sound being lost in both cases.
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