Shorter treatments than the following ten thousand or so words have been in circulation for some time in the form of the texts of lectures I gave to a succession of summer courses in phonetics at University College London from 1990 to 2013 and in a contribution (The 100 English Words Most Difficult to Pronounce) to a volume English Phonetics published by the English Phonetic Society of Japan in 1997 under the editorship of M. Tsuzuki.
1.Weakforms are elements of a system of word variants employed by English speakers. In giving full prominence to any word they will use its unreduced strongform but may depart from that full form by reduction of articulatory effort to one or other of the articulatorily simplified variant forms of that word. In many cases failure to adopt the appropriate weakform may produce a marked stylistic effect such as of an unidiomatic, stiff or formal style foreign to ordinary everyday conversation. Most who describe this system are not accustomed to refer to the phenomenon by Sweet’s term ‘gradation’. Daniel Jones in the third chapter to (his final) eighth of his Outline of English Phonetics explained the term in the first paragraph (§467) of the Chapter he entitled ‘Strong and Weak Forms’ and thereafter made no use of it. Almost all other describers of the system have been teachers of spoken English who, like Jones, have preferred to expound the system solely by furnishing of examples of its working.
2. Vast numbers of English words vary their forms, either by losing weak syllables completely or by reducing their articulation, in response to the rhythmic pressures occurring within sentences. The solid spellings weakform and strongform are not generally used by other writers but are preferred here because I am at pains to apply the term differently from them ie more generally than is customary and to emphasise to the reader that the terms do not mean any form of a word which is uttered in some or other way either weakly or strongly (for example quietly or gently, as opposed to forcefully or loudly) but are specific classificatory terms of phonological analysis, which may more precisely be called ‘phonemic’ or ‘gradational’ weakforms. This description applies to the usage of individual speakers: one person’s weakform may be another’s strongform. Cf ¶38 below. Certain writers assert that (functor) weakforms ‘may never be stressed’. This may be effective pedagogy but it is not factually justifiable. For example the expression going to has a very common articulatorily weakened (and changed in phoneme content thereby) variant forms, including /`gənə/, which are very often stressed. Also, a word like Wednesday has, for many speakers, though they citationally say it as /`wenzdeɪ/, very often a weakform /`wenzdi/. This they use particularly in situations where the word is under rhythmic pressure such as in /wenzdi `mɔːnɪŋ/ Wednesday morning. See also our Blog #410.
3. A weakform can be
defined briefly as an alternant form of a
word so reduced in its articulation that it consists of a different set
of phonemes. Fortunately for the user of English as an additional
language, only a very small core group of these variants cannot be
considered to be merely ‘optional’. That is to say, the user may
perfectly safely adopt just one form of all English words except for
those belonging in this small set of ‘functor’ weakform words. These forty-odd ‘core functor weakform words’ are so described because they possess grammatico-stylistically distinctive variants.
They are of great
the fluent advanced user of English as an additional language
because they are, for
the most part, the very words which principally operate its grammatical
structure and can at times notably affect the style and/or meaning of
an expression. Their existence in the English language was clearly
identified for the first time in 1885 by the great scholar Henry Sweet
in the section entitled Abstufung of his Elementarbuch des Gesprochenen Englisch. This section he entitled Gradation at page 13 of his revised translation of that book as A Primer of Spoken English in 1890. Thus the best and most exact specification for these core functor forms should be ‘Gradation Weakforms’ though they are customarily called simply 'weak forms'.
4. The use of weakforms of function words is universal in all forms of mothertongue English worldwide, though the exact set of them employed differs from one variety to another. Unless otherwise indicated, all the advice in articles in this website is for the benefit of those who might wish to adopt General British English usages. General American operates without two weakforms normal in General British (see ¶¶139 & 140 below) but otherwise has mainly only minor differences from GB. Weakforms make such a very large contribution to the characteristic rhythm of the language that failure to use something of a reasonable quota of them, which is extremely common among EFL speakers, can result at times in very abnormal effects even if most or all of the other features are quite idiomatic. Such for example would be the speaking with no or very few weakforms of such very ordinary expressions as the following cautionary sentences.
shall have to try and get some cash from our bank at lunchtime. So
that they can have the money that they want as soon as possible. What
are they expecting us to pay them?
As normal conversation these would be:
/aɪ ʃl hav tə traɪ ən get sm kaʃ frəm ɑ bæŋk ət lʌnʃtaɪm
səʊ ðət ðeɪ kn hav ðə mʌni ðət ðeɪ wɒnt əz sun əz pɒsəbl.
wɒt ə ðeɪ ɪkspektɪŋ əs tə peɪ ðm/
6. However, they might well
be heard from
many EFL speakers with no
weakforms at all, with inappropriate ones or with very few as:
/aɪ ʃal hav tu traɪ and get sʌm kaʃ frɒm aʊǝ baŋk at lʌnʃtaɪm.
səʊ ðat ðeɪ kan hav ði mʌni ðat ðeɪ wɒnt az suːn az pɒsɪbl.
wɒt ɑ ðeɪ ekspektɪŋ ʌs tu peɪ ðem /
7. Although failure to employ the appropriate weakforms only very rarely gives rise to complete misunderstandings, it helps to bring home to the learner their notable significance if such examples as the following are presented for consideration.
8. I'm giving her a picture that I shall have painted by Christmas.
In this example if the speaker uses the strongform of have the word is a main (and here causative) verb and indicates that someone other than the speaker is being asked to perform the act of painting. If have takes a weakform it has only an auxiliary function so the speaker and the painter are one and the same person. Very few EFL students are aware of this sharp contrast of meaning before their attention is drawn to it.
9. These books are
awful – Two of
them are all right.
In speech it would be unlikely that any pause would be made between the words are and all. However, in writing, a comma might well be inserted if all right was functioning only as an adverbial adjunct to the basic sentence Two of them are. In such a situation the second speaker would be expressing agreement. If all right were being used as an adjectival complement, the speaker would employ are in its weakform. Then of course the opposite ie disagreement would be being expressed.
10. I've only known
it / fɔ
/ weeks, but he's known it / fɔ/ months.
In this, if the EFL speaker intended for weeks and for months a native speaker hearing it so uttered would be extremely likely in many circumstances to interpret it as four weeks and four months.
11. He was going /
tu / fast.
Heard in isolation as typically from an EFL speaker this would be more likely to suggest to a speaker of mothertongue English that someone is eg exceeding a speed limit (too fast) than that he is about to enter upon a period of abstention from food (to fast).
12. I was eighteen
months before I
could walk. – I / wɒz tu /.
EFL speakers often use the same version of was whether they mean I was two or I was, too. The comma which could be used in the second orthographical version would not usually necessarily correspond to any audible rhythmical difference.
13. Which flight
are you on? – The
/ ˈfaɪv tuː ˋsɪks /.
This from a native speaker could well be interpreted as (the scheduled flight number) 526 when the EFL speaker intended five to six ie 5.55 in such a situation.
14. Bread and
Failure to weaken and in this expression would more likely suggest "a loaf of bread and a packet of butter" rather than a "slice of bread on which butter has been spread", the idiomatic semantic value of the expression.
15. I expect that
John told them.
The demonstrative adjective that, always /ðæt/, is often, especially before a person's name, used to imply dislike, disapproval etc. The relative is invariably /ðət /.
16. Don't take it
If the strongform /tu/ is used instead of the required weakform /tǝ/, this can awkwardly sound like Don't take it too hot from a speaker with an American accent.
bringing home some /
sm / missionary for dinner.
This is an example of the dangers not of failing to use a weakform but of failing to recognise when its use is not appropriate. In its most frequent use some occurs before a noun and means an amount of (eg in some sugar). However, it is also used in the sense of a particular unspecified (person or thing) when it is not reduced at all. Misplaced use of a weakform may in this case maladroitly suggest cannibalism.
18. Weakform words proper (ie words which exhibit one or more weakforms) and weakform compounds should not be confused. The latter are closely related to weakform words in that they have been formed by the historical coalescence of weakforms with other words but they are in fact not themselves weakforms. Weakforms are generally not stressed whereas these compounds are very often fully stressed. Weakform compounds have often developed weakforms of their own but hardly any such weakform need be regarded as essential for EFL use. Functor weakform words and weakform compounds are especially worthy of the attention of the fluent EFL user because they occur so frequently that they constitute, taken together, something like one in four or five of all the words used in ordinary conversation!
19. The lists given below contain, therefore, what may be claimed to be the most important words in conversational English for those who set out to speak the language as far as possible with a natural-sounding rhythm. In conversation which is not highly colloquial or slangy in style but friendly yet free from formality these words are used according to quite strict rules. For example no native English speaker in such a style ever says "it is not" (which might easily sound unfriendly, pedantic, archaic or dogmatic etc) but only either "it isn't" or "it’s not" and so on. A full list of weakform compounds follows. Alternative (more realistically spelt) orthographies exist for almost all of these compounds. They are called "contractions" because their pronunciations are shortened (by omissions of phonemes) from their fuller forms. Their spellings are correspondingly shortened by omissions of letters whose absences are signalled by the presence of apostrophes.
||Traditional Spelling||Informal Spelling||Phonetic Value|
|could not||couldn't||/kʊdnt/ Minority weakform: /kǝdnt/|
|dare not||daren't||/dɛnt/||(daredn't is unusual)|
|does not||doesn't||/dʌznt/ Minority weakform:/dǝznt/|
|may not||mayn't||/meɪnt/ or /meɪǝnt/|
|must not||mustn't||/mʌsnt/ Minority weakform: /mǝsnt/.|
|should not||shouldn't||/ʃʊdnt/ Minority weakform:/ʃǝdnt/.|
|used not||usen't||/jusnt/ ||Obsolescent.|
|was not||wasn't||/wɒznt/ Minority weakform:/wǝznt/.|
|were not||weren't||/wɜnt/||/weǝnt/ is unusual|
|would not||wouldn't||/wʊdnt/ Minority weakform: /wǝdnt/|
Note: All the above words ending with /-nt/ often occur without their final /-t/ except before breaks in rhythm. Sometimes /kʊdn, dɪdn, dʌzn, hædn, hæzn, hævn, mʌsn, ɪzn, nidn, ʃʊdn & wɒzn/ occur before breaks but may tend to sound casual.
||Traditional Spelling||Informal Spelling||Phonetic Value|
|let us||let's||/lets/||See us below|
|do you||(d'you)||/dju, dʒu /|| Informal
spelling is rare|
|I am||I'm||/aɪm/ Very informal rare weakform /ǝm/.|
/aɪǝm/ is only used formally.
|we are||we're||/wɪǝ/ weakforms /wɪ, wǝ/||or /wɛ/|
|you are||you're||/jɔ/ The weakform /jǝ/ may sound casual sentence-initially in GB.||/jʊǝ/ is unusual|
|they are||they're||/ðɛ/ Weakforms / ðǝ, ðe/.|
/ðeɪǝ/ is only used formally.
|I will||I'll||/aɪl/ Very frequent weakform /ɑl/|
|you will||you'll||/jul/||or /jɔːl, jʊl/|
|he will||he'll||/hil/||or /hɪl/|
|she will||she'll||/ʃil/||or /ʃɪl/|
|we will||we'll||/wil/||or /wɪl/|
|they will||they'll||/ðeɪl/||or /ðɛl/|
|there will||there'll||/ðɛl/||or /ðel/|
/aɪǝv/ is only used formally.
/juǝv/ is only used formally.
/wiǝv/ is only used formally.
/ðeɪǝv/ is only used formally
|there have||there've||/ðɛv/||or /ðɛrǝv/|
/aɪǝd/ is only used formally.
/juǝd/ is only used formally.
/hiǝd/ is only used formally.
/ʃiǝd/ is only used formally.
/wiǝd/ is only used formally.
/ðeɪǝd/ is only used formally.
|there had||there'd||/ðeǝd/||or /ðɛrǝd/|
/huǝd/ is only used formally.
/aɪǝd/ is only used formally.
/juǝd/ is only used formally.
/hiǝd/ is only used formally.
/ʃiǝd/ is only used formally.
/wiǝd/ is only used formally.
/ðeɪǝd/ is only used formally.
|there would||there'd||/ðeǝd/||or /ðeǝrǝd/|
/huǝd/ is only used formally.
21. Most of the pronoun-verb contractions have weakforms
but none of these is essential for EFL use except possibly /dju/ d'you.
One of the auxiliary-negative contractions has a common weakform /dǝn(t)/ for don't eg /dǝnǝʊ/ don't know but it is too highly colloquial to be recommended.
22. The list which follows gives the words with grammatico-stylistically distinctive (functor) weakforms in word class order. Some of them function as members of more than one word class but each item is entered only under one of the groupings. There its other functions are also illustrated. For example her is listed only at the grouping 'determiners'. For convenience its pronominal uses are illustrated there and not separately at the grouping 'pronouns'.
23. Speakers tend to avoid repeated sounds or syllables even when there is no logical objection to them. This is probably because intentional repetitions are rather uncomfortably inclined to suggest the unintentional repetitions of hesitant or stumbling speech. Thus, in particular, aitches which would be used according to the general custom may be omitted under the influence of nearby aitches which cannot be themselves omitted. Eg /i `haz/ for He has is very common though /i `dᴧz/ He does is less common. This process may be termed DISSIMILATIVE ELISION.
24. When the spelling of any (functor) weakform word ends with -r or -re it is, like any such word, subject to the rule for the insertion of /r/ whenever a vowel-sound follows in close rhythmic connection.
25. a / ǝ / eg / ǝ `man / a man. This weakform is not used before vowel sounds, though it may occur before a word whose spelling begins with a vowel letter. Such cases are ordinarily due to the speaker's introduction of a (paralinguistic) glottal plosive in front of the vowel. Otherwise the impression is of dialect speech.
26. The strongform /eɪ/ is not common in conversational style but can occur in sentences like (You've got cats, haven't you?) Well, we've got `a cat and (We may not be able to find its original box but) we've got `a box. Otherwise it tends to sound rhetorical.
27. an / ən / eg / ən `apl / an apple. This weakform is only used before vowel sounds. The strongform /æn/ is not very common in conversation being confined to contrastive or elucidatory contexts, as with /eɪ/, eg Take `an apple, I said (Not the lot.). (Not any particular book or article.) Just `a book and `an article.
28. In rhythmically close-knit sequences after simple /t/ or /d/ or after any of the simple fricatives ie /f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ʒ /, a syllabic /n/ is usual. Eg I had an idea /aɪ had n̩ aɪ`dɪə /. When an is preceded by a consonant cluster /ən/ is usual, eg Find an old one /faɪnd ən `əʊld wʌn/. Compare and below.
29. her /ɜ, ə, hə/. The first form /ɜ/ is the most usual adjectival weakform, eg /ɪts ɜ `handbag/ It's her handbag. Such a remark wd be possible with /ə/ but it wd then be ambiguous with a handbag. /ˈtel ər ɜ `mʌðə wɒnts ə/. Tell her her mother wants her.
30. In rhythmically close-knit phrases /ə/ will certainly be more usual, eg /ɒn ər `əʊn/ on her own, /ʃi had ər `aɪz testɪd/ she had her eyes tested. At the beginnings of sentences, or within them after an equivalent break in rhythmic flow, either the strongform is used or /hə/, eg /hɜ bæg/ Her bag /ðr ɔːl hər `əʊn/ They're all her own.
31. When her is an object pronoun /ə/ is the usual form especially in rhythmically close-knit expressions, eg /`tel ə /Tell her. Especially in careful, formal or deliberate styles object-pronoun /hə/ may be used at least if the nearby presence of other aitches doesn't inhibit it, eg / `tel ə / or / `tel hə / Tell her; /tel hə `nəʊ/ Tell her "no". However, /hæv ɜ `hʌri/ Have her hurry would be unusual (eg fussy-sounding) with an aitch form.
32. The strongform /hɜ/ and weakform /hə/ fairly often replace adjectival /ɜ/ eg /wɒts hɜ/ or /hə `neɪm/ What's her name? But /həʊld ɜ `hænd/ Hold her hand and similarly aitch-flanked expressions are not so likely to be said with / hɜ/ or / hə / because of preference for DISSIMILATIVE ELISION of /h/. Cf in her ears /ɪn ɜr `ɪəz/ with in arrears /ɪn ə`rɪəz/ where the only audible difference can be the length of the vowel of her. The Daniel Jones Outline of English Phonetics from its third eition of 1932 contained the comment that "..in such a sentence as she had her hat in her hand /ʃi hd ɜ ˈhat ɪn ɜ`hænd/ it would be pedantic to sound the /h/ in the words her" (§786).
33. Note that herself is usually /ə`self/ or /ɜ`self/ eg /dɪd ʃi `hɜt əself/ Did she hurt herself ? /ʃil meɪk əself `ɪl/ She'll make herself ill, /ʃil gəʊ ɜ`self/ She'll go herself.
34. Note also that the substantive hers exhibits only one form /hɜz/ whether stressed or not eg /aɪ `nəʊ ɪts hɜz / I know it's hers.
35. his /ɪz / eg / ɒn ɪz əʊn / on his own; /ˈgɪv ɪm ɪz ˎhat bak/ Give him his hat back. /dju rəˈmemb(ə)r ɪz `neɪm/ D'you remember his name? Occasionally even in aitch-free environments by many people the strongform is used, eg /`weəz hɪz `kɑ/ Where's his car? But /(h)iz hæd ɪz `hɛ kʌt / is the normal fluent form of He's had his hair cut. He got to his feet with /tə hɪz/ intead of /tu ɪz/ would sound absurdly formal.
36. Note also that the substantive his takes only one form /hɪz/ whether stressed or not eg /aɪ `nəʊ ɪts hɪz / I know it's his.
37. our /ɑː/ eg / ɒn ɑːr `əʊn / on our own. Some speakers use /aʊə/ but only in a monosyllabic value [aə]. The strongform is /aʊə/, a transcription which may be ambiguous because it can represent either a disyllabic or a monosyllabic value unless shown as /aʊ.ə/ or otherwise disambiguated. A small but recently increasing minority use /aʊ/.
38. Very many speakers have /ɑː/ as their strongform. For such speakers our is thus not a weakform word.
39. The substantive ours has probably for most speakers mainly the form /aʊ. əz/ rather than /ɑz/ whether stressed or not eg /aɪ `nəʊ ɪts ɑʊəz/ I know it's ours. The transcription /aʊəz/ may stand for monosyllabic [aəz], most likely when unstressed, or for di-syllabic [ɑ. əz] less often [aʊ. əz] which would be possible when emphatically stressed.
40. The element our- in ourselves usually coincides with the weakform eg /wi helpt ɑ`selvz/ We helped ourselves, /wi θɪŋk ɑselvz `lʌki/ We think ourselves lucky.
41. some / sm / eg /sm ˊtiː/ Some tea? OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE produces the weakform /səm/ when a vowel follows eg /səm `egz/ some eggs. These weakforms belong only to the sense consisting of an unspecified quantity or number of before nouns or noun phrases.
42. The sense a certain used when a name isn't known (often followed by or other) only takes the strongform /sʌm/ eg /sʌm `ʧaɪld/ Some child; /ðeɪ met sʌm `æktə/ They met some actor; /ˈsʌm ˈswaɪnz | ˈpɪntʃt maɪ `pen/ Some swine's pinched my pen; /ˈsʌm ˎhəʊp/ Some hope! (Ironic for No hope.)
43.The substantive some has only one form whether stressed or not eg /ɪf ju `wɒnt sm ˏtiː, `meɪk sʌm/ If you want some tea, make some.
44. When some occurs in a weakform immediately before a substantive beginning with /m/, there is very often DEGEMINATION of the two /m/s to only one and then OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE prompts the insertion of a schwa vowel, eg /sǝ ˊmɔ/ Some more?
45. the /ðǝ/, but before vowel sounds /ði/, eg /ðǝ `mæn/ the man, /ði `æpl/ the apple, /ðǝ ˈjʌŋ ǝn ði `ǝʊld/ the young and the old. The strongform /ði/ is uncommon, except as used in hesitant or very deliberate or rhetorical delivery. However, it may be stressed with the special senses "the most outstanding, the famous" etc eg It's a`mong the `ˏ first | if not `the first or `Not `the Tom ˏJones. There also exists commonly an alternative strongform /`ðə/ as in the Financial Times and /`ðə/ Times most likely to be used where the "specially good etc" sense of the traditional strongform might be felt to be inappropriate.
46. your /jǝ/ eg / `hɪǝz jǝ ˏpen/ Here's your pen.
The weakform of your may very often be replaced by the unstressed strongform /jɔː/ with little or no loss of naturalness especially sentence-initially eg /jɔː `kabz hɪǝ/ Your cab's here, /jɔː `fǝʊnz rɪŋɪŋ/ Your phone's ringing, /aɪ ˋlaɪk jɔː `ˏgɑːdn / I like your garden. In some cases it may even be preferred as more polite and unhurried rather than possibly hinting at impatience eg /ˈwɒts jɔː `neɪm/ What's your name? Contrast the impatient but not necessarily unfriendly /'meɪk ʌp jǝ ˏmaɪnd/ Make up your mind. By comparison /'meɪk ʌp jɔː ˏmaɪnd/, especially when uttered more deliberately can sound formal or even cold.
47. However, the weakform no doubt predominates in most, especially brisk, rhythmically close-knit phrases, eg /ɒn jǝr ˊǝʊn/ On your own? /ˈteɪk jǝ ˏtaɪm/ Take your time. /ˈteɪk jǝ ˈhændz | aʊt ǝv jǝ `pɒkɪts/ Take your hands out of your pockets. /ˋhəʊld jə `ˏhɔːsɪz/ Hold your horses. /ˈɪf ju ˈʧeɪnʤ ə ˏmaɪnd.../ If you change your mind... (often after /ʤ/ with /j/ elided as here).
48.The substantive yours has only the form /jɔːz/ eg
/aɪ `nǝʊ ɪts jɔːz/
I know it's yours.
But yourself and yourselves begin either with /jɔː-/ or more often /j-/ eg / ˈhelp jə`self / Help yourself, /ˋmeɪk jǝself ǝt ˏhǝʊm/ Make yourself at home, /ɪn`ʤɔɪ jǝˏselvz bǝt bɪ`heɪv jǝselvz/ Enjoy yourselves but behave yourselves. /ˈduːɪt jəˋself/ Do-it-yourself.
Except for be (and much less often have) pronoun weakforms are the only ones which end sentences in normal usage.
49. he /i, hi/ eg /ɪz i ˊdɪzi/ Is he dizzy? /ˈwɒts i `laɪk/ What's he like? /hi `kæn, ˏkæn i/ He can, can he? /ˋjes i `ɪz/ Yes, he is, /hi sez i `kɑːnt/ He says he can't, /haʊ dəz i `nəʊ i kɑːnt/ How does he know he can't. /ˈɪz i ɪz ˈəʊn ˏbɒs/ Is he his own boss?
50. Like all weakform words
with initial h, he is
regularly heard with /h/ sentence-initially and may fairly often be
heard so sentence-internally but the more rhythmically closely-knit the
phrase the less likely so eg / `ʃʊd
ˏhi / Should
he? but /ˋʃʊd i ˏgəʊ/ Should he go?
If stressed /h/ begins the following word /i/ often occurs sentence-initially, eg /i `hæz, ˏhæz i/ He has, has he?
51. The strongform /hiː/ is not always clearly distinguishable from the weakform /hi/, eg in /hi(ː) iːvn `kraɪd/ He even cried. On the other hand, the quality of the /i/ vowel may well be close enough for eg What does he take? and What does it take? to be distinct even when, as often happens, the two /t/s of /ɪt `teɪk/ are reduced to one.
/ɪm/ eg /`ɑːsk ɪm/
Ask him. /`gɪv
`ˏdju/ Give him his due. / i ˈhɪt ɪm `hɑːd/ He hit him hard. /wi ˈsɔːɪm ɪn ɪz `haʊs/ We saw him in his house. Like
with orthographical initial h,
unstressed him sometimes
occurs in its strongform
there are no other initial /h/ words in the immediate vicinity and the
phrase it occurs in is not closely-knit rhythmically eg , /ʃi
ǝd`maɪəz hɪm | bǝt ʃi ˋdʌzn(t) `ˏlaɪk
ɪm/ She admires
him but she doesn't like him. The first clause is spoken thoughtfully and slowly: the second might be chuckled in a rapid anticlimax.
The strongform of him occurs when it is stressed in eg /ɑːsk `hɪm, `nɒt `ˏmiː/ Ask him, not me.
53. As with he, the strongform of him used by a minority of speakers in unstressed positions tends to sound rather careful. Such speakers are mostly not consistent in employing the usage and in particular less often use /hɪm/ unstressed beside other /h/-words.
54. me /mi/ eg /`tel mi/ Tell me. Before a following vowel sound /mi/ is the obvious value of unstressed me but sentence-finally, and especially before certain consonants, uttered fairly quickly (as it often is) the vowel value may be auditorily indistinguishable (despite what the speaker's notional target may be) from /ɪ/, eg as in /let mi `siː/ Let me see.
55. As with the final vowel of words like happy, the more noticeably the vowel sounds like the /ɪ/ of bit (or even slightly more centralised towards a schwa /ə/ value) and not like that of stressed me in quality the more old-fashioned and/or socially conspicuous ('posh') it tends to sound.
56. she /ʃi / eg /ʃi `wɪl, ˏwɪl ʃi / She will, will she? / ˋɪf ʃi ˏlaɪks / If she likes. The strongform is /ʃiː / eg / `ʃiː dʌz / (Who likes him?) She does. The vowel values exactly parallel me above.
57. them /ðm / eg / `traɪ ðm / Try them. / ˈlet ðm ˈbrɪŋ ðm `wɪð ðm/ Let them bring them with them. OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE produces the schwa form /ðǝm/ when a vowel follows in close rhythmic connection, eg /ˈtraɪ ðǝm `ɔːl/ Try them all which is usually identical with Try the mall. Similarly Make them eat pies is indistinguishable from Make the meat pies.
58. The strongform is /ðem/ eg /ɪts fǝ `ðem/ It's for them. If unstressed it sounds totally unspontaneous in purely conversational British usage. A minority of General American speakers do often use it unstressed in perhaps mainly rather self-conscious speech.
59. The reflexive themselves is often without any very clearly heard schwa ie /ðm`selvz/, eg /ðeɪ ˈni:d ðm ðm`selvz/ They need them themselves.
60. us /ǝs/ eg / tel ǝs/ Tell us, /ˈteɪk ǝs n `ʃǝʊ ǝs/ Take us and show us. The strongform is /ʌs /, as in eg /ɪt bɪlɒŋz tu `ʌs/ It belongs to us.
61. When the expression Let us is used in the sense of an invitation, eg Let us dance, the weakform /ǝs/ is never used in ordinary conversational speech. Only the weakform compound /lets/ is possible, eg /ˈlets `dɑːns / Let's dance. /`jes, `lets/ Yes, let's. In informal writing and representation of conversation this compound is regularly represented by the contracted spelling let's.
62. If the sense is of permission, eg They won't let us dance, then the weakform is normal /ðeɪ wǝʊnt let ǝs `dɑːns/. In highly solemn declamation the conversational weakform compound would be out of place, eg Let us pray! /let ǝs `preɪ/. In church /lets `preɪ/ would be in danger of sounding undignified as too colloquial.
63. From the closing decades of the twentieth century an increasing tendency among GB speakers has been observable to avoid the weakform of us in various, especially phrase-final, locutions where us is not contrastive eg The ˈweather│ for ˋall of ˏus│ will be `fine. This is still relatively unusual but it may possibly be due to ALTERNATE STRESS PREFERENCE conducing to avoidance of using the two unstressed syllables /əv əs/.
64. we /wi/ eg /wi `ɑːr, `ɑː wi/ We are, are we? / `hɪə wi ˏɑː/ Here we are. The strongform is /wiː/ eg / `wiː duː / We do. The vowel values exactly parallel me and she.
65. you /ju/ eg /ju `duː, `dəʊnt ju/ You do, don't you? / `θæŋk ju/ Thank you. The strongform is /juː/ eg / ɪts fə `juː/ It's for you.
66. The use of the strongform unstressed eg /θæŋk juː/ has some currency in the UK and the US but it seems to be mainly perceived as a regionalism or markedly unsmart at least when the /uː/ is fully long and fronted to [ʉː]. This is typical of the METROPOLITANISED BRITISH (pronunciation) for which there is a popular, though unsuitable, term "Estuary English" (pronunciation).
67. There does exist a weakform /jə/ of you but its use is in the main confined if not to regional then only to casual, negligent or rough-spoken styles. From a GB speaker it can easily sound extremely impolite even truculent. For example /ˈwɒt ə jə `duːɪŋ/ for What are you doing? using /jə/ would be a typical usage of an angry speaker. Accordingly it's very undesirable for EFL learners to attempt to make any use of /jə/ at all. In the USA it is in less restricted use but is still probably mainly characteristic of other forms than the neutral styles of pronunciation usually recommended to EFL users.
These by their nature virtually never end sentences. Beginning sentences they usually sound only slightly less fluent in their strongforms than in their weakforms.
68. and /ən/ eg /ɪn ən `aʊt / in and out. In exactly the same way as an (see above §§27 &28) /n/ is usual in rhythmically close-knit sequences after simple /t/ or /d/ or any of the simple fricatives /f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ᴣ / eg /ˈhæt n ˎkəʊt/ hat and coat, /ˈhɔːs n ˎkɑːt/ horse and cart. Especially with and (rather than an which compare above §28) some consonant sequences containing /t/ or /d/ or a fricative may have syllabic /n/, eg /kæts n̩ `dɒgz/ cats and dogs, but a sequence containing a nasal followed by a consonant would usually avoid syllabic /n/ eg /hænd ən `fʊt/ hand and foot.
69. There is another weakform of and /ənd/ which has in some EFL textbooks been prescribed for use before words beginning with vowel sounds. In fact the weakform without /d/ occurs at least ten times as often as this form and therefore such a recommendation is misguided. It is far better for the EFL user to aim exclusively at weakforms without any /d/. Most English speakers make little or no use of /-d/ forms. Their chief occurrence is in hesitant or obtrusively careful speech. They can even sound quite misleading as when Joe and Ann is pronounced in a fashion that could be taken for Joe and Dan, a mistake which would not normally occur. One somewhat over careful but otherwise excellent fomer BBC newsreader used to seem to be talking not of England and Wales but of England and Dwales. She seemed on occasion to refer to hospital A and D (meaning Accident & Emergency) departments. Similarly fussy speakers who seem to be talking about blackened white minstrels when they meant black and white minstrels have been giving a true description even if unintentionally so.
70. The strongform /ænd/ and
reduced weakform /æn/ are
often used sentence-initially but usually with a fairly marked
deliberate or hesitant effect unless quickly uttered, eg /æn(d)
rɪ`membə/ And remember...,
/æn(d) ə`nʌðə θɪŋ/ And another thing...
It's particularly worthwhile for the EFL user to attempt to acquire a natural-sounding use of the word and because it is, at approximately one percent of all word occurrences, about the most frequently used word in the English language. It sounds particularly strange to use its strongform between the constituent words of common collocations like fish and chips, fits and starts, flesh and blood, hide and seek, odds and ends, smash and grab, so-and-so (usually /`səʊnsəʊ) and try and before a verb.
71. In the case of bread and butter, use of the strongform, as we remarked at the Cautionary Example at §14 above, more generally suggests a loaf of bread and a packet of butter than the buttered bread slices it normally refers to. An EFL student of mine once reported that his landlady seemed to have perceived as an offensive suggestion (that her provision of butter was inadequate) the use of /ænd/ in bread and butter by a colleague of his.
72. as /əz/ eg /əz waɪt əz `snəʊ / as white as snow, /duː əz `aɪ duː/ Do as I do, /əz ɪf `aɪ keəd/ As if I cared!
73. In the sentence-initial phrases as from, as for, as it is etc the strongform /æz/ is commonly used even if the word is unstressed. Eg /æz ə `ˏruːl/ As a rule... /æz aɪ `seɪ/ As I say..
74. On one of the very rare occasions of its use when as happens to become "stranded" at the end of a sentence the strongform alone is possible eg (I'm going to the fancy-dress ball as a cowboy.) What are you going as ? /wɒt ə `juː gəʊɪŋ æz/.
75. but / bət / eg / bət `waɪ / But why ? Besides a conjunction but may also at times be a preposition as in /ɔːl bət `wʌn/ all but one.
76. The strongform /bʌt/ fairly often occurs sentence-initially unstressed but always with a marked degree of deliberate or hesitant etc effect, so EFL users are best advised to avoid so using it.
77. No weakform of but which omits the vowel /ə/ is heard in ordinary unhurried non-casual styles.
78. so /sə/ used before consonants only eg /ɪts nɒt sə `kəʊld təˏdeɪ/ It's not so cold today. In most of its uses the word so has no weakform at all but as an adverb of degree before adjectives and adverbs in negative comparisons (ie chiefly after not) it tends to sound a little careful if the strongform is used eg, /nɒt sə `mʌʧ əz ˏðæt/ Not so much as that, /`nɒt sə ˏbæd/ Not so bad.
79. The strongform is common sentence-initially eg / səʊ `ðeə/ So there! /ɪts ˈnɒt ˈkwaɪt sə `naɪs | nɔː səʊ `iːzi/ It's not quite so nice, nor so easy. It is of course invariably used if it is stressed eg /nɒt `səʊ ˏbæd/ Not so bad. It's not unusual to hear broadcasters begin a sentence with /sə/ before a name eg /sə 'ʤɒn `sᴧmbədi wz preznt/ which can at times produce an awkward ambiguity as to whether so is the first word or the person named has a knighthood.
/ðn/ eg /mɔː ðn
`ðæt/ More than that. OPEN
PREFERENCE produces the vowelled form /ðən/ before vowel sounds
ðən `evə/ More than ever.
Thus on most occasions eg than oats
indistinguishable from the notes
and than you from the new. The difference between /ðn/ and /ðən/ is usually not very noticeable
because speakers usually make the schwa vowel so short in /ðən/.
In genuinely conversational style the strongform /ðæn/ is virtually non-existent.
81. that /ðət/ eg /ˈθɪŋz ðət `mætə/ Things that matter. Only relative that takes a weakform. It has virtually no strongform.
82. Demonstrative that never takes a weakform, eg /ðæts `raɪt/ That's right, /ɪts ðæt `mæn əgen/ It's that man again, /ɪt `wɒznt ɔːl ðæt ˏdɪfɪklt/ It wasn't all that difficult, /ðæts ˈɔl ðət aɪ kn `seɪ/ That's all that I can say, /ˈwaɪ teɪk ˈɔːl ðæt `trʌbl/ Why take all that trouble ?
83. For demonstrative that as used in a pejorative sense especially before names see our Cautionary Example at §15.
84. The strongforms of the only five prepositions which have stylistically distinctive weakforms are their more usual forms before unstressed pronouns, eg / ðeǝ `lɑːfɪŋ æt ǝs/ They're laughing at us. /wil `kiːp ðm fɔː ju/ We'll keep them for you. /ʃiz `haɪdɪŋ frɒm ɪm / She's hiding from him. /ɪtl bi ðǝ `meɪkɪŋ ɒv ǝ/ It'll be the making of her. /`gɪv ɪt tuː ðm / Give it to them. These are examples of the working of ALTERNATE STRESS PREFERENCE.
85. Before a stressed noun or pronoun as in eg Give it to `them, the strongform /tuː/ or even the weakform /tu/ would sound extremely unnatural in spontaneous conversation, only / ˈgɪv ɪt tǝ `ðem / being usual.
86. In some cases the speaker has a choice between a more brisk delivery with the weakform and a more deliberate style using the strongform. For example expressions such as Not a bit of it, Never heard of him, You'll be the death of me, Good luck to them etc are by their nature virtually invariably said rather briskly on a full-descent tone. Compare /nɒt ǝ `bɪt ǝv ɪt/ with /aɪd laɪk ǝ `bɪt ˏɒv ɪt / I'd like a bit of it where the latter, if less positive and with the word of taking the second element of a falling-rising tone, would normally be heard with the strongform of of.
87. Sentence-initial prepositions in particular are often stressed not to emphasise them but to raise the level of animation of the whole phrase. These examples of ANIMATION STRESS may employ the strongform or the weakform of the preposition, the latter choice revealing clearly their lack of word-emphasising accentual force eg /æt ə `ˏməʊmənt/ or /`ət ðə `ˏməʊmənt /At the moment... /`fɔː ðə `ˏpreznt/ or /fə ðə `ˏpreznt / For the present... /`frɒm ə `ˏdɪstəns/ or /frəm ə `ˏdɪstəns / From a distance..
88. at /ǝt/ eg /ǝt `wʌns/ at once, /ǝt `brekfǝst/ at breakfast. The strongform is /æt/, eg /ˈwɒt wǝ ðeɪ `lɑːfɪŋ æt/ What were they laughing at? /aɪm `hǝʊplǝs æt ɪt/ I'm hopeless at it, /`æt ˏθriː| bət `nɒt `ɑːftə ˏθriː/ At three, but not after three.
89. It is perhaps worth noting that the negative-intensifying adverbial expression at all is in fact in present-day English a kind of weakform compound though its unity is never accorded recognition in even informal spelling. This is /ǝ`tɔːl/ as used in not at all, never at all, hardly at all etc. Compare with the sequence of preposition plus substantive in the question Does this train stop at all /ət `ɔːl/ stations? with the reply No, it doesn't stop at all /ə`tɔːl/. The latter expression at all is fully distinct by virtue of the aspirated /t/ that begins its second syllable. The distinction is common in American English and nearly universal in British usage. British schoolchildren show their recognition of it in the playground riddle Why is a short negro like a white man? with the answer Because he's not a tall black which is of course identical phonetically with not at all black.
90. for /fǝ/ eg /fǝ `gʊd/ for good, /fǝr `evə/ for ever. The strongform is /fɔː/ eg /wɒts `ðæt fɔː/ What's that for? /aɪ `kept ɪt fɔː ju/ I kept it for you, /wɒt `fɔː/ What for? /huːz rɪ`spɒnsǝbl fɔːr ɪt/ Who's responsible for it?
91. There is also a completely optional but common vowelless unsyllabic weakform /fr/ used when the next sound is a vowel especially an unstressed one eg /fr ǝ mǝʊmǝnt/ for a moment... Thus for a man and from Ann are often homophonous. Compare also /ɪn fr ǝ `peni/ In for a penny (in for a pound) and /ɪnfrǝ red/ infra-red.
92. Besides the normal strongform /fɔː/ there is a stressed-only weakform /fɒr/ in standard usage employed only with inserted /r/ before words beginning with vocalic sounds eg /ðeǝz nʌθɪŋ `fɒr ɪt/ There's nothing for it, /ˈweɪt ˏfɒr ɪt/ Wait for it. This usage is common but completely "optional". EFL learners are best advised not to go out of their way to imitate it but merely to note its existence.
93. from /frm / eg /frm `ʤɒn/ from John. OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE produces /frǝm/ before vowel sounds eg / frǝm ǝ`brɔːd / from abroad. The strongform /frɒm/ occurs under stress, sentence-finally and before weakly stressed pronouns in eg / fɑː`frɒm ɪt / Far from it, /weǝ dǝz i `kʌm frɒm/ Where does he come from? /aɪ bɔːt maɪ `wɒʧ frɒm ðm / I bought my watch from them.
94. of /ǝv/ eg /ǝ kaɪnd ǝv `bɒks / a kind of box /; / ˈðæts ˏgʊd ǝv ju/ that's good of you, /ˈθɪŋk ǝv ǝ ˎnʌmbǝ/ think of a number, /ɪn ðə `θɪk əv ɪt/ in the thick of it. The strongform /ɒv/ occurs sentence-finally or under stress eg /wɒts ɪt `meɪd ɒv/ What's it made of? /θɪŋk nʌθɪŋ `ɒv ɪt/ Think nothing of it. This last expression (sometimes used as a deprecation of thanks) is to be regarded as a STRESS IDIOM by reason of its unusual climactic stress on the preposition.)
95. The EFL learner need aim at no other weakform of of than /ǝv/. The /v/ is always retained if the next sound is a vowel. However, it may be noticed that in many very common expressions elision of the /v/ quite often takes place, particularly for instance in everyday expressions like /ǝ kʌp ǝ `tiː/ a cup of tea especially if they are constantly uttered briskly as is the case with /wʌn ǝ ðǝ../ One of the.. where there is RHYTHMIC PRESSURE produced by the occurrence of of before unstressed /ðǝ/. Cf §122 below. In that very common phrase it's not very unusual for the word of to be deleted altogether in a very colloquial style.
96. The slang words cuppa
and pinta and the
slangy spellings kinda and
outta reflect this kind of usage.
Certain EFL textbooks have been known to recommend regular use of this /v/-less form before all words beginning with consonants but the learner would do well to disregard such advice because its use in situations where such RHYTHMIC PRESSURE effects are not operative may produce very unnatural forms. Such would be the case with /ǝ/ instead of the normal /ǝv/ with expressions like of late, a viewer of television, a man of humble origin. The common expression tug of war won't sound strange with /ə/ but the less usual tug of love would sound odd without the /v/. The term man-of-war is often /man ə `wɔː/ but a man of peace is very unlikely to lose its /v/. The expression You have one of two choices could in some contexts tend to be awkwardly indistinguishable from one common form of You have one or two choices.
97. to /tǝ/ eg /tǝ `let/ To let, / ˈseɪm tǝ `juː/ Same to you, /`nɒt tǝ ˏwʌri/ Not to worry. The weakform /tǝ/ is only used when the next sound is consonantal. When it's a vowel /tu/ is used, eg /tu `ɑːsk/ to ask, /tu `ɪŋglənd/ to England. This rule doesn't operate if the (non-phonemic) glottal plosive consonant [ə] is inserted by the speaker for emphasis eg / tə `[ʔ]ɑːsk/. Quite a lot of people in recent years don't seem to need the glottal plosive's presence to discourage them from using /tǝ/ or even just /t/ before vocalic sounds eg in It's `hard to under`stand /ɪts `hɑːd t ʌndǝ`stand/ A very common usage these days is the double weakform combination of to and have to produce /tæv/. See §101.
98. The strongform is /tuː/ especially used when to is an adverb eg / tuː ǝn `frǝʊ/ to and fro, /pʊʃ ðǝ `dɔː tu/ push the door to, in which the speaker may equally possibly give the tonic stress on the to as in / pʊʃ ðǝ dɔː `tuː/.
99. Unstressed sentence-finally (where the preposition is "stranded") either the strongform or /tu/ may be heard eg /wɒts i `ʌp tu (ː) / What's he up to? The difference between them is physically gradient. A rhythmic pressure on the to as when it takes the second element of a falling-rising tone may (though does not necessarily) induce the strongform eg / aɪ `dǝʊnt `hæv ˏtu (ː) / I don't have to.
100. The preposition to has an occasional unsyllabic weakform /tw/ (far from essential in EFL learning terms). It is used only before words beginning with vocalic sounds, so that eg /tw ɪnspaɪǝ/ to inspire can be homophonous with twin spire.
101. In a usage which the EFL learner need not take as a model the preposition to sometimes takes the weakform /t/ before have in its aitchless weakform /av/. Eg /ðeɪ siːm tǝv `gɒn/ They seem to have gone. Diana Quick playing aristocrat Lady Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited (1981 UK Channel 4 tv serial) sed "I should like to have /tav/ a child". Awareness of the existence of this usage may perhaps occasionally aid comprehension.
102. The vowel of to is sometimes voiceless suggesting a possible phonemic transcription /t `teɪk/ for to take. EFL users need not make efforts to aim for this.
103. Some speakers use a weakform /tʊ/ rather than /tu/. Before vowels the difference is often hardly detectable. Before pause the more prominently it is articulated the more old-fashioned and/or conspicuously "refined" or regional it sounds.
104. The following verbal weakforms, except parts of to be, are all auxiliary verbs. These auxiliaries do not end sentences etc except occasionally in the case of have.
105. am /ǝm, m/ eg /(ǝ)m aɪ `raɪt/ Am I right? / ˈwaɪ (ǝ)m `aɪ wɒntɪd/ Why am I wanted? /ˈhuː(ǝ)m aɪ `sɪtɪŋ wɪð/ Who am I sitting with? The simple /m/ forms are quite normal in conversation but not used in 'careful' speech and the written form ’m is rarely seen other than in the contraction I'm. These weakforms occur only in interrogative etc inversions. The expression I am when not sentence-final or stressed on either word takes the form of the contraction /aɪm/ also written informally I'm. The strongform /æm/ occurs freely unstressed after pause (ie at the beginnings of sentences or in rhythmically equivalent situations) and is the only possibility sentence-finally eg /hiz `klevrǝ ðǝn `ˏaɪ æm / He's cleverer than I am, / ju `nǝʊ aɪ æm / You know I am. The complete impossibility of the weakform sentence-finally was highlighted by the wittily outrageous rhyme in the Ira Gershwin lyric (Girl Crazy, 1930) I'm bidin' my time / 'Cause that's the kinda guy I'm. One of the best known recordings of this song ruins the rhyme – and the joke – when the singer makes I'm into I am despite the obvious intentions of its writer who probably wanted it to sound comically "folksy" (though it's probably not a genuine feature of any dialect of English).
106. Many EFL users obtain an appropriately short rhythmic value for their attempt at I'm only at the expense of the identity of its vowel which they convert into a monophthong which sounds like am or alm. The more clearly this is uttered the more likely it is to sound abnormal to most native speakers (other than in the US South). This is very different from the way I'll is very frequently (arguably predominantly) /ɑːl/ as we noted at §20.
107. are /ə/ eg /`hɑːts ǝ trʌmps/ Hearts are trumps, /wɒt ǝ ju `duːɪŋ/ What are you doing? /`ðiːz ǝr ɔːl raɪt/ These are all right. The strongform /ɑː/ occurs quite often unstressed after pause ie sentence-initially etc (though with a very slightly more formal flavour than the weakform). Before pause, ie sentence-finally etc, the strongform is always used eg (I'm going. /ǝ ˊjuː /Are you?) /ǝv `kɔːs wi ɑː / Of course we are.
108. Unstressed but not final in any clause or sentence, we are, you are and they are are best targeted in ordinary conversation as /wɪǝ/ or /wɛː/, / jɔː/ and / ðeǝ /. These weakform compound words, which are informally spelt we’re, you’re and they're, are used unless the speaker needs to employ a stressed are as in sentences like You ˋare ˏkind or Toˋˏday we're `not at liberty ˋ but toˋˏmorrow we ˋare free.
109. be / bi / eg / duː bi `kwaɪǝt / Do be quiet, / `aɪl bi ɪn / I'll be in.
110. The strongform is / biː/ eg / wɒt kǝn ɪt `biː / What can it be? /aɪ `ʃæl ˏbi (ː)/ I shall be. As with the other /i/ weakforms, there is little difference between the strongform when it is not strongly stressed and the weakform. Even the contrast between /i/ and /ɪ/ is very weak in many contexts so that eg briskly articulated I'll be there could be said to be either / `aɪl bi ðeǝ / or / `aɪl bɪ ðeǝ /.
111. Some speakers feel they have a regular weakform /bɪ/. Whether or not that impression provides the best basis for analysis (they could perhaps be categorised as favouring a different prosody rather than possessing a different system from the majority), if someone utters eg It can't be with exactly the same vowel quality for its last vowel as for its first, the more prominent and/or long the final vowel is the more old-fashioned and/or conspicuously "refined" it sounds.
/ kn / eg / aɪ kn `siː/ I can see.
difference between /kn/
and /kǝn/ is not always easily perceptible but, since the EFL learner
can perhaps sometimes make too much of the usually very short vowel
element of /kǝn/, it seems advisable to have /kn/ as target value
except where OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE operates. The
normal form before
vowel sounds is definitely /kǝn/, eg /wi kǝn `ɑːsk/ We can ask, /kǝn
`aɪ help ju/ Can I help you?
In sentence-initial use, as in this last
example, the strongform would sound only slightly more formal.
Sentence-finally, of course, only the strongform is possible eg /aɪm
`ʃɔː ju kæn/ I'm sure you can.
113. do /dǝ/ but before vowel sounds /du/ eg /dǝ ðeɪ `nǝʊ/ Do they know? /wɒt dǝ ðeɪ `kɒst/ What do they cost? /haʊ du aɪ duː `ðæt/ How do I do that?
114. The very constant
collocation of do with
you has produced
a weakform compound /djuː/ or /ʤuː/ (which itself has the essential weakform
/dju/ or /ʤu/ ). It is normally used for do
you unless the word you is
separately stressed. The spelling d'you, like -n't spellings,
is commonly seen in representations of conversational English.
Examples: /dju `siː/ D'you see? /haʊ
dju (or ʤu or ʤǝ) `duː/
How do you do /dǝ `juː nǝʊ ðm / Do you know them? /aɪl `tel ju wɒt
duː/ I'll tell you what you do.
In recent times a stressed /dǝ/ has been preferred by some speakers to initial /duː/ eg Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited (1981 ITV serial) said "You dont want to spend the rest of your life with Kurt, / ́də ju/ "
115. The weakform /dju/ is
distinguishable from /ʤu/, which is at least as commonly used.
The word did has the only occasionally heard familar weakforms /d/ and /dd/ chiefly in questions like /ˈhaʊ dd ɪt `goʊ/ How did it go? / ˈwen d ɪt `hæpm / When did it happen?
116. does /dz̩/ eg /dz̩ `pi:tə/ Does Peter? /wɒt dz̩ `ðæt miːn/ What does that mean? The distinction between /dəz/ and /dz̩/ is often hardly perceptible so /dz̩/ perhaps makes a preferable EFL target. But OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE regularly produces /dəz/ if a vowel sound follows (cf was) eg /wɒt dәz ɪt `miːn/ What does it mean? /dəz `ɑːθə/ Does Arthur? The strongform is /dʌz/ eg / `tɒm dʌz/ Tom does.
117. had /əd/ eg /wɒt əd i `dʌn/ What had he done? This weakform is usually avoided sentence-initially (except sometimes when a stressed word follows beginning with /h/) the form /həd/ being preferred eg /həd i hæd ə ˊlɒt/ Had he had a lot? /həd ju ˊfɪnɪʃt/ Had you finished? /(h)əd `hiː hæd ɪt/ Had he had it? /haʊ meni əd i `hæd/ How many had he had? (Who'd been with him?) / `aɪ hæd / I had.
118. In completely fluent speech main-verb (ie non-auxiliary) have, has and had may be heard in weakforms with elision of /h/ but unreduced /æ/ eg /`hi æd nəʊ ˏmʌni/ He had no money. This kind of aitchless form is more common in GA than GB usage. This example sounds quite ordinary in GB in the context of a preceding beginning with /h/ but /i æd nəʊ.../ might well sound markedly hurried or casual in GB.
119. In such situations the normal contractions may occur but curiously enough I’ve no money is less colloquial in style than I've got no money because it suggests conscious avoidance of to have got to express possession which has been criticised by some prescriptivist writers.
120. A few common non-concrete expressions more or less avoid the impression of self-consciousness, eg I’ve an idea, but He'd no money or I've none don't sound conversational and I've a pen sounds markedly formal; he’s a dog would no doubt usually be avoided even in the north of England where similar usages are common.)
121. Of the above examples of the strongform /hæd/ all are main-verb occurrences except for the last. No other weakform is used in conversation if any of the seven pronoun-plus-had weakform compounds I'd, you'd, he'd, she'd, we'd, they'd, there'd is appropriate. Thus both /aɪ həd / and /aɪ əd `fɪnɪʃt / for I had finished tend to sound abnormally formal or slow. There is also a weakform compound /huːd/ which often replaces /huː əd/ Who had...
122. have /əv, v, əv/ eg /ðə klaʊdz əv `gɒn/ The clouds have gone, /ðə `smɪθs əv fəʊnd/ The Smiths have phoned. This weakform is a permanent constituent of the five pronoun-plus-have weakform compounds I've, we've, you've, they've and (though only rarely so spelt) there've. Sentence-initially have usually occurs as /həv/. However sometimes, in very colloquial but quite common usage when the next word is (usually unstressed) we or, more often, you, reduction to /v/ occurs eg /v ju ˊfɪnɪʃt/ Have you finished? Another common conversational (not a casual-colloquial) occurrence of /v/ is in the double-weakform compounds to've /təv, tuv & təv/, hardly if ever represented so in traditional orthography or ever stressed, eg /ðeɪ siːm təv `gɒn/ They seem to have gone. The aitchless but full-vowel form /æv/ is rather more common in GA than in GB where it is mainly confined to infinitival use as in /ðeɪ siːm tav `plenti/ They seem to have plenty. For example at 8 May 2012 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a public speech "...a re`minder as to why we have /əv/ to remain `ˏvigilant"... This would have been unusual from a GB speaker who would have most probably in similar circumstances used /həv/. The /v/-only weakform can also occur occasionally after any other weak vowel eg /ðeɪ ʃɔːli v `gɒn/ They surely have gone. Just as we noted at our account of the other /əv/, the weakform of of at §95 above, have has the casual colloquial weakform /ə/ before consonants as in eg /aɪ 'maɪt ə `nəʊn/ I might have known.
123. has /z/ eg /hiz `gɒn/ He's gone, /wɒts `hæpənd/ What (ha)s happened? In written representations of conversational speech the spelling apostrophe-s is regularly used in conjunction with preceding personal pronouns and with it for the auxiliary uses of has. This /z/ is a genuine weakform since it can freely occur after any subject substantive or noun group which doesn't involve the articulatory feature of ending with a sibilant. This is unlike the final elements of the weakform-compounds I'm, I've, I'd etc. In not constituting a syllable this item is almost unique among weakforms excepting that it coincides with the weakform of is.
124. When /z/ occurs after one of the sharp consonants /p, t, k, f, θ/ it is traditional to transcribe it phonemically with /s/. As there is no possible contrast between the phonemes /s/ and /z/ in such a situation, showing such an assimilation is not particularly meaningful. The tradition, however, is no doubt best respected if only because after any of the nasals or /l/ a clear contrast is present eg /ðǝ ˋˏpenz ˈǝʊnli ˈkɒst ɪm ˈnaɪnti `pens/ The pen's only cost him ninety pence.
125. After words ending in any of the sibilant consonants /s, z; ʃ, ᴣ; ʧ, ʤ/ the weakform /əz/ is used, eg / ði `aɪs əz meltɪd / The ice has melted.
126. In sentence-initial position the weakform /həz/ is used, eg /həz i `fɪnɪʃt/ Has he finished? If the second word in such a sentence begins with /h/ the form /əz/ is more commonly heard, eg /(h)əz `hæri hæd ɪz h/ Has Harry had his `hair cut?
127. When has follows a sentence-initial interrogative monosyllable either /z/ or /əz/ may occur, eg /haʊz i `dʌn/ or /haʊ əz i `dʌn/ How (ha)s he done? The vowelled form may perhaps sound slightly the more formal, the other the more relaxed.
128. is /z/ eg /hiz `kʌmɪŋ/ He's coming. All that has been said above about has applies equally to is except that sentence-initially and after sibilants the strongform of is is /ɪz/. The strongform may occur under very weak stress or something not clearly either that or the weakform.
129. must /məst/ eg /wi məst `ɑːsk/ We must ask. As with all words ending in such a cluster, reduction to /məs/ often occurs before many following consonants, most usually so if the syllable is unstressed eg /aɪ məs prɪ`peə/ I must prepare.
130. shall /ʃl/ eg / `aɪ ʃl gəʊ/ I shall go. OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE produces /ʃəl/ before vowel sounds eg /ʃəl `aɪ gəʊ/ Shall I go? The strongform is /ʃæl/ eg /`ʃæl wi/ Shall we? In relaxed informal styles the further weakening /ʃə/ may be heard unstressed before consonants eg /ʃə wi ˊgəʊ/ Shall we go?
/wz̩/ eg /ðæt wz̩
`maɪn/ That was mine. The
between /wəz/ and /wz̩/ is often hardly perceptible so /wz̩/ makes
perhaps a suitable EFL target. But OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE
produces /wəz/ if a vowel sound follows. Cf does.
Examples /wz `pɔːl/ Was Paul? /wəz `ælən/ Was Alan? The strongform is /wɒz/, eg /`huː wɒz/ Who was? /aɪ wz `wʌndrɪŋ wɒt ɪt ˏwɒz | ðət wz `kipɪŋ ðm/ I was wondering what it was that was keeping them.
132. were /wə/ eg /wi wə `ðeə/ We were there, /ðeɪ wər `aut/ They were out. The strongform is /wɜː/ eg / `wiː wɜː/ We were.
133. will /l/, eg /`ðæt l ˏduː/ That'll do. Regularly if the subject word ends in /l/ and often after an unstressed non-r-linking vocalic sound /əl/ is used eg /`bɪl əl gəʊ/ Bill will go, /`bɪli əl gəʊ/ Billy will go, /tə`mɒrəʊ əl duː/ Tomorrow will do.
134. At the beginnings of rhythm groups /wl/ is used before consonant sounds but before vowel sounds, by OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE, either /wəl/ or the strongform /wɪl/ occurs, eg /wl `ðæt duː/ Will that do /weə wəl ɪt `biː/ Where will it be?
135. No weakform of will is used, except in markedly formal style, when any of the seven weakform compounds I'll, you'll, he'll, she'll, we'll, they'll or there'll is appropriate, eg /`aɪl bi ðeə/ I'll be there in which the /l/ is not normally syllabic but /aɪl/ or /ɑːl/.
136. Note on quasi-sentence-final verb forms.
Not only do all verbs take their strongforms at the ends of rhythm groups, but the presence after sentence-penultimate (auxiliary) verb forms of the weakest kind of monosyllable does not prevent them from behaving as if they were completely final in the group. There are only altogether about fifteen of these very weak monosyllables, viz the words be and been and various monosyllabic pronouns. Eg /haʊ `əʊld æm aɪ/ How old am I? /huːz `prɒpəti ɑː ðeɪ/ Whose property are they /haʊ `bɪg wɜː ðeɪ/ How big were they? /aɪ `njuː wɒt ɪt wɒz ðət wz ðə mætə/ I knew what it was that was the matter.
137. would /wəd/ and /əd/. These weakforms are used by all native speakers of English but they may almost always be replaced by the strongform /wʊd/. Examples where their use would tend to sound unnatural or deliberate would be expressions like It would be nice if it would stop raining as /ɪt wəd bi `naɪs ɪf ɪt wəd ˈstɒp `ˏreɪnɪŋ/ or I'd love one /aɪ wəd `lʌv wʌn/.
138. Two further words, the honorific prefixed titles Saint and Sir, constitute a very minor further group of weakform words. They are normally given weakforms in General British pronunciation but not in most of the rest of the English-speaking world.
139. Saint /snt/ eg /snt `ændruːz/ St Andrews, /snt `ʤɒn/ St John. ALTERNATE STRESS PREFERENCE may strengthen it to /ˈsənt/ if the name begins with an unstressed syllable, eg /ˈs(ə)nt ə`gʌstɪn/ St Augustine. Or it might prompt adoption of the strongform as /ˈseɪnt ə`gʌstɪn/.
140. Sir /sə/ eg /sə `ʤɒn/ Sir John, /sər `ɑːθə/ Sir Arthur.
141. Any EFL user who attempts to absorb all the information presented above will certainly be ambitious. The English system of weakforms is certainly not lacking in complexity but it is no doubt worthwhile trying at least to understand what the main problems are. Some students, especially those who have had little or no instruction in such matters previously, may be initially tempted to assume the existence of weakforms which English speakers either do not have at all or use in only very limited ways (and so can be ignored). Certainly they will find in various textbooks accounts of other weakforms which their authors appear to consider necessary for the learner to acquire. They are mainly unrealistic.
142. At least one widely used book includes an account of the weakform of there with a schwa as in /ðər ɪz/ there is. Though it may very well represent the predominant way in which native speakers handle that word, the criterion for including items in the foregoing list was whether it would sound at all unnatural if an EFL user did not conform to such a usage. Only for that reason is it omitted from the list above. For similar reasons the list has not followed Kingdon (1969) in including weakforms of would and could, or Jones (1932 etc) in including many of his sixty items such as been, many, me, or, till etc.
143. Some of these are extremely common in very limited ranges of situation but may prove seriously unsuitable in wider use. For example or has the weakform /ə/ very often between numerals and in a few further limited situations but in general and uttered unhurriedly eg in blue or green, heads or tails, man or woman etc it could sound very odd, eg sounding like the nonsensical *blue a green or *heads are tails.
144. Some students try to use weakforms of other monosyllabic prepositions than the five listed, eg of in and on, with again often unacceptable results. Very occasionally, in what are usually regarded as fairly markedly casual styles of speaking, mothertongue users of English do use weakforms of such words eg in Made in England /ˈmeɪd n̩ `ɪŋglənd/ I'm not in a/ nɒt n̩ ə/ hurry or Cat on a hot tin roof /kat n̩ ə/ etc. These n's are by no means always syllabic if a vowel follows but they will be so if a consonant does eg when Lawrence Olivier as Lord Marchmain in the UK television Channel 4 dramatisation of Brideshead Revisited said sit in /n̩/ the open air.
145. Other learners invent a quite abnormal sounding sentence-final weakform of then. Yet others tend to presume misguidedly that because have has a weakform having must have one too. See also the remark at am above.
146. The best way to acquire a thorough and reliable grasp of such matters is to practise making phonemic transcriptions of (ideally prosodically marked) texts for which correct versions are obtainable, preferably under the guidance of a teacher.
147. Weakforms and Written
Weakforms are not indicated in the spelling of English but weakform compounds are widely if unsystematically used in the representation of speech and also, to an extent which seemed to increase a good deal during the second half of the twentieth century, in less conservative styles of journalism etc.
148. The form 'em for the pronunciation /əm/ is historically essentially an independent word rather than the weakform of the pronoun them as it is no doubt generally perceived. Except in representing dialectal speech it is only used to indicate very familiar types of conversation. Unorthodox spellings such as fer for for, 'im for him etc, though they could be used to represent normal educated pronunciations are never so employed. One might find an uneducated speaker represented as saying So 'e 'anded 'er 'er 'at instead of So he handed her her hat in which the spellings of he and her (both times) correspond to the aitchless weakforms perfectly normal in educated usage /sǝʊ i ˈhandɪd ɜːr ɜː `hat/.