Functor etc Weakform Words and
Contractions for the Advanced EFL User
1. Shorter treatments than the following ten thousand or so words have
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 onwards 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.
numbers of English
their forms by losing weak
syllables completely or reducing their articulation in response to the
rhythmic pressures occurring within sentences. The fullest forms of
words may be called their primary forms or, less precisely, their
strongforms and the reduced forms their weakforms. The solid spellings “weakform” and
“strongform” are not generally used by other
writers but are preferred
here if only 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 weakforms'. Comparison may be made with the usefully
different spellings black bird and blackbird. This description applies
the usage of individual speakers: one person's weakform may be
another's strongform. Cf ¶38 below. Certain writers may be seen to assert
that (functor) weakforms "may never be stressed". This may be effective pedagogy
but it is not logically sound. 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 speakers who citationally say it as /`wenzdeɪ/, very
often a weakform /`wenzdi/. This they use in situations where the
word is under rhythmic pressure such as in /wenzdi `mɔːnɪŋ/ Wednesday morning. See also our Blog #410.
3. A (phonemic) 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 a foreign
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
4. The use of weakforms of function
universal in all forms of
mothertongue English worldwide, tho 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
wish to adopt General British English usages. General American
operates without two weakforms normal in General British (see¶¶139 &
140 below) but otherwise has hardly any differences from GB. Weakforms
make such a very large contribution to
the characteristic rhythm of the language that failure to use something
like a reasonable quota of them, which is extremely common among EFL
speakers, can result in at times very abnormal effects even if most or
all of the other features of an expression are quite idiomatic. Such
for example would be the speaking with no or very few weakforms of such
very ordinary sentences as the following.
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 hæv tə traɪ ən get sm kæʃ frəm ɑː bæŋk ət
səʊ ðət ðeɪ kn hæv ðə mʌni ðət ðeɪ wɒnt əz suːn 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 ʃæl hæv tu traɪ ænd get sʌm kæʃ frɒm aʊǝ bæŋk æt
səʊ ðæt ðeɪ kæn hæv ði mʌni ðæt ðeɪ wɒnt æz suːn æz pɒsɪbl.
wɒt ɑː ðeɪ ekspektɪŋ ʌs tu peɪ ðem /
7. Although failure to
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 / fɔː
/ weeks, but he's known it / fɔː / months.
In this, if the EFL
speaker intended for weeks
and for months a native
it so uttered would be extremely likely in many circumstances to
interpret it as four weeks
and four months.
11. He was going /
tuː / 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 tuː /.
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
15. I expect that
John told them.
always /ðæt/, is often, especially
before a person's name, used to imply dislike, disapproval etc. The
relative is invariably /ðәt /.
16. Don't take it
If the strongform /tuː/ is used instead of the
/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
therefore, what may be claimed to be
the most important words in conversational English for those who set
out to speak the language 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 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.
|could not||couldn't||/kʊdnt/ Minority weakform: /kǝdnt/|
|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||/juːsnt/ |
|was not||wasn't||/wɒznt/ Minority weakform:/wǝznt/. |
|were not||weren't||/wɜːnt/||/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, niːdn, ʃʊdn & wɒzn/occur before breaks
but may tend to sound casual.
21. Most of the pronoun-verb contractions have weakforms
but none of these is essential for EFL use except possibly /dju/ d'you.
|let us||let's||/lets/||See us below|
|do you||(d'you)||/djuː, dʒuː /|| 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 /weǝ/|
|you are||you're||/jɔː/ The weakform /jǝ/ may sound casual sentence-initially in GB.|
|/jʊǝ/ is unusual|
|they are||they're||/ðeǝ/ Weakforms / ðǝ, ðe/.|
/ðeɪǝ/ is only used formally.
|I will||I'll||/aɪl/ Very frequent weakform /ɑːl/|
|you will||you'll||/juːl/||or /jɔːl,
|he will||he'll||/hiːl/||or /hɪl/|
|she will||she'll||/ʃiːl/||or /ʃɪl/|
|we will||we'll||/wiːl/||or /wɪl/|
|they will||they'll||/ðeɪl/||or /ðeǝl/|
|there will||there'll||/ðeǝl/||or /ðel/|
/aɪǝv/ is only used formally.
/juːǝv/ is only used formally.
/wiːǝv/ is only used formally.
/ðeɪǝv/ is only used formally
/aɪǝd/ is only used formally.
/juːǝd/ is only used formally.
/hiːǝd/ is only used formally.
/ʃiːǝd/ is only used formally.
/wiːǝd/ is only used formally.
/ðeɪǝd/ is only used formally.
/huːǝd/ is only used formally.
/aɪǝd/ is only used formally.
/juːǝd/ is only used formally.
/hiːǝd/ is only used formally.
/ʃiːǝd/ is only used formally.
/wiːǝd/ is only used formally.
/ðeɪǝd/ is only used formally.
/huːǝd/ is only used formally.
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.
Words with Special Weakforms
22. The list which follows
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
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 `hæz/ 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.
/ ǝ / eg / ǝ `mæn / 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 `æpl
/ 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
after simple /t/ or /d/ or after any
of the simple fricatives ie /f, v, θ, ð, s, z, ʃ, ӡ /, a syllabic /n/
is usual. Eg I had an idea
/aɪ hæd 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
29. her /ɜː,
ə, hə/. The
first form /ɜː/ is the most usual adjectival weakform, eg /ɪts ɜː
`hændbæg/ It's her handbag. Such a remark wd be possible with /ə/ but it wd then be ambiguous with a handbag. /ˈtel ər ɜː `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 hæd 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 /hɜː bæg/ Her bag
/ðeər ɔːl hər `əʊn/ They're all her
31. When her
an object pronoun /ə/ is the usual form especially in
rhythmically close-knit expressions, eg /`tel ə /Tell her. Especially in careful,
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
her; /tel hə `nəʊ/ Tell her
"no". However, /hæv ɜː `hʌri/ Have her hurry would be unusual (eg fussy-sounding) with an aitch form.
32. The strongform /hɜː/ and
fairly often replace adjectival /ɜː/
eg /wɒts hɜː/ or /hə `neɪm/ What's
her name? But /həʊld ɜː `hænd/ Hold
her hand and similarly aitch-flanked expressions are not so
likely to be said with /hɜː/ or /hə/ because of preference for
DISSIMILATIVE ELISION of /h/.
Cf in her ears /ɪn ɜːr `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 hæd ɜːˈhæt ɪn ɜː`hænd/ it would be pedantic to sound the /h/ in the words her (§7867).
33. Note that herself
usually /ə`self/ or /ɜː`self/ eg /dɪd ʃi `hɜːt əself/ Did she hurt herself ? /ʃil meɪk
əself `ɪl/ She'll make herself ill,
/ʃil gəʊ ɜː`self/ She'll go herself.
34. Note also that the
exhibits only one form /hɜːz/ whether stressed or not eg /aɪ `nəʊ ɪts
hɜːz / I know it's hers.
35. his /ɪz
/ eg / ɒn ɪz
əʊn / on his own; /ˈgɪv ɪm ɪz ˎhæt bæk/ Give him his hat back.
Occasionally even in aitch-free environments by many
strongform is used, eg /`weəz hɪz `kɑː/ Where's his car? But /(h)iz hæd ɪz
`heə kʌt / is the normal fluent form of He's had his hair cut.
He got to his feet with /hɪz/ 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.
/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.
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 /ɑːz/
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
40. The element our-
in ourselves usually
the weakform eg /wi helpt ɑː`selvz/ We
helped ourselves, /wi θɪŋk ɑːselvz `lʌki/ We think ourselves lucky.
/ sm / eg /sm ˊtiː/
Some tea? OPEN
PREFERENCE produces the weakform /səm/ when a vowel follows eg
`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
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
SYLLABLE PREFERENCE prompts the insertion of a schwa vowel, eg
/sǝ ˊmɔː/ Some more?
/ðǝ/, but before vowel sounds
/ði/, eg /ðǝ `mæn/ the man,
`æpl/ the apple, /ðǝ ˈjʌŋ ǝn
ði `ǝʊld/ the young and the old. The
strongform /ðiː/ 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 Blue's `the colour this
ˏseason 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 "special" sense of the traditional strongform might be felt to be inappropriate.
/jǝ/ eg / hɪǝz jǝ `pen/ Here's
The weakform of your may very often be replaced by
strongform /jɔː/ with little or no loss of naturalness especially
sentence-initially eg /jɔː `kӕbz 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 /'meɪk ʌp jǝ ˏmaɪnd/ Make up your mind.
47. However, the weakform no
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. /ˋhәʊld jә `ˏhɔːsɪz/ Hold your horses. /ˈɪf ju ˈʧeɪnʤ ə ˏmaɪnd.../ If you change your mind... (often 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 /jә-/ eg / ˈhelp jә`self / Help yourself, /ˋmeɪk
jǝself ǝt ˏhǝʊm/ Make yourself at home, /ɪn`ʤɔɪ jǝˏselvz
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,
i `kɑːnt/ He says he can't,
/haʊ dәz i `nәʊ i kɑːnt/ How does he
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
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. /ˈhɪt ɪm `hɑːd/ 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`maɪәz hɪm|bǝt ʃi ˋdʌznt `ˏlaɪk
ɪm/ She admires
him but she doesn't like him.
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
used by a minority of speakers in unstressed positions
tends to sound rather careful. Such speakers are mostly not consistent
employing the usage and in particular less often use /hɪm/ unstressed beside other
/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 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
55. As with the final vowel
of words like happy, the more
the vowel sounds like the /ɪ/ of bit
(or even slightly more centralised towards a "schwa" /ә/ 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.
/ðm / eg / `traɪ ðm / Try 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. Likewise Have them eat is generally
indistinguishable from Have the meat.
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 usually without any
very clearly heard schwa ie /ðm`selvz/, eg /ðeɪ
ˈni:d ðm ðm`selvz/ They need them
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
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 ˋˏall of ˳us│ 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/.
/wi/ eg /wi `ɑːr, `ɑː wi/ We are, are
we? / `hɪә wi ˏɑː/ Here
we are. The strongform is /wiː/ eg / `wiː duː / We do. The vowel values
exactly parallel me and she.
/ju/ eg /ju `duː, `dәʊnt ju/ You do,
don't you? / `θæŋk ju/
Thank you. The strongform is
/juː/ eg / ɪts fә `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 /jә/ 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
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
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.
sentences they usually sound only slightly less fluent in their
strongforms than in their weakforms.
/әn/ eg /ɪn әn `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 ˎkәʊt/ hat and coat, /ˈhɔːs n ˎkɑːt/ horse and cart.
Especially with and (rather
than an which compare above §28)
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 әn `fʊt/ hand and foot.
69. There is another
weakform of and /әnd/ 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 so 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 BBC newsreader tends to seem to be talking not of England
and Wales but of England
She has 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`membә/ And remember...,
/æn(d) ә`nʌðә θɪŋ/ And another thing...
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 buttered bread slices. 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
by a colleague of his.
/әz/ eg /әz waɪt әz `snәʊ / as white
as snow, /duː әz `aɪ
duː/ Do as I do, /әz ɪf `aɪ
keәd/ As if I cared!
73. In the sentence-initial
phrases as from, as for, as it is
strongform /æz/ is commonly used even if the word is unstressed. Eg /æz
ә `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
/ bәt / eg / bәt `waɪ / But why ?
Besides a conjunction but
may also at times be a preposition as in /ɔːl bәt `wʌn/ all but one.
76. The strongform /bʌt/ fairly often occurs
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
omits the vowel /ә/ is heard in ordinary ie
unhurried non-casual conversational styles.
consonants only eg /ɪts nɒt sә `kәʊld tәˏdeɪ/
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 sә `mʌʧ әz ˏðæt/ Not so much
as that, /`nɒt sә ˏbæd/ Not so bad.
79. The strongform is common sentence-initially eg / sәʊ `ðeә/ So there! /ɪts ˈnɒt ˈkwaɪt sә
`naɪs| nɔː sәʊ `iːzi/ It's not quite
nice, nor so easy. It is of course invariably used if it is stressed eg /nɒt `sәʊ 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 /ðәn/ before vowel sounds
ðәn `evә/ 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 /ðәn/ is usually not very noticeable
because speakers usually make the schwa vowel so short in /ðәn/.
In genuinely conversational style the strongform
/ðæn/ is virtually
/ðәt/ eg /ˈθɪŋz
ðәt `mætә/ Things that matter.
that takes a weakform. It has
virtually no strongform.
82. Demonstrative that
takes a weakform, eg /ðæts `raɪt/ That's
right, /ɪts ðæt `mæn әgen/ It's
that man again, /ɪt `wɒznt ɔːl ðæt
ˏdɪfɪklt/ It wasn't all that difficult,
/ðæts ˈɔl ðәt aɪ kn `seɪ/ That's
all that I can say, /ˈwaɪ teɪk ˈɔːl ðæt `trʌbl/ Why take all that trouble
83. For demonstrative that
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 / ðeә `lɑːfɪŋ æt әs/ 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
to them. These are examples of the working of ALTERNATE STRESS
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
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 ә
`bɪt әv ɪt/ with /aɪd laɪk ә `ˏbɪt ˳ɒv 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
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 ðә `ˏmәʊmәnt/ or
/`әt ðә `ˏmәʊmәnt /At the moment...
/`fɔː ðә `ˏpreznt/ or /fә ðә `ˏpreznt /
For the present... /`frɒm ә
`ˏdɪstәns/ or /frәm ә `ˏdɪstәns / From
88. at /әt/ eg /әt
`wʌns/ at once,
/әt `brekfәst/ at breakfast. The
strongform is /æt/, eg /ˈwɒt wә ðeɪ `lɑːfɪŋ æt/ What were they laughing
at? /aɪm `hәʊplәs æt ɪt/ I'm
hopeless at it, /`æt ˏθriː| bәt `nɒt `ɑːftә ˏθriː/ At three, but not after three.
89. It is perhaps worth
noting that the
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 /ә`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 /әt `ɔːl/ stations?
with the reply No, it doesn't stop
/ә`tɔːl/. The latter expression at all is fully distinct by virtue
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
not at all black.
/fә/ eg /fә `gʊd/ for good, /fәr `evә/ 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`spɒnsәbl 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 ә mәʊmәnt/ for a moment... Thus for a man and
from Ann are often
homophonous. Compare also /ɪn fr ә `peni/ In for a
penny (in for a pound)
and /ɪnfrә red/ infra-red.
92. Besides the normal
there is a stressed-only
weakform /fɒr/ in standard usage employed only with inserted /r/ before
words beginning with vocalic sounds eg /ðeәz 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.
/frm / eg /frm
`ʤɒn/ from John.
OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE
produces /frәm/ before vowel sounds eg / frәm ә`brɔːd / from abroad.
The strongform /frɒm/ occurs under stress, sentence-finally and before
weakly stressed pronouns in eg /fɑː`frɒm ɪt/ Far from it, /weә dәz i `kʌm frɒm/ Where does he come
from? /aɪ bɔːt maɪ `wɒʧ frɒm ðm / I bought my watch from them.
/әv/ eg /ә kaɪnd
әv `bɒks / a
kind of box /; ˈðæts ˏgʊd әv ju/
that's good of you, /ˈθɪŋk әv ә ˎnʌmbә/ think of a number, /ɪn ðə `θɪk əv ɪt/ in the thick of it.
strongform /ɒv/ occurs sentence-finally or under stress eg /wɒts ɪt
`meɪd ɒv/ What's it made of? /θɪŋk
`ɒv ɪt/ Think nothing of it.
(This last expression is to be regarded as a STRESS IDIOM
(used as a deprecation of thanks) by reason of its unusual climactic stress on the
95. The EFL learner need aim
at no other
weakform of of than /әv/. 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 /ә kʌp ә `tiː/ a cup of tea especially if they are constantly uttered briskly as is the case with /wʌn ә ðә../ One of the.. where there is RHYTHMIC PRESSURE produced by the occurrence of of before
unstressed /ðә/. Cf §122 below. In that very common phrase it's not very unusual for the word of to be deleted altogether in 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
produce very unnatural forms. Such would be the case with /ә/ instead
of the normal /әv/ 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 /mӕn ə `wɔː/ but a man of peace is much less likely 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
/tә/ eg /tә `let/
To let, /ˈseɪm
tә `juː/ Same to you, /`nɒt tә ˏwʌri/ Not to worry. The
weakform /tә/ is only used when the next sound
is consonantal. When it's a vowel /tu/ is used, eg /tu `ɑːsk/ to ask,
/tu `ɪŋglәnd/ to England.
This rule doesn't operate if the (non-phonemic) consonant [ʔ] is
inserted by the speaker for emphasis eg / tə `ʔɑːsk/. Quite a lot of
people in recent years don't seem to need the glottal plosive's
presence to discourage them from using /tә/ or even just /t/ before
vocalic sounds. 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 әn
`frәʊ/ to and fro, /pʊʃ
`dɔː tuː/ push the door to,
in which the speaker may
equally possibly give the tonic stress on the to as in /pʊʃ ðә dɔː `tuː/.
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 `dәʊnt `ˏhæv ˳tu(ː)/ I don't have to.
100. The preposition to has
unsyllabic weakform /tw/ (far
from essential in EFL learning terms). It is used only before words
beginning with vocalic sounds, so that eg /tw ɪnspaɪә/ to inspire can
be homophonous with twin spire.
101. In a usage which the EFL
not take as a model the
preposition to sometimes
coalesces with have. Eg /ðeɪ
siːm tәv `gɒn/
They seem to have gone.
Diana Quick in Brideshead Revisited (1981 ITV serial) sed "I should like to have /tӕv/ a child". Awareness of the existence of this usage may
perhaps occasionally aid comprehension.
102. The vowel of to
is sometimes voiceless suggesting a
phonemic transcription /t `teɪk/ for to
take. EFL users need not make efforts to aim
103. Some speakers use a
weakform /tʊ/ rather than /tu/.
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.
/әm, m/ eg /(ә)m aɪ `raɪt/ Am I right?
/ˈwaɪ (ә)m `aɪ
wɒntɪd/ Why am
I wanted? /ˈhuː(ә)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.
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 `klevәrә ðәn `ˏaɪ
æm/ He's cleverer than I am, /ju `nәʊ
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
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
106. Many EFL users obtain an
appropriately short rhythmic
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.
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 /ә/ eg /`hɑːts ә trʌmps/ Hearts are trumps, /wɒt ә ju `duːɪŋ/ What are you doing? /`ðiːz әr 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. /ә ˊjuː /Are you?) /әv `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 /wɪә/ or /wɛː/, jɔː/ and /ðeә/. 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 libertyˋ but toˋˏmorrow weˋare free.
/bi/ eg /duː bi `kwaɪәt/ Do be
quiet, /`aɪl bi
ɪn/ I'll be
110. The strongform is /biː/
eg /wɒt kәn 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 ðeә/ or /`aɪl bɪ ðeә/.
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 /kәn/ is not always easily perceptible but, since the EFL learner
can perhaps sometimes make too much of the usually very short vowel
element of /kәn/, it seems advisable to have /kn/ as target value
except where OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE operates. The
normal form before
vowel sounds is definitely /kәn/, eg /wi kәn `ɑːsk/ We can ask, /kәn
`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.
/dә/ but before vowel sounds
/du/ eg /dә ðeɪ
`nәʊ/ Do they
know? /wɒt dә 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 /ʤu/ (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 ʤә) `duː/
How do you do /dә `juː nәʊ ðm /Do you know them? /aɪl `tel ju wɒt
duː/ I'll tell you what you do.
115. The weakform /dju/ is
distinguishable from /ʤu/, which is at least as commonly used.
In recent times a stressed /dә/ 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/ "
The word did has the only occasionally heard familar weakforms /d/ and /dd/ chiefly in questions like /ˈhaʊ dd ɪt `gәʊ/ How did it go? /ˈwen d ɪt `hæpm/ When did it happen?
/dz̩/ eg /dz̩ `pi:tә/ Does Peter?
`ðæt miːn/ What
does that mean? The distinction between /dәz/ and /dz̩/ is often
perceptible so /dz̩/ perhaps makes a preferable EFL target. But OPEN
SYLLABLE PREFERENCE regularly produces /dәz/ if a vowel sound
(cf was) eg /wɒt dәz ɪt
`miːn/ What does it mean?
/dәz `ɑːθә/ Does
Arthur? The strongform is /dʌz/ eg / `tɒm dʌz/ Tom does.
/әd/ eg /wɒt әd
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 /hәd/ being preferred eg /hәd
i hæd ә ˊlɒt/ Had he had a lot? /hәd
ju ˊfɪnɪʃt/ Had you finished?
/(h)әd `hiː hæd ɪt/ Had he had it?
/haʊ meni әd 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
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 formal; he’s a dog would no doubt be avoided even in the north of England where similar usages are common.)
121. Of the above examples of
the strongform /hæd/ all are
occurrences except for the last. No other weakform is used in conversation if any of the
weakform compounds I'd, you'd, he'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 әd/ Who had...
/әv, v, ӕv/ eg /ðә
klaʊdz әv `gɒn/ The clouds have
`smɪθs әv fәʊnd/ 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 /hәv/. 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 & tӕv/, 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 /ӕv/ is rather more common in GA than
in GB where it is mainly confined to infinitival use as in /ðeɪ siːm tӕv `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 /ӕv/ to remain `ˏvigilant"...
This would have been unusual from a GB speaker who would have most
probably in similar circumstances used /hӕv/. 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.
/z/ eg /hiz
`gɒn/ He's gone, /wɒts
happened? In written representations of conversational speech
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
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 /әz/ is used, eg / ði `aɪs әz meltɪd / The ice has
126. In sentence-initial
position the weakform
/hәz/ is used,
eg /hәz i `fɪnɪʃt/ Has he finished?
If the second word in such a
sentence begins with /h/ the form /әz/ is more commonly heard,
eg /(h)әz `hæri hæd ɪt/ Has Harry
127. When has
either /z/ or /әz/ may occur, eg /haʊz i `dʌn/ or /haʊ әz i `dʌn/
(ha)s he done? The vowelled form may perhaps sound slightly the
formal, the other the more relaxed.
/z/ eg /hiz
`kʌmɪŋ/ He's coming. All that
been said above
about has applies equally to is except that sentence-initially
after sibilants the strongform of is
is /ɪz/. The strongform may occur
under very weak stress or something not clearly either that or the
/mәst/ eg /wi
mәst `ɑːsk/ We must ask. As
with all words
ending in such a cluster, reduction to /mәs/ often occurs before many
following consonants, most usually so if the syllable is unstressed eg
/aɪ mәs prɪ`peә/ I must prepare.
/ʃl/ eg / `aɪ
ʃl gәʊ/ I shall go. OPEN
produces /ʃәl/ before vowel sounds eg /ʃәl `aɪ gәʊ/ Shall I go? The
strongform is /ʃæl/ eg /`ʃæl wi/ Shall
In relaxed informal styles the further weakening /ʃә/ may be heard unstressed before consonants eg /ʃә wi ˊgәʊ/Shall we go?
/wz̩/ eg /ðæt wz̩
`maɪn/ That was mine. The
between /wәz/ and /wz̩/ is often hardly perceptible so /wz̩/ makes
perhaps a suitable EFL target. But OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE
produces /wәz/ if a vowel sound follows. Cf does.
Examples /wz `pɔːl/ Was
Paul? /wәz `ælәn/ Was Alan?
is /wɒz/, eg /`huː wɒz/ Who was?
/wә/ eg /wi wә
`ðeә/ We were there, /ðeɪ wәr
were out. The strongform is /wɜː/ eg / `wiː wɜː/ We were.
/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 /әl/ is used eg /`bɪl әl gәʊ/ Bill
will go, /`bɪli әl gәʊ/ Billy
will go, /tә`mɒrәʊ әl duː/ Tomorrow will do.
134. At the beginnings of
rhythm groups /wl/ is used
sounds but before vowel sounds, by OPEN SYLLABLE PREFERENCE,
/wәl/ or the strongform /wɪl/ occurs, eg /wl `ðæt duː/ Will that do?
/weә wәl ɪt `biː/ Where will it be?
135. No weakform of will is
used, except in markedly formal style, when any of the seven
I'll, you'll, he'll, she'll, we'll, they'll or there'll is appropriate,
eg /`aɪl bi ðeә/ 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 `әʊld æm
aɪ/ How old am I? /huːz
`prɒpәti ɑː ðeɪ/ Whose property are
`bɪg wɜː ðeɪ/ How big were they? /aɪ
`njuː wɒt ɪt wɒz ðәt wz ðә mætә/ I
knew what it was that was the
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 sound markedly 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.
/snt/ eg /snt
`ændruːz/ St Andrews, /snt
`ʤɒn/ St John.
ALTERNATE STRESS PREFERENCE may strengthen
it to /ˈsәnt/ if the name begins
with an unstressed syllable, eg /ˈs(ә)nt ә`gʌstɪn/ St Augustine.
Or it might propt adoption of the strongform as /ˈseɪnt ә`gʌstɪn/.
/sә/ eg /sә `ʤɒn/ Sir John,
/sәr `ɑːθә/ Sir
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 /ðәr
ɪz/ there is. Though it may
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
situation but may prove seriously unsuitable in wider use. For example or
has the weakform /ә/ 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
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 /kӕt 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 BBC 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 /әm/ is
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
spellings of he and her (both times) correspond to the
weakforms perfectly normal in educated usage /sǝʊ i ˈhӕndɪd ɜːr ɜː