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English Contractions – Pronunciation of Contractions – Video Lesson

by Oli Redman on 23 September, 2014 , No comments

Do you use contractions like isn’t, I’m or he’d? Many English learners don’t. But, using contractions can really help to improve your English fluency. First, it will help your English listening, because contractions can be difficult to hear if you don’t use them yourself. Secondly, your English speaking will sound more fluent and natural if you use contractions. You can learn more about how to pronounce English contractions in this lesson.

1. How to Make Positive Contractions

Here are the words that can make contractions in English:

  • am → ‘m
  • are → ‘re
  • is → ‘s
  • will → ‘ll
  • would → ‘d
  • have → ‘ve
  • has → ‘s
  • had → ‘d

Let’s see an example in a sentence:

  • You are the nicest person I have ever met.

We can make two contractions here. Can you see where?

You can contract you are to you’re, and I have to I’ve.

  • You’re the nicest person I’ve ever met.

The pronunciation of English contractions can change depending on how fast you’re speaking. The pronunciation can be quite clear and ‘textbook’:

  • You’re the nicest person I’ve met.

Or, the pronunciation can be faster and weaker:

  • You’re the nicest person I’ve met.

English Contractions - Pronunciation of Contractions - nice person image

This fast, weak pronunciation is very common.

Let’s do another example:

  • They will think he has gone completely mad!

Can you see where we can make contractions?

Here’s the answer:

  • They’ll think he’s gone completely mad!

Many learners find English contractions with will difficult to pronounce.

Let’s practice quickly: say they’ll.

As you pronounce the vowel, /eɪ/, slide your tongue forward to add the /l/ sound.

Now, try the full sentence:

  • They’ll think he’s gone completely mad!

Let’s do one more example:

  • I am sure she would call if anything had happened.

Here, you can make three contractions. Can you see them?

We can make contractions with am, would and had:

  • I’m sure she’d call if anything’d happened.

Try saying the sentence.

Do you notice anything here? There are two things which we need to pay attention to.

Firstly, different words (had and would), can have the same contraction: ‘d.

Secondly, the pronunciation of the ‘d contraction is different in she’d and anything’d. Do you know why?

Let’s find out!

2. How to Pronounce English Contractions

Most English contractions have two different pronunciations.

The only contractions which never change are will and am. Contractions of will are always pronounced ‘ll. Am is always ‘m.

Contractions of are, is, would, have, has and had can have different pronunciations.

Why does the pronunciation change? It mostly depends on the sound before the contraction. Sometimes, it depends on the sound after the contraction.

For would, have, and had, it depends whether the sound before the contraction is a vowel or a consonant.

The contraction of have is pronounced /v/ after a vowel sound:

  • I’ve /aɪv/
  • we’ve /wiːv/
  • they’ve /ðeɪv/

After a consonant, the contraction of have is pronounced /əv/:

  • could’ve /’kʊdəv/
  • would’ve /wʊdəv/
  • might’ve /’maɪtəv/

The same rule is true for would and had. The contraction is pronounced /d/ after a vowel, and /əd/ after a consonant:

  • I’d /aɪd/
  • she’d /ʃiːd/

But:

  • it’d /’ɪtəd/
  • Tom’d /’tɒməd/

There’s one exception to this: if someone’s name ends with a vowel sound, we usually treat it like a consonant for contractions. So, if you want to say:

  • Sophie’d help you if you asked her.

Even though Sophie ends with a vowel sound, we generally pronounce the contraction as /əd/, because it’s a name.

Notice how I said ‘usually’ and ‘generally’? It’s because this isn’t exactly a rule. It’s more common, and I advise you to follow it, but not all native speakers speak this way all the time.

Next, let’s look at is and has.

The contraction of is and has is pronounced /z/ after most sounds:

  • he’s /hiːz/
  • there’s /ðeəz/
  • Dave’s /deɪvz/

However, after /t/, /p/, /k/, /f/ or /θ/, the contraction of is or has is pronounced /s/.

  • it’s /ɪts/
  • Seth’s /seθs/
  • top’s /tops/

We don’t contract is or has after the sounds /tʃ/, /ʃ/, /dʒ/, /ʒ/, /s/ or /z/, because the pronunciation of these contractions is too difficult.

That leaves are. Are is a bit different, because the pronunciation depends on the sound after, not before. Look at an example:

  • We’re a good team.
  • We’re the best team.

Before a vowel sound, the contraction of are has a /r/ sound. Before a consonant sound, the contraction is pronounced as a schwa sound: /ə/.

Now, you’ve seen common English contractions and learned about the pronunciation of contractions.

Next, let’s look at:

3. How to make Negative English Contractions

If you have an auxiliary verb plus not, you can put the words together and contract not to n’t.

For example:

  • do not → don’t
  • is not → isn’t
  • have not → haven’t
  • would not → wouldn’t

This isn’t a full list.

There’s one which is a bit strange: will not contracts to won’t.

Also, you can’t make a negative contraction with am not. You can’t say amn’t. Why not? I can’t even say ‘amn’t’. Saying ‘amn’t’ is really difficult. That’s why.

Let’s try a few examples. Look at this sentence. Where can you make contractions?

  • He does not understand why they did not help him.

We can contract this to:

  • He doesn’t understand why they didn’t help him.

Let’s do another:

  • They are not happy that the company has not told them anything.

There are two contractions here. Can you see them?

  • They aren’t happy that the company hasn’t told them anything.

We’ll do one more example:

  • You should not have said yes if you could not do it.

Where are the possible contractions here?

  • You shouldn’t have said yes if you couldn’t do it.

Sometimes with negative contractions, there are two possible contractions. For example:

  • They are not here yet.

You could contract this to:

  • They aren’t here yet.

Or:

  • They’re not here yet.

In most places, the first option is more common. That means you contract not.

However, both are correct, and it doesn’t matter which one you use.

So now you know about the formation and pronunciation of common English contractions, but when should you use them?

4. How to Use Contractions in Spoken and Written English

Generally, you should use contractions when you speak. Using contractions sounds more natural in spoken English.

Look at an example from earlier:

  • He does not understand why they did not help him.

If you’re speaking to someone, and you say this sentence without the contractions, it sounds a bit robotic and unnatural. Try it—say the sentence out loud with no contractions. Doesn’t it sound a bit strange?

Pronouncing the contractions makes it sound much more natural:

  • He doesn’t understand why they didn’t help him.

So, are there any cases where you shouldn’t use contractions?

If you’re speaking more formally, you might use fewer contractions.

If you want to emphasise something, you shouldn’t use contractions. For example:

  • That is not what I said.
  • He is the best player on the team.
  • I have called several times.

You need to use the full, uncontracted form if you need to emphasise the verb or negative.

There’s one more case where you can’t use contractions: don’t use positive contractions at the end of a sentence or clause.

For example, if someone asks you:

  • Is he ready?

You should answer:

  • Yes, he is.

And not:

  • Yes, he’s.

However, negative contractions can go at the end of a sentence or clause, so it’s fine to say:

  • No, he isn’t.

What about written English?

You can use contractions in informal writing; you probably shouldn’t use contractions in formal writing, like an essay.

Also, many English contractions are used in speech but not generally in writing. For example, you can say:

  • These’re the chocolates that your friends’ve sent us.

Contractions like these’re, friends’ve and this’d aren’t often used in written English, even in very informal writing.

If you’re not sure if you can use a contraction or not when you’re writing, then just use the full form.

There are some more contractions like this, which are common in spoken language, but which aren’t written down.

Let’s take a look:

5. Unwritten Contractions in English

Unwritten contractions in English image

Here’s a sentence:

  • They would have enjoyed it, but they would not have stayed long.

What contractions can you make here?

Well, would contracts to ‘d, and have contracts to ‘ve. What does that give us?

In the first part, you should say:

  • They’d’ve enjoyed it…

What about the second part of the sentence?

Not contracts to n’t. Have contracts to ‘ve. So, you say:

  • …but they wouldn’t’ve stayed long.

Try saying the whole sentence with the contractions. Focus on the pronunciation of the contractions:

  • They’d’ve enjoyed it, but they wouldn’t’ve stayed long.

Do these contractions look weird? If so, it’s because we almost never write them.

What other contractions are like this?

You can contract did to ‘d in speaking, but not in writing:

  • What did you tell her? → What’d you tell her?
  • When did you get here? → When’d you get here?
  • How did you like it? → How’d you like it?

You can contract will have to ‘ll’ve and would have to ‘d’ve:

  • They will have left by now. → They’ll’ve left by now.
  • We would have been late anyway. → We’d’ve been late anyway.

You can contract not have after a modal verb to n’t’ve:

  • They could not have helped. → They couldn’t’ve helped.
  • I would not have said anything. → I wouldn’t’ve said anything.

Remember: use these contractions when you speak, but not in writing!

Thanks for watching. See you next time!

Can you add contractions to these sentences?

  1. We have not seen it.
  2. It is a good idea.
  3. They will not tell us what time he is arriving.
  4. I would tell you if I knew.
  5. He has many friends but he does not often spend time with them.

Right or wrong?

  1. I’ve already had lunch.
  2. He’s a new job, so he’s really happy.
  3. She does not like fish, so cook something else.
  4. We wont arrive until 8.00.
  5. They’ve not been here before.
  1. We haven’t seen it. (Or: We’ve not seen it.)
  2. It’s a good idea.
  3. They won’t tell us what time he’s arriving.
  4. I’d tell you if I knew.
  5. He has many friends but he doesn’t often spend time with them.
  6. Right
  7. Wrong—He has a new job, so he’s really happy.
  8. Right—Using does not adds emphasis and makes the meaning stronger.
  9. Wrong—We won’t arrive until 8.00.
  10. Right—They haven’t been here before is also possible, and probably more common.
Oli RedmanEnglish Contractions – Pronunciation of Contractions – Video Lesson