#237: Common Reductions in American English | Understand Fast Speakers Series
How does a sentence like I have got to go to the store after work become I’ve gottagotəthə store after work?
The answer: reductions.
Reductions or reduced speech is when an English speaker shortens or eliminates particular sounds. This can occur in the form of connected speech, reduced sounds, or contractions.
With today’s lesson, you’re going to learn 4 common reductions in American English pronunciation so that you can
- Better understand fast English speakers more easily — in conversations, in podcasts, on TV, etc.
- Use reductions for more natural-sounding speech in English
To be clear, there are 2 types of fast English speakers:
- Group 1: those who follow natural pronunciation patterns in spoken English such as the reductions you’ll learn today. English speakers regularly blend, link, delete, and change sounds
- Group 2: those who follow these natural pronunciation patterns AND truly speak too fast.
At the end of this lesson today, after you have the opportunity to learn and practice common reduced sounds in American pronunciation, I’ll share a tip for English speakers who talk too fast so be sure to stick with me.
4 Common Reductions in American English — Part 1 in the Understand Fast English Speakers Series
Reduction #1: To
You will almost always hear a native speaker reduce ‘to’ to /də/ or /tə/.
Though these words are quite short, native speakers like to reduce the sounds to smooth out their speech and ease the transition of sounds between words.
We often say /tə/ when ‘to’ follows a word that ends with a consonant.
- /tə/: “Lina gave us a great presentation to think about.” In this case, ‘presentation’ ends with an ‘n’, so ‘to’ takes on the /tuh/ sound.
However, we also soften the sound to /də/ when ‘to’ follows a word ending with a vowel.
- /də/: I need you to pick up the kids after work today. In this example, ‘you’ ends with a vowel sound, so we smooth our speech by following up with /də/.
It’s important to remember that dialects and personal speaking styles vary. One person may use the pronunciation /də/ more often than /tə/, and vice versa.
Reduction #2: Of
Similarly, when ‘of’ follows a word ending with a consonant, it’s often reduced to /ə/ tagged to the end of the word.
- For example, you might hear a marketing manager say, “Mosta the engagement with our brand comes from Instagram.’
‘Mosta’ is a reduced form of the words ‘most’ and ‘of’.
Here are some other commonly reduced combinations with ‘of’:
- Kind of = kinda
- Sort of = sorta
- Lots of = lotsa
- A lot of = a lotta
Reduction #3: For & You
The third most common form of reduced speech is the modifications of ‘for’ to /fər/ and your/you’re to /yər/.
You may be noticing a pattern here. The reduction of ‘for’ and ‘your’ also use the /ə/ sound.
- To clarify, imagine someone has asked you who a gift is for. You might reply with, “It’s for the hostess”. Notice how speaking at a natural speed smoothly reduces the word to /fər/?
Pro Tip: When ‘for’ or ‘your’ are pronounced in their reduced form, the /r/ sound links to the next word.
- For example, you might ask a contractor, “Could you send your estimate for my roof by the end of the week?” The /r/ sound in ‘your’ carries over to the beginning of ‘estimate’ and ‘you’ is pronounced like /yə/.
Reduction #4: Contractions
Contractions of two words or more are a dime a dozen. Native speakers use contractions often and this also creates the illusion of speaking quickly.
You can get 25 Common Contractions in a previous Confident English Lesson I shared.
Contractions are created in negative forms that include ‘not’.
- For instance, we often hear someone say “I don’t like running” instead of “I do not like running”. When contracted, ‘not’ sounds omits the /o/ sound.
Moreover, we also contract the verb ‘will’ to say /ɪl/.
- For example, you might tell a coworker, “I’ll get back to you by the end of the week”.
- When ‘will’ combines with a pronoun, it elongates the vowel sound and attaches an /il/ sound to the end.
- I’ll sounds like /aɪl/
- You’ll sounds like /yul/
- He’ll sounds like /hil/
The same could also be said for the verb ‘had’ and modal ‘would’.
Native speakers contract both these words to a simple /d/ sound. This means you need to know the context surrounding the contraction to identify which word was used by the speaker.
- Imagine a friend explains a last-minute change of plans by sharing, “I’d been on my way when I realized that I forgot to mail the letter”. Can you guess which word was reduced here?
The same process also applies to ‘would’ and ‘have’ when they are reduced to /d/.
- Instead of “I would need to think about it”, you would say, “I’d need to think about it”.
That being said, the most common contractions in everyday English involve combining two words to create a completely new word.
Native speakers contract ‘going’ and ‘to’ to say gonna,
- I’m gonna need more time. When saying gonna, native speakers reduce the vowels ‘o’ and ‘a’ to an /uh/ sound.
‘Want’ and ‘to’ to say wanna,
- They wanna do movie night on Friday. Like gonna, wanna reduces the /a/ sounds to /uh/.
‘Got’ and ‘to’ to say gotta,
- I’ve gotta take my daughter to her recital. When ‘got’ and ‘to’ combine, they take on a softer /d/ sound – godda.
‘Give’ and ‘me’ to say gimme,
- Please gimme a moment to collect my thoughts.
And ‘don’t’ and ‘know’ to say dunno
- They dunno when the orders will arrive.
Now let’s talk more about fast English speakers – especially those who speak too fast.
Now let’s get back to the reality that there are English speakers who use reductions, as you’ve learned today, AND they truly speak too fast.
Notice I’m not calling them fast talkers but rather stating that they speak too fast. There’s a reason for that.
As my Fluency School students know, those who speak too fast are poor communicators and they lose the opportunity for clear, smooth, efficient communication.
If you know someone who speaks too fast and, as a result, you struggle and feel frustrated, here are 2 tips for how to tune your listening skills so that you understand them more easily:
- Learn common English pronunciation patterns — such as the reductions you learned today — so you recognize them more easily, even if someone is speaking too fast.
- Take advantage of technology by speeding the speaking of videos you watch on YouTube. Find a speaker you can understand easily at normal speed. Then, using the playback speed in the video settings, increase to a faster speed to start sharpening your listening skills.
If you’ve had an aha moment or if you have a question, you can always share them with me and the SCE Community in the comments below.
P.S. Are you looking for a community to provide support, help you stay motivated, and guarantee that you grow? Check out our Confident Women Community.
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