How to Pronounce the MOST Common English Words
In this important lesson, I’ll show you how to pronounce the 20 most common English words correctly and naturally!
We’ll focus on the unstressed forms of grammatical words – these are the words that native speakers use quickly and efficiently as they speak (sometimes you really have to strain your ears to hear them!) Practising in this lesson will help you to understand fast-talking native speakers PLUS help you to sound more relaxed and natural when you speak English!
Well hey there I’m Emma from mmmEnglish! Today I’ve got twenty of the most common English words to share with you. I’m going to show you how to pronounce them correctly but even better how to actually pronounce these words naturally.
This will help you to understand fast-talking native speakers but also help you to sound more relaxed as you begin to speak English more fluently.
My main focus today is to give you lots of practice so don’t just watch this lesson okay? I want you to practise out loud with me.
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The most common words in English are grammatical words, they’re articles, they’re prepositions, they’re pronouns and even some really simple verbs that we use every day.
And because they’re so common and they get used so often, native English speakers will use them really quickly and efficiently as we speak which means that the pronunciation of the word that you learn in a dictionary or from your teacher at school may not be what it truly sounds like when a native English speaker actually speaks it.
So today we’ll talk about stressed and unstressed forms, linking and contractions. These are all really important aspects of English pronunciation that you need to understand if you want to use English fluently.
I’m going to share them in no particular order, mostly because it’s really difficult to know which one of these words is actually the most common. They are all extremely common and they probably jostle around for the number one position.
Of course, I will be sharing all of these words in my accent, my Australian English accent. There are some slight variations in the way that these words are pronounced across English accents, though lots of similarities as well.
Starting at number twenty. Sometimes you’ll hear this word stressed as at with that strong vowel sound.
- You need to be here at three o’clock.
So when we’re stressing at, we’re emphasising and making the meaning stronger.
You need to be here exactly at three o’clock. Not before, not after, at three.
But most of the time when you hear this word it’s not stressed and the vowel sound reduces down to become that reduced vowel sound, the schwa.
- I’ll meet you at the car.
- I’ll pick you up at eight.
Now we have the verb do. Now of course, it conjugates doesn’t it?
It can be do or does depending on the subject so what you need to remember is that when do is the main verb in a sentence, it’s usually stressed and it has that vowel sound.
- I do it often.
But as an auxiliary verb, if it’s helping the main verb in a sentence then it usually reduces down so do becomes
- Do you want to come?
- Does she need to see it?
So as a pronoun, you can be stressed especially when you need to clarify who you’re talking to or who you’re talking about.
- I didn’t ask you, I asked her.
So that’s when we hear it really strong. But most of the time when you hear this word, you just hear.
- Do you know who did it?
- I’ll meet you there.
As can be stressed. I guess it didn’t take as long as last time but usually, it’s an unstressed word and it sounds a little more like.
Again we’re using that schwa sound for the unstressed vowel sound.
- It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.
One pronunciation pattern to look for but more importantly, to listen for is the way that words that start with a vowel sound often link to the last sound of the word before it when spoken naturally. Now as starts with a vowel sound so this is the perfect time to mention it and to show you how it works.
- It wasn’t as hard as I thought.
Now pronouns, grammatical words that start with the letter H like he, him, her. We can even include have and has, they’re often pronounced without the H sound when we’re speaking quickly.
- Does he want to come?
- I’ll ask him if you want.
But you’ve got to remember, if you’re using this reduced form and you’re not pronouncing the H you must be linking this word to the one before it okay? You can’t drop the H sound when it’s the first word in a sentence and say really liked the party.
You have to pronounce that H.
- He really liked the party.
But you can drop it in the middle of a sentence.
- I want to buy her a car.
15. have (has)
Now we have the verb have which is another very popular English verb so like do, we conjugate have depending on the subject. So sometimes it’s has, in the past it’s had. And in all of those examples, we’re using the strong vowel sound.
Now when have is the main verb in a sentence, it’s stressed. Though sometimes just like with those pronouns, native speakers will drop that H sound when we’re speaking quickly.
- She has three dogs.
- I have two.
You probably know that have is an auxiliary verb in all of the perfect tenses which is why it’s one of the most common English verbs, we see it a lot.
And when it’s spoken naturally, we often use contractions, so instead of saying:
- I have = I’ve
- we have = we’ve
- he has = he’s
But even as an auxiliary verb, it can be stressed especially if we want to emphasise that something is true so I can easily say:
- I’ve been to India.
So it’s unstressed there but what if someone said: No you haven’t.
- I have, I have been to India – twice.
Grammatically, but is used in several different ways. It can be stressed and you’ll hear that strong vowel sound.
- I’ll help you but I need a favour from you first.
More often than not, but is unstressed and then the pronunciation changes.
- But I don’t want to.
- They ate it, but they didn’t like it.
Now this is an unusual one to include in this list because usually, we stress negative forms in English.
- I’m not hungry.
But the adverb not is usually almost always linked to the verb in spoken English. We say:
- I don’t like it.
- We can’t believe it.
So most of the time, not is not pronounced as not. It’s contracted and it sounds like.
It is quite unusual to hear this word pronounced as for in spoken English so when you hear for, we’re usually referring to the noun, the number four.
For is usually unstressed and again, that vowel sound reduces down to the schwa. Nothing right?
- I bought this apple for you.
- Can you get one for me?
Ninety-nine per cent of the time you hear it being used in English, it’s unstressed so when I said it just then, I stressed it so that you knew which word I was talking about but usually it sounds a lot more like.
It’s that schwa sound again and we usually use a stop T at the end as well so no air is released. Instead of saying it, the air is caught by our tongue. It’s caught there so that we can move on to the next word really quickly.
- I want it now.
- Get it out of the car.
Goodness, there are actually lots of reduced forms in that one aren’t there? Get it out of the car.
Now I’ve created a whole learning playlist that explains the different ways that we link words together in spoken English so if you haven’t seen it yet, absolutely watch all of the videos up in this playlist and even if you have, it’s the type of practice that you need to review, you need to come back to so it might be a good time to go back to those lessons and remind yourself about those familiar ways that we link sounds together in English.
That can be stressed or unstressed, we say that when it’s stressed with that vowel sound so when it’s used as a determiner to explain which specific thing we’re talking about you’ll hear it stressed because it needs to be clear.
We’ll say: not this one, that one.
And as an adverb, it will probably also be stressed too. We’ll say
- I’m not that hungry.
But when that is used as a conjunction and it’s connecting two clauses together, it’s unstressed, it reduces down to. It’s that schwa sound again, the vowel sound-reducing down from that to
- I told her that I’d be there.
On. Here’s another example of a grammatical word that starts with a vowel sound so when it’s said naturally, it’s often linked to the word that comes before it.
- It’s on my computer.
- We’ll go on Sunday.
The same rules apply for in, when we use it naturally we need to focus on linking it to the sound that comes before it.
- I’ll meet you in there.
That extra linking sound between two vowels there is a bit of a pronunciation trick. Watch this lesson up here if you want to learn a little bit more about this type of linking.
Let’s talk about the articles a and an because they are unstressed most of the time so usually when we want to stress and clarify to say that it’s just one of something that we want, we say one.
So we don’t say I’ll have a carrot. We say:
- I’ll have one carrot, please.
So most of the time, these articles are unstressed. We don’t hear a and an, we just hear that reduced sound.
- Can you take a break?
- It was an excellent event.
Now of course and must make our list of most commonly used words right? When it’s stressed, we say and but it becomes and unstressed. And often we drop that D sound at the end and compare these with me. When we’re stressing I would say
- You and me are going.
And unstressed, you and me are going.
- Come and visit me.
How could we forget of? It’s almost always unstressed as well. So instead of saying we just need to relax our mouth, relax that vowel sound down to
- Would you like a cup of tea?
Notice that link between of and the consonant before it, cup of tea.
Now to, when it’s spelt like this is not usually stressed. It’s usually unstressed so we reduce it down from to to
- I want to go to the beach.
Be is the most commonly used verb in English but it does have several different forms, doesn’t it? Depending on the subject and the tense so just like do and have, the be verb can be used as a main verb in a sentence.
- I’ll be home soon.
So instead of really stressing that verb be, it’s just a shorter version.
- I’ll be home soon.
You will definitely hear the unstressed forms of be when it’s used as an auxiliary verb in the continuous tense, in the passive voice. You’re going to hear
- I am as I’m going.
- We are as we’re waiting.
- Or it is as it’s raining.
Right? It’s really common to hear these contractions when the be verb is the auxiliary verb.
When it’s used in the past tense the be verb is usually reduced as well. Again we see that schwa sound. Was becomes
- I was upstairs earlier.
- They were really hungry.
Last but definitely not the least is the. You won’t hear it pronounced like the very often, maybe just in your English class, you’ll definitely hear a shorter version.
And you’ll also hear the, that’s our favourite schwa sound making another appearance.
So with the word the, we have two unstressed forms because the pronunciation changes depending on the word that follows it. If the word the is followed by a word that starts with a consonant sound, then that’s when we hear that lazy schwa sound again.
- You left it in the car.
If the word the is followed by a vowel sound then it’s pronounced. Can you hear the difference?
- How do we get to the airport?
You made it all the way through! Awesome work! Make sure you bookmark this video save it to a playlist because you’ll need to come back to it and review it and practise several times with me. It’s not the kind of thing that you’ll just instantly know, you’ve got to put in the practice and you’ll be able to practise using all of these words naturally and in context in any of my imitation lessons.
Remember if you want to learn a little more about linking and naturally spoken English, then definitely check out this playlist up here, you will absolutely love it.
And I’ll see you in there!
Links mentioned in the video
How to RELAX your ACCENT | Part 3 | Vowel Linking in English
Can You Pronounce These Common English Contractions?
Common English Words You May Mispronounce