Lesson Overview

If you want to understand native English speakers, you need to learn how the most common words *actually* sound when spoken naturally!
In this lesson, you’ll learn how to pronounce TEN of the MOST COMMON English words so you sound natural and speak more fluently in English. You’ll also learn what these important words sound like when native English speakers use them!

HINT: They often don’t sound like you think they should!

Video Transcript

Well, hey there, I’m Emma from mmmEnglish.

Today we are going to practise saying ten of the most common English words. Now, of course, I’ll show you how to pronounce them correctly, but even better, how native speakers actually pronounce these words naturally when they speak. So this lesson is going to help you to understand fast-talking native English speakers, but it will also help you to sound more relaxed as you begin to speak English fluently. But to do that, I need you to practise with me out loud. Can you do that?

When I say the most common words in English, I’m talking about the ones that occur most frequently. And in English, these are function words, the words that exist to make our sentences grammatically correct, articles, prepositions, pronouns, and even some really simple verbs that we use every day. Now because they are so common and they’re used so often, native English speakers use them quite quickly and very efficiently when we say them, which means that the pronunciation of a word that you learned from a dictionary or from your English teacher may not be exactly how it sounds when spoken at a natural pace by a native English speaker.

At /æt/

Let’s get started with “at.” Now, sometimes you will hear this word stressed. “At.”

  • You need to be here at three o’clock.

And by stressing “at” in that sentence, I’m adding emphasis. I’m 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 unstressed. It’s not stressed. And that strong vowel sound reduces to a schwa.

  • I’ll meet you at the car.
  • I’ll pick you up at eight. 

Do /duː/ & does /dʌz/

The verb “do” conjugates, doesn’t it? So it can be “do” or “does” depending on the subject. What you need to remember is that when “do” is the main verb in our sentence, it’s usually stressed.

  • I do it often.

But as an auxiliary verb, it’s helping the main verb in our sentence, and then it becomes a grammatical word. It usually reduces down /də/

  • Do you want to come?

Try it. If you’re using “does” instead of “do” it also reduces.

  • Does she need to see it?

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You /ju:/

As a pronoun, “you” can be stressed when we need to clarify who is doing something.

  • I didn’t ask you. I asked her!

But we don’t always emphasise “you.” Often you just hear it as /jə/

  • Do you know who did it?
  • I’ll meet you there.

As /æz/

“As” can be stressed as well.

  • I guess it didn’t take as long as last time!

But usually, this is an unstressed word, so it sounds more like /əz/

So again, we’re using our schwa sound for that unstressed vowel sound.

  • It wasn’t as hard as I thought.

Try it.

Now there is a pattern to look for here and more importantly to listen for. And that 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. And that link happens when there is a consonant sound at the end of that word. “As” starts with a vowel. So this is a perfect opportunity to highlight it for you.

  • It wasn’t as hard as I thought.

Try it.

He /hiː/
her /hɜːr/
him /hɪm/

Okay, so let’s talk about grammatical words that start with the letter H, like “he”, “him”, “her” and even “have” and “has.” All of these words are often pronounced without the H sound when speaking quickly.

  • Does he want to come? /dəzi:/
  • I’ll ask him if you want. /æ:skɪm/

But remember, if you are using this reduced form and you are not pronouncing the H, you must link the /ɪ/ to the word before it.

  • I’ll ask him if you want.

Try it.

  • I want to buy her car. /baɪə/

Try it.

Have /hæv/ & has /hæz/

Okay, let’s try the verb “have” or “has” now. So just like the verb “do” we conjugate “have” depending on the subject. Sometimes it’s “has.” So when this is the main verb in a sentence, it’s stressed and both “have” and “has” use the vowel sound.

But just like the pronouns we talked about, sometimes native speakers will drop that H sound when speaking quickly. She has three dogs. I have two.

Now “have” is another one of these special verbs. It’s an auxiliary verb. It is an auxiliary verb in all of the perfect tenses, which is why it is such a common word in English.

Usually, when it’s the main verb in a sentence, it’s stressed, but it’s unstressed when it’s an auxiliary verb in a perfect tense. And when it’s spoken, we often use contractions.

“I have” becomes “I’ve.”

“We have” becomes “we’ve.”

“He has” becomes “he’s.”

Now it can be stressed when it’s an auxiliary verb if we’re trying to emphasise that something is true.

  • I‘ve been to India.
    No, you haven’t.
    I have, I have been to India!

But /bʌt/

Here’s a good one. Grammatically, “but” is used in several different ways and it can be stressed. So when it’s stressed it’s pronounced /bʌt/

  • I’ll help you, but I need a favour first.

More often than not, “but” is usually unstressed and the pronunciation changes. So instead of “but” it becomes /bət/

  • But I don’t want to.

Try it.

  • They ate it, but they didn’t like it.

For /fɔ:/

Now it’s unusual to hear this word stressed unless you are referring to the number four. “For” is usually unstressed. And again, it’s that vowel sound that reduces to the schwa. Instead of “for” you hear /fə/

And in my accent, you don’t hear the pronunciation of that final R. The ending is just the vowel sound.

  • I bought this apple for you.
  • Can you get one for me?

Try it.

Of /əv/

“Of” is almost always unstressed. Instead of saying “of” reduce or relax that vowel sound down to a schwa.

  • Would you like a cup of tea? /kʌpəv/

Do you notice how that consonant sound at the end of “cup” links to “of” and that vowel sound?

It /ɪt/

Of course, how could we forget “it”? Ninety-nine per cent of the time when you hear “it” being spoken in English, it’s unstressed.

So when I just said “it”, then I was stressing it, emphasising it, so you knew which word I was talking about. But it doesn’t usually sound like this. It usually sounds like /ət/

Again, that schwa sound, you’ve got to relax. You’ve got to get into this sound and relax with me. And usually we use a stop T at the end here. So the air is not released.

We catch the air so that we can move quickly onto the next sound. So you will often just hear it being pronounced as /ət/ You should be able to say it quite quickly when you don’t have to release the air.

  • I want it now.
  • Get it out of the car. /getətaʊt/

Goodness, there are lots of reductions and linking happening in that sentence, aren’t there?

Understanding how these really common English words actually sound when they’re spoken in natural English is really important. To understand native speakers when they’re talking fast, they’re talking quickly, you need to know how these sounds reduce down and they link together when spoken.

So I’m super glad that you hung around to watch this lesson all the way through. Make sure you bookmark this video or you save the playlist because you need to come back and review it with me a few times. Keep coming back to practise with me again and again.

Now I have another video just like this one coming out soon with ten more common English words so that we can practise their natural pronunciation together. So make sure you subscribe, you come back and check out the next video.

But in the meantime, if you want to learn more about linking and naturally spoken English, check out this series right here that I made for my students. You are absolutely going to love it. I’ll see you in there.

Links mentioned in the video

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