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Strong and weak forms


Main Theoretical Concepts:

Now we will consider certain well-known English words that can be pronounced in two different ways, which are called strong forms and weak forms. As an example, the word that can be pronounced [ðæt] (strong form) or [ðǝt] (weak form). The sentence I like that is pronounced [ai laik ðæt] (strong form); the sentence I hope that she will is pronounced [ai hǝʊp ðǝt ∫i: wɪl] (weak form). There are roughly forty such words in English. It is possible to use only strong forms in speaking, but most native speakers of English find an 'all - strong - form' pronunciation unnatural and foreign - sounding, something that most learners would wish to avoid. Secondly, and more importantly, speakers who are not familiar with the use of weak forms are likely to have difficulty understanding speakers who do use weak forms; since practically all native speakers of British English use them, learners of the language need to learn about these weak forms to help them to understand what they hear.

We must distinguish between weak forms and contracted forms. Certain English words are shortened so severely (usually to a single phoneme) and so consistently that they are represented differently in informal writing, e.g. it is - it's; we have - we've; do not - don' t.

Almost all the words which have both a strong and weak form belong to a category that may be called function words - words that do not have a dictionary meaning in the way that we normally expect nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs to have. These function words are words such as auxiliary verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, particles, pronouns, articles, etc. There are fairly simple rules; we can say that strong form is used in the following cases:

i) For many weak - form words, when they occur at the end of a sentence. For example, the word 'of' has the weak form [ǝv] in the following sentence: I'm fond of chips [aim fɒnd ǝv t∫ɪps] , but when it comes at the end of the sentence, as in the following example, it has the strong form [ v]: Chips are what I'm fond of [t∫ɪps ǝ wɒt aim fɒnd ɒv]

Many of the words given below (particularly the first nine) never occur at the end of a sentence, e.g. the, your. Some words (particularly the pronouns numbered 10 - 14 below) do occur in their weak forms in final position.

ii) When a weak - form word is being contrasted with another word, e.g. The letter from him, not to him. [ðǝ letǝ frɒm ɪm nɒt tu: ɪm]

A similar case is what we might call a co - ordinated use of prepositions: I travel to and from London a lot [ai trævl tu: ǝn frɒm lΛndǝn ǝ lɒt], A work of and about literature [ǝ wз:k ɒv ǝn ǝbaʊt lɪtrɪt∫ǝ]

iii) When a weak - form word is given stress for the purpose of emphasis, e.g.: You must give me more money [ju mΛst gɪv mi: mɔː mΛnɪ]

iv) When a weak - form word is being 'cited' or 'quoted', e.g.: You shouldn't put 'and' at the end of a sentence [ju ∫udnt put ænd ǝt ði end ǝv ǝ sentǝns]

Another point to remember is that when weak - form words whose spelling being with 'h' (e.g. her, have) occur at the beginning of a sentence, the pronunciation is with initial [h], even though this usually omitted in other contexts.

In the rest of the chapter, the most common weak - form words will be introduced.

Some words have more than one weak form and the following list tells you when to use one and when the other:

and [ǝn]

as [ǝz]

but [bǝt]

than [ðǝn]

that [ðǝt] (The word that in phrases like that man, that’s good is always pronounced [ðæt] and never weakened.)

he [i:]

him [ım]

his [ız]

her [з:] (At the beinning of word groups the forms [hi:], [hım], [hız], [hз:] should be used: [hi: 'laıks ıt], [hз: 'feıs ız 'red])

them [ðǝm]

us [s] (only in let’s)


do [dǝ] ([dǝ] is only used before consonants. Before vowels, use the strong form [du:])

does [dǝz]

am [m] (after I)

[ǝm] (elsewhere)

are [ǝ] (before consonants)

[ǝr] (before vowels)

be [bı]

is [s] (after [p, t, k, f, θ])

[z] (after vowels and voiced consonants except [z, , d ]

(After [s, z, ∫, , t∫, d ] the strong form [ız] is always used: ['wıt∫ız 'raıt?])

was [wǝz]

has [ǝz] (after [s, z, ∫, , t∫, d ]

[s] (after [p, t, k, f, θ])

z (elsewhere)

have [v] (after I, we, you, they)

[ǝv] (elsewhere)

had [d] (after I, he, she, we, you, they)

[ǝd] (elsewhere)

(At the beginning of word groups the forms [hæz 'enıwΛn 'f∂vnd]

When has, have, had are full verbs they should always be pronounced [hæz, hæv, hæd])

can [kǝn ]

shall [∫!]

will [l] (after I, he, she, we, you, they)

! (after consonants, except [!])

[ǝl] (after vowels and [l])

would [d] (after I, he, she, we, you, they)

[ǝd] (elsewhere)

must [mǝst]

a [ǝ] (before consonants)

an [ǝn] (before vowels)

the [ðǝ] (before consonants)

(Before vowels the strong form [ði:] should be used: [ði: 'α:nts ǝn ði: 'Λŋk!z])

some [sǝm]

[sΛm] (When some means certain quantity it is always stressed and therefore pronounced ['sΛm ǝv maı 'frendz])

at [ǝt]

for [fǝ] (before consonants)

[fǝr] (before vowels)

from [frǝm]

of [ǝv]

to [tǝ] (before consonants) Before vowels the strong form [tu:] should be used

The word not has the weak forms [nt] (after vowels) and [nt] (after consonants) when it follows are, is, should, would, has, have, could, dare, might. Examples: [ð∂ı 'α:nt 'kΛmıŋ; hi: 'hæznt ∂'raıvd]. Notice especially the forms can’t [kα:nt], shan’t [∫α:nt], don’t [d∂vnt], won’t [w∂vnt], mustn’t [mΛsnt], in which can, shall, do, will, must are changed when they combine with not. Practise all the examples given here and be sure that the weak forms are really weak, then make up similar examples for yourself and practise those too.

Practical Tasks:

Transcribe the following sentences. Use the appropriate forms of the weak - form words.

1. I want her to park that car over there.

2. Of all the proposals the one that you made is the silliest.

3. Jane and Bill could have driven them to and from the party.

4. To come to the point what shall we do for the rest of the week?

5. Has anyone got an idea where it came from?

6. Pedestrians must always use the crossings provided for them.

7. Each one was a perfect example of the art that had been developed there.

Sound [ɒ ]

Rod often wants a cup of hot water from a pot.

Graphic equivalents of the sound [ɒ ]

o not [nɒt]

a what [wɒt]

au because [bι'kɒz]

ou Gloucester ['glɒst∂]

ow knowledge ['nɒlıdg]

ya yacht [jɒt]


Sound [∂]

One of the policemen told them there was a photographer at the corner

Graphic equivalent of the sound [∂].

Almost every vowel in unstressed position can be pronounced as [∂], for example:

sense [sens] - nonsense ['n ns∂ns]

man [mæn] - milkman ['mılkm∂n]

ford [f :d] - Oxford [' ksf∂d]


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