Podcast intro:

Welcome to the InFluency Podcast. I’m Hadar, and this is episode number 394. And today we’re going to talk about the pronunciation of five of the most common words in English.

Hey, hey everyone. What is up? Thank you so much for joining me today for another pronunciation lesson, a very fun one, if I may say. Because today I’m going to give you some tips on how to pronounce very, very, very common words in English. And those words are words that we use in almost every sentence. And those words are ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘to’, ‘of’, and ‘and’.

Now, those words are not always pronounced the way I just pronounced them, because there are more ways to pronounce these words. And today I’m going to talk about that. I think it’s going to be super interesting. And I’m just saying that there’s also a video attached to this audio. I know that you’re listening to this on the podcast, but if you feel like you need to see it visually and you need a representation and you want to see it written, then you can also catch this episode on YouTube. Just saying. For those of you who are visual learners and you need the graphics, you need the text, you need the spelling. So, it’s there waiting for you. But you can also benefit from it by simply listening to this.

Now, here’s the thing. I think it’s so important to know this because sometimes the brain catches the different pronunciations, and it’s hard for the brain to process the difference. So I want to make it clear for you. It doesn’t mean that you have to consistently use the two different pronunciations for each of those words, it’s just important to know that. And I think that it gives you more power and you’re more in control when you have that knowledge. All right. So, let’s listen to today’s episode.

Video transcript:

Hey, do you know how to pronounce the five most common words in English? If not, this video is for you.

Today we’re going to talk about a few function words, five to be exact, that we use in almost every sentence. And we’re going to talk about how to pronounce them because I think not everyone knows exactly how to pronounce those words, or to be more exact, the different pronunciations of those words.

If you’re new to my channel, then my name is Hadar. I’m a non native speaker of English, I’m a fluency and pronunciation coach. And I’m here to help you speak English with clarity, confidence, and freedom. You can check out my website at hadarshemesh.com for a ton of free resources for you to reach limitless fluency.

All right. So let’s talk about the pronunciation of the five most common words in English. And the first one is the word ‘the’. The word ‘the’ is a definite article. And the pronunciation of this word really depends on what comes after. So the first thing that we need to remember is that we stick the tongue out for the TH, and it’s a voiced TH.

Now, because it’s a word that is usually pronounced really quickly, sometimes you don’t fully stick the tongue out. Some people might even put the tongue on the back of the teeth, ‘the’, ‘the’, ‘the’, and that is perfectly fine. For the sake of practice, right now we’re going to practice by sticking the tongue out.

When the following word starts with a consonant – k, p, s, sh, r – then the pronunciation of the word ‘the’ is going to be with a schwa. A schwa is a reduced vowel – /ə/. thə, thə. And we want to pronounce it really quickly and connect it to the next word: th’car, th’house, th’plan, th’teacher, th’child. Th’, th’, th’. Practice with me, again: th’car, th’chair, th’teacher. Good.

When the following word starts with a vowel, we pronounce it with an ‘ee’ sound – thee, thee: thee apple, thee elephant, thee animal, thee egg. Thee, thee, thee. Now let’s test it. If you have the word ‘couch’, would you say th’ or thee? Th’ – th’couch. If you have the word ‘hour’, would you use th’ or thee? Thee – thee hour. Why? Because the H is not pronounced and we’re actually starting with a vowel. Thee hour, hour, thee hour. If you have the word ‘university’, would you pronounce it with th’ or thee? Th’, th’university. Even though it starts with a vowel letter, it actually starts with a consonant sound – y, ‘y’ is a consonant. th’yuniversity. Okay, good.

Now, sometimes when people want to emphasize something, whether or not the next word starts with a consonant or with a vowel, they would use the word thee. “It’s thee best thing you’ve ever tasted in your life”. Thee best thing. If I were to not stress it, I would say “It’s th’best thing I’ve ever heard”. th’best. But when I emphasize it, it turns into thee – thee best thing. All right, good.

The next word we’re going to practice is the indefinite article ‘a’ or ‘an’. The difference between the two is that one appears before consonants – ‘a’, and the other one appears before vowels. A car, an apple. Both of them are pronounced with a schwa when unstressed: ə car, ən apple, ə house, ən ant, ə person, ən animal. Okay? ə – ən. So both of them are reduced to a schwa.

However, when you want to emphasize it, or when you want to emphasize the fact that it’s one thing, a car, not cars, right, you would emphasize the word ‘a’ to show that it’s not many cars, but only one car, it’s a car, then you’re not going to use the schwa, you’re going to use the ‘ei’ diphthong. ei car, or “it’s an animal, not animals”. And here we have either the ei as in ‘day’ or the A as in cat. When it’s before an N, it becomes more like an e/eh sound: en, en, “en animal, not animals”, or “en operation, not operations”. So, ə – ei, ən – an/en.

The next word is ‘to’. If the following word starts with a consonant, just like the example with the word ‘the’, then the ‘to’ is going to be pronounced as t’: t’go, t’think, t’like, t’love, t’listen. t’, short and sweet, and you want to connect it, and you want to make it sound as if it’s a part of the next word.

If the next word starts with a vowel, it’s going to be ‘tu’, and then you want to keep your voice going until the next word. Tu-understand, tu-appreciate, tu-operate, tu-accept. tu, so you connect it, okay? t’ or tu. Again, when you want to emphasize something – “I need to go, I’m telling you, get off your seat”, then I would probably use the ‘tu’. “I need tu go”, right? When you slow down and when you say it slowly, then you would use the long ‘u’ sound. But when you say it quickly and it’s unstressed, you’re going to say t’ – t’go, t’think, t’like.

The next word is ‘and’. I love this word. Or at least the pronunciation of this word. When this word is unstressed, which is in most cases, because this word connects content words, right, words with meaning. So usually we stress the content words: the nouns, the verbs, the adjectives, the adverbs; the function words reduce. ‘And’ is a function word that usually reduces. So we generally don’t say ‘and’, we just say n/ən. So we turn the a into a schwa – ə, and the ‘d’, just eliminate, we don’t really need it.

Boys n girls, bread n butter. And even, you can reduce it even more: bread’n, bread’n, bread’n butter. Rock’n roll, rock’n roll. Also notice the rhythm – ta-da da. fish’n chips, black’n white, this’n that. Okay? So that is how you usually pronounce this word. “I need to go pick up my girls n then buy some groceries”. n then, n then, n then.

When this word is emphasized, then the ‘d’ comes back with all its presence, and the schwa goes back to the pure vowel, which is the A sound – and, and. Okay? Boys AND girls, not boys or girls. This AND that, not this or that. So we would usually emphasize it when we want to show that it’s something and something and not something else, not something or something.

So we don’t usually stress the word ‘and’, but sometimes we do. And sometimes we might use the word ‘and’ as a way to connect one sentence to another. When we want to emphasize that whatever comes next is important, we might emphasize the word ‘and’, just like I did.

The next word is this – ‘of’. How do you pronounce it? Okay, it’s pronounced when emphasized uhv, with a cup sound and a V sound. Even though it’s spelled with an F, it’s a V. uhv. Usually this word is completely reduced to a schwa when in a sentence. A cup əv coffee. Glass əv wine. Bottle əv water. Out əv the office. Okay? Now, something that is really interesting is that sometimes it is so reduced that even the V, not the F, the V sound is reduced as well.

Bottle-ə water, bottle-ə water, bottle-ə water. So if the next word is a word that starts with a consonant, you can also drop the V, like we would do with ‘piece ə cake’. “That’s a piece ə cake”. Bread’n butter, bread’n butter. Piece-ə butter. Piece-ə butter. “Give me a piece ə butter. Bread’n butter. Right? So, we reduce that last consonant.

So let’s practice a few more phrases. Couple of weeks – Couple-ə weeks. Couple-ə weeks. Couple-ə weeks. Couple-ə weeks. Out of the office. The office. Notice the pronunciation of ‘thee’, thee office, because there is a vowel there. Out-ə thee office. Out-ə thee office. Out-ə thee office. Out-ə thee office. “I’m out-ə thee office today”. Okay? I think that’s it.

The five most common words in English and how to pronounce them, ’cause most of them have more than one pronunciation. The pronunciation of them when they’re stressed and when they’re unstressed, which is usually the case. All right? That’s it.

Have a beautiful, beautiful day and I will see you, you know it, next week in the next video. Bye.