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Unit 21. Some, The, From, etc.

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Weak Forms of Function Words

Unit 21; Part A

Some words are not usually made prominent (see Unit 10) in conversation. These include the following groups of function words. (For exceptions, see Unit 22.)

the personal pronouns I, me, we, us, you, he, him, she, her, it, they, them
She SAW me.
the possessive determiners my, your, his, her, its, our, their   
He's my BROTHer. 
each other, one another   
They were HITting each other. 
the articles a, an, the    
It's an OWL.
the determiners some and any   
Do you WANT some? 
the indefinite pronouns some-/anybody, some-/anyone, some-/anything when they are used as the object of a sentence  
I didn't SEE anyone. 
there used to introduce a sentence   
There's some CAKE left. 
forms of the auxiliary verbs be, have, do and the modal verbs (shall, should, can, could, etc.) except in negative forms   
He was LATE.
I can HEAR it. 
prepositions (e.g. as, at, for, from, of, to)   
They're from SPAIN. 
the conjunctions and, but, or, as, than, that   
He's OLDer than me. 

Unit 21; Part B

Some of these function words have a weak form and a strong form. The weak form is the usual pronunciation, but the strong form is used when the word is -
  • said on its own
  • at the end of the sentence

  Example with weak form
Example with strong form
The following have weak forms with /∂/: the, a, an, and, but, that, than,
your, them, us, at, for, from, of, to, as, there, can, could, shall, should,
would, must, do, does, am, are, was, were, some

I can (/k∂n/) SWIM.
This is for (
/f∂/) YOU.
I CAN (/kæn/) come after ALL.
who's it FOR (
/fo:/)?
she, he, we, you are pronounced with reduced vowels in their weak
forms: /∫i/, /hi/, /wi/, /ju/ (or /j∂/)
Are you (/ju/ or /j∂/) TIRED?
A: who DID it?
B: YOU (
/ju:/)!
his, her, he, him, her, has, had are often pronounced without /h/ intheir weak forms (except at the beginning of a sentence)
was he (/hi/ or /i/) THERE?                
HE (/hi:/) was THERE, but SHE (/∫i:/) wasn't.

Unit 21; Part C

 
idea.jpgImportant for listening!
It can be difficult to hear the weak forms of function words in fast speech, particularly when a number of them come together, because they are often said quickly. Compare:
      slow speech.   When are you taking him to see her?       There are some over there.
      fast speech:   When   /aj∂/   taking  /imt∂/ see /∂/?             /ð∂r∂s∂m/    over there.

important.jpgIt is not always necessary to produce weak forms in your own speech in order to be understood, but they help to make your English sound more fluent and natural.
 
 

 



Exercises

21.1.jpgflag.jpgListen and repeat these sentences. Prominent syllables are in capital letters. Focus in particular on copying the non-prominent forms of the function words, in green.

1    Do they LIKE each other? 
2    I SAW somebody at the WINdow. 
3    There was a LETter from his BROther.
4    There should be some MORE in the BOX.
5    We were GOing to see her PArents.
6    She doesn't LOOK as OLD as me.
7    WHEN do you get the reSULTS of your TESTS?
8    I was at HOME frm EIGHT o'CLOCK.
flag.jpgDo you think the words in bold will have their weak (write W) or strong form (S) in these dialogues?
Key.(Speaker A = Japan)
The reason why some function words are in the strong form is given in brackets.
Example a S (word is at end of sentence)   b W
1 a W   b S ('would' is used as a content word rather than a function word)
2 a W   b S ('were' is contrasted with 'weren't')
3 a W   b S ('from' is contrasted with 'for')
4 a S ('your' is used as a content word rather than a function word)    b W
5 a S (word is at end of sentence)    b W

Example: a A: That ice-cream looks nice. B: Do you want some? S
              b A: I'm really thirsty. B: There's some orange juice in the kitchen. W
1    a A: Do you think I should apologise? B: Yes, I'm sure that would help.
      b A: Did you get 100% on the test? B: No, I spelt 'would' wrong.
2    a A: I was in Slovenia last weekend. B: What were you doing there?
      b A: Why weren't you and Amy at the party? B: But we were.
3    a A: What have you got there? B: It's a present fom Alex.
      b A: Is this a card for Simon's birthday? B: No, it's fom Simon.
4    a A: Why did you mark it wrong? B: You wrote 'your' instead of 'you'.
      b A: We are off to Scotland again in the summer. B: Are you going with your sister?
5    a A: Can I borrow your screwdriver? B: What do you want it for?
      b A: Did the phone ring? B: Yes, it was for David.

Now listen and check your answers. Then say the B parts aloud. 
flag.jpgListen. Write the number of words you hear in each space.
Key.1 2-2 They were waiting for their brother.
2 3-2 I knew that she was going to be late again.
3 2-3 Would you take her to the swimming pool?
4 4-3 I thought we were at the station already, but I was wrong.
5 2-4 Shall we go to the zoo, or have you been before?
6 3 -3 There are some more books here that he could have.
7 3-2-3 He asked me for some money and I lent it to him.
8 6 She told me that we would have been better off going by bus.

Example:  leaving now  staying?
             Are you leaving now or are you staying?
1    ___ waiting ___ brother.
2    I knew ___ going ___ late again.
3    ___ take ___ swimming pool?
4    I thought ___ station already, ___ wrong.
5    ___ go to the zoo, ___ before?
6    ___ more books here ___ have.
7    He asked ___ money ___ lent ___.
8    She told ___ better off going by bus.
 
Now check your answers in the Key. Then listen again and repeat the sentences.

Follow up: Find a recording of speech at normal speed with a transcript. Take an extract and try to write down what the speakers are saying. Then check what you have written against the transcript. Note in particular the pronunciation of function words.

 
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