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What can you do? (Real English)

Real English - lesson 15: Talking about abilities.


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About the pronunciation of the auxiliary verb CAN just remember this simple rule which will be right for most of the situations:
- positive CAN- (no vowel)
BrE and AmE- /kn/
- negative CAN’T- (strong vowel)
BrE- /kɑ:n/ (+ optional T)
AmE and non-standard BrE- /kæn/ (+ optional T)
Exception: "yes, I can" /kæn/ (but the "yes" makes us know it’s affirmative)

Now, if your level is high or you’re very curious about the pronunciations of this verb, you can read more details about this, but always remember that the basic rule is what we just said above.

First we have to consider that this auxiliary verb (as most grammatical words) have got two pronunciations: the strong one (with the vowel in CAT) and the weak one (with SCHWA or no vowel at all, just "kn"). The question is when to use which.
(consult the PHONETICS section of this website to know the vowels and their names)

The negative of CAN is CANNOT (pronounced with the vowel in CAT and the SCHWA, stress on the first syllable), but in AmE they sometimes spell it CAN NOT. But speaking, almost always we use the contraction CAN’T. In this form, the final T is usually dropped, so we’ve only got the vowel to mark the difference between the positive and the negative forms of this verb:
- positive CAN /kən/ or /kn/ (sometimes ending in T)

So, basically, the difference between the positive CAN and the negative CAN’T is that in the positive we don’t pronounce the vowel (or just a very weak schwa). It’s not stressed and we pronounce the verb so quickly that sometimes it may be difficult to hear. And in the negative the verb is stressed and clear, with the vowel in CAR (though the final T is usually not pronounced.

Things could be that simple, but they are not. First, we must say that we were talking about standard BrE. In some parts of the UK and in AmE CAN’T is pronounced with the vowel in CAT, and the T is usually "silent" too, so the strong form of CAN and the negative CAN’T may sound the same. And if you speak with a foreign accent such as Spanish, with a vowel /A/ which is similar both to CAT and CAR, then it can be really confusing to know if you’re using the negative or the positive form.

Most of the times there shouldn’t be a problem, since CAN is usually pronounced in the weak form (KN), with no stress, and CAN’T is pronounced with a stress.

But sometimes CAN is stressed and uses the strong form. This happen in these cases:
1- when we pronounced the word alone (but if we pronounced CAN’T alone we would pronounce the T, so there’s no confusion)
2- when it is at the end of the sentence, e.g. in a short answer (-yes, I can / -no, I can’t), but in that case, the "yes" and "no" are clear enough.
3- when it is at the beginning of the sentence (questions beginning with CAN... ?) we may use the weak or the strong form. In this starting position it is usually pronounced /kn/  too, but it may use the strong form. That’s no problem in BrE because the vowel is different for the positive and the negative, but in AmE the vowel would be the same (CAT), so in that situation, either they pronounce the T or the context makes it clear for them which form we’re using (they don’t have problems with it). For you, it’s safer if you pronounce the weak form here too /kn/ and the final T in the negative.
4- when we want to emphasize the verb (e.g. oh, I’m British but I CAN cook very well). Again, BrE would use different vowels for the positive and negative forms, but AmE would use the same vowel and make the difference pronouncing the final T in the negative or using a clarifying context.

THE CHILDREN CAN, THOUGH= in this sentence CAN is at the end, so it’s got the strong pronunciation (/kæn/). And after the sentence we add THOUGH. It means the same as BUT, NEVERTHELESS, ALTHOUGH, but THOUGH can go at the beginning of the sentence or at the end. In colloquial speech it very often goes at the end. So this sentence means: "But my children can".

DREADFUL= horrible

VEAL= meat from a calf (a young cow)

CHOCOLATE= pronounced like /chocklit/

COOKY (AmE)= Biscuit (pronounced /biskit/) BrE

TOAST= this word is uncountable. We can’t say "*two toasts*", we have to say "two pieces of toast" or "two slices of toast"

PEANUT BUTTER= a kind of cream made from peanuts, very rich, sticky, thick and fatty. Most American people (specially children) love it and eat it a lot (a real lot).

WHAT ELSE?= what more things?. We can use ELSE with any WH-word (e.g. who else?= what other people / where else?= in what other places?, etc.)

BRAIN= pronounced with the same diphthong as in "rain", but some people from Britain and Australia open the mouth so much for this diphthong that, as it happens on this video, it almost sounds like the diphthong in "my".

JUGGLE= to throw balls or other things up in the air, catch them one by one and throw them up again, etc. (look at the photograph on the video)

SKI= this is an Austrian word, so the pronunciation is very "unEnglish", we say /ski:/

TABLE TENNIS= similar to tennis but played with a little solid pad making the ball hit on a green table before bouncing into the other player’s side (see the photograph on the video)

YUP= in coll. English we often say "yup" and "nope" instead of "yes" and "no"

SOMEWHAT= a little


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