Curious Question #5 – Pronunciation: Can vs. Can’t

Today we’re going to look at a question about pronunciation. Let’s listen to David from Greece.
“I am having a difficult time telling the difference between can’t and can. Their meanings are totally opposite of each other. Help me better understand the pronunciation. Please give tips and examples of sentences using can’t and can.”

 

Sample transcriptpronounciation

Maura: Today we’re going to look at a question about pronunciation. It is about a little T on the end of a word. Let’s listen to David from Greece.

I am having a difficult time telling the difference between can’t and can. Their meanings are totally opposite of each other. Help me better understand the pronunciation. Please give tips and examples of sentences using can’t and can.

Robin: First of all I want to say don’t worry about asking people to clarify. You can easily ask: “Did you say can or can’t?” Native speakers need to do this too. The T is such a little sound that sometimes we can’t be sure either. I said, “can’t be sure.”

Maura: For this one, I looked around online and asked some friends to see what other people were saying and what I found was that it is very divided. Can and can’t are explained differently by different people. I think the reason is that there are varied pronunciations of can and can’t. Depending on accents, even within North America in the same regions, there are differences.

Robin: Here is the best advice that I’ve got. Sometimes can sounds like kun. An example: I kun do that for you. And can’t never sounds like kun. At least not in Canada, as far as I know. Here are some examples:

One: I kun hear you. I can’t hear you.

Two: She kun tell you how. She can’t tell you how.

Maura: Also, use your instincts. This is good advice in any language situation. Sometimes you know if the speaker used can or can’t from the context. If someone says to me, “Maura, you can drive,” I know that it could not be can’t because I know that I can drive. Does that make sense? I hope so.

Robin: The difference in writing is the same in pronunciation. That is, you can hear the T sound at the end of can’t when it is negative. It is such a little sound and a subtle sound that it can be hard to hear.

Maura: The difference between a positive and negative form is one little letter and it can be especially difficult if the next word also starts with a T like “I can’t talk properly”. There was a T at the end of can’t and a T at the beginning of talk.

Robin: Do you know the expression “practice makes perfect”? Well, unfortunately, in this case there is no quick fix for this difficulty in comprehension. One just needs to practice to get better at hearing this difference.

 

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Posted in Curious Questions.