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‘Can’t’ – a dangerous word

[ssba] On this week’s blog we are counting down the 5 most difficult one syllable words in English pronunciation. At number 5 is ‘can’t – a dangerous word to get wrong!

What’s the problem?

This word comes with three noticeable pronunciation difficulties:

1. Vowel Sound – should be long /ɑ:/
2. Stress – this word cannot be weak. It will either be unstressed, stressed or tonic syllable.
3. Joining the ‘t’ – the ‘t’ at the end is often pronounced as a glottal stop /ʔ/

How do I get it right?

Vowel Sound /ɑ:/
Open your jaw fully, relax the lips, relax the tongue and make a long /ɑ:/ sound as in ‘car’ and ‘palm’. Don’t make /æ/ as in ‘cat’ and definitely don’t make /ʌ/ as in ‘cut’ (see why below).

/ʌ/ cut


The differing levels of stress are shown in the examples below:

TONIC SYLLABLE (Main Stress) No you can’t.

Joining the ‘t’.
The ‘t’ will be pronounced before a following vowel sound:

Can’t_I go?

It will be pronounced as a glottal stop in other cases:

I can’t believe it.

What happens if I get it wrong?

Unfortunately, if you get the vowel wrong, this word could become the rudest word in English (which we won’t write here). The following exchange would take on an entirely different tone.

A Can I buy some ice cream?
B No you can’t.

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