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A quick guide to weak forms

Weak forms are a key part of English pronunciation and knowing how they work can improve the way you sound a good deal. In this lesson I show you

why they matter

what they are

how to practise them

places to learn more about them

Why you should learn to use weak forms

Avoiding a common mistake

One problem a lot of people have is that they believe to speak well they should make all the sounds very clear and so give them equal weight when they speak. This is just not how English works. To get the sound of English right you need to learn to de-stress some words even if you think you’re speaking less clearly. Those words are weak forms

 

Weak forms contain the most common  sounds in English

If you’re wondering whether it’s worth bothering learning about weak forms, here’s a thought for you. Most – not all – weak forms sound pretty much  the same – they are certainly the most common sound in English. If you don’t use them, then you’re not sounding English!!!! Don’t believe me?

Try saying these words

is

that

have

computers [not a weak form but it contains the same sounds]

Now listen to me speaking them in a sentence

You should hear that all those words contain the same sound – it’s what we call the schwa sound. Here it is again – word by word:

It’s a common sound because we make it when we don’t stress a word – that’s a lot.

It can help with listening too

One reason why you may find listening in English hard is that you may not hear what you expect to hear – clearly distinguished sounds and words. This is partly because a lot of weak forms sound much the same and you can’t distinguish the words. If though you learn to make the sounds yourself you can learn to hear the sounds better when you listen.

When do we use weak forms?

To understand this you first need to understand a little bit about sentence stress. The general idea is that we de-stress words when they are not important to the meaning of the sentence. This is normally when they are grammatical words such as

prepositions

conjunctions

quantifiers

auxiliary verbs

How can you learn to use these weak forms?

First learn what they are and get the sounds right

A good first step is to learn what the sounds are. This is a handy list. Read through it and practise making the sounds. If you need help with the phonemic alphabet, you can try this interactive version. (flash needed)

List of weak forms

Learn phrases

This is one area where it can help you to learn phrases. If you focus on phrases you’ll find some sounds are weak. See these examples

That’s an interesting question

If you ask me

If you focus on making weak sounds in phrases like this, then you can find it easier to make the same sounds when you speak more generally.

Put the words in sentences – repeat

Weak forms only really make sense when you use them in complete sentences. One exercise you can do for yourself is to say 4/5 similar sentence, write them down, mark the sentence stresses and then find the weak forms – just look for the small grammar words.

I don‘t use a computer for work very often

I play games on my computer about twice a day

I prefer to use my desktop and not my laptop

I use my laptop for sending emails and browsing the net

 Try saying the sentences using only the stressed sounds. Repeat. Repeat. Now say the whole sentences using the weak forms too – try to keep to same rhythm. What you should find that is you make the weak forms quite naturally if you keep to the rhythm – you’re saying more sounds in the about the same space of time. Listen to me here:

Find a model video – listen and repeat

This is where sites like TED and Youtube can help too. Find a video that interests you, listen to it, pause it at the end of every sentence or so and try and repeat what you heard. It helps to have a transcript  here.

Useful resources

This lesson is just a quick introduction. if you want quite a long – and very good – video explanation try these:

 

 

   

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