For ESL levels 4+
For the next couple of weeks, we are going to learn how Americans speak. Maybe you can read very well, but you cannot understand Americans when they speak. We speak quickly, and we do not pronounce all the sounds clearly. Sometimes we don’t pronounce things at all! This week, we are looking at how Americans make words and phrases shorter.
I am going to + verb
We use “going to” in 2 ways:
- going to + place – I am going to Target. I am going to New York.
- going to + verb – I am going to see him tomorrow. I am going to eat dinner.
When we use “going to” with a place, we don’t make it much shorter, but it is common for Americans to drop the final “g” on “going” (I’m goin’ to Target).
When we use “going to” with a verb, we can make it very short. You will hear all of these shortened forms of “I am going to”:
- I’m going to (acceptable in speaking and writing)
- I’m goin’ to (only for speaking)
- I’m gonna (only for speaking and VERY informal writing like a text message or Facebook)
- I’m-n-a (only for speaking)
- I’m-a (only for speaking)
Practice saying these sentences. Remember, the part in bold has the same meaning as “I am going to.”
- I’m going to talk to her.
- I’m goin’ to talk to her.
- I’m gonna talk to her.
- I’m-n-a talk to her.
- I’m-a talk to her.
Now practice these:
- I’m going to find it.
- I’m goin’ to find it.
- I’m gonna find it.
- I’m-n-a find it.
- I’m-a find it.
A general rule for English is that shorter sentences are more casual, and longer sentences are more formal. I can say, “I’m-a talk to her,” to my friends, but when I speak to my boss, I will use a longer pronunciation.
What do you
When speaking quickly, Americans will say, “Whadaya.” We do not pronounce the “t” at the end of “what,” and the vowels in “do” and “you” are very relaxed. This phrase is usually followed by a verb. We put a strong emphasis on that verb.
- What do you do? => Whadaya DO?
- What do you want? => Whadaya WANT?
- What do you think? => Whadaya THINK?
(What/When/Who/How/Why/Where) did you
Americans push words together when they speak, and sometimes, we combine the ending sound from one word with the beginning sound from the next word. When one word ends in “d” and the next begins with “y” (like “did + you”), we say a “j” sound. “Did you” becomes “di-ju” or “di-ja.” There is no difference between “di-ju” and di-ja.” Some Americans say “di-ju” and some say “di-ja.” Some say both. They have the same meaning.
- What did you say? => What di-ju say?
- When did you go there? => When di-ja go there?
- Who did you see? => Who di-ja see?
- How did you get here? => How di-ju get here?
- Why did you hit me? => Why di-ju hit me?
- Where did you eat dinner? => Where di-ja eat dinner?
You have probably learned this one already. In pronunciation, “want to” becomes “wanna.” You will see “wanna” in very informal writing, like Facebook or a text message, but it is not a real word. It is only a pronunciation. In speaking, it is also common for Americans to drop “Do you” at the beginning of a question with “want to.”
- Do you want to see a movie on Friday? => Wanna see a movie on Friday?
- Do you want to see a movie on Friday? => Do you wanna see a movie on Friday?
I do not know
“I don’t know” often changes to “I dunno” or “I-da-no” in pronunciation. You can use it alone in response to a question:
- Who’s playing in the Super Bowl?
– I dunno.
Or you can use it as the beginning of a sentence:
- I dunno who’s playing in the Super Bowl.
have to/has to
Most Americans don’t use “must.” We say “have/has to” instead. In conversation, “have to” is pronounced “hafta,” and “has to” is pronounced “hasta.”
- I have to go to work now. => I hafta go to work now.
- She has to pick up her son. => She hasta pick up her son.
have got to/has got to
The meaning of “have/has got to” is the same as “have/has to” or “must.” In conversation, we make this phrase VERY short. Look at how it changes.
- I have got to answer these emails. (acceptable in speaking and writing)
- I’ve got to answer these emails. (acceptable in speaking and writing)
- I’ve gotta answer these emails. (only for speaking and VERY informal writing like a text message or Facebook)
- I gotta answer these emails. (only for speaking and VERY informal writing like a text message or Facebook)
- Gotta answer these emails. (only for speaking and VERY informal writing like a text message or Facebook)
You will see “gonna,” “wanna,” and “gotta” in very informal writing, and you will hear them in conversation, but THEY ARE NOT REAL WORDS. Do not use them in writing for school or work.
should have/could have/would have/might have/must have
If you have not learned how to use perfect modals, you can ask your teacher. Basically, when we use a modal verb (should, could, would, might, must) with “have” and a past participle, we are putting the modal verb in the past. In pronunciation, Americans do not pronounce “have” very clearly. We just say “uh” or “a.”
- should have => shoulda
- could have => coulda
- would have => woulda
- might have => mighta
- must have => musta
Practice saying these sentences. Use the shortened pronunciation:
- I should have used sunscreen.
- I could have met you at the park, but I didn’t know you were there.
- I would have gone to the store, but I didn’t know what we needed.
- I might have left the oven on.
- She must have forgotten about the meeting.
Watch this video to hear many of these shortened phrases spoken by a native English speaker.