Lesson Summary 

Improve your English speaking skills by imitating a native English speaker! mmmEnglish online courses: https://www.mmmenglish.com/imitation-2/

OK, here we go! In this English pronunciation lesson, I’ll show you how to naturally pronounce 10 of the most common English words. This lesson is going to help you sound natural when you speak… Like a native English speaker! We’ll go over:
the
be
to
of
and
a/an
that
it
as
for

Practise with me to improve your pronunciation and sound more natural when you speak English!!

My video lessons are created to help English learners to improve their pronunciation and speaking skills. Please note that the pronunciation of some of these words differs between English accents. I speak with an Australian English accent 🙂

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Video Transcript
Section 1
Well hey there! I’m Emma from mmmEnglish and in this lesson I’m going to share ten words that you can start using right now to sound more natural when you speak English.

So which are these ten magic words that I’m talking about? These ones!

Interestingly, these words have a few things in common. So firstly, they are very, very, very, common. In fact, these are some of the most In fact, these are some of the most common English words. They’re all in the top twenty words that are used in English. So for that reason alone, this lesson is worth paying attention to.

But before we go on, I want to make sure that you’ve subscribed to mmmEnglish and you’ve turned on the notifications so that you know and you’ve turned on the notifications so that you know So just hit that red button down there!

But keep watching to learn how to say these words naturally and at the end of this lesson, you’ll get to practise with me!

So most of these words are used for grammatical reasons in English sentences. On their own, they don’t hold a lot of meaning. They’re not nouns or verbs or adjectives which are the words that help us to understand what is happening in a sentence or how it’s happening in a sentence. So these words are structure words not content words. The exception though is the ‘be’ verb here. It’s the only verb that we’ve got but it’s the exception.

The other thing that these words have in common is that they all have stressed and unstressed forms when they’re spoken. And this is exactly what we’re going to go over in this lesson. Because using the unstressed forms of these words when you speak English will help you to sound more natural.

the /ðiː/

So let’s start with ‘the’. So this word is not usually stressed, so you don’t hear it pronounced like ‘the’ very often. You’ll hear a shorter version /ðiː/ and also you’ll hear /ðə/

So we have two unstressed forms because the pronunciation of this word changes depending on the word that follows it. So if the word ‘the’ is followed by a consonant sound, then it’s pronounced /ðə/ – the lazy schwa sound.

Can I use the bathroom?
Tell the children to stay inside.

Now if the word ‘the’ is followed by a vowel sound then it’s pronounced /ðiː/ which is much like /ðiː/ but just a shorter version of it.

I’ll take you to the airport.
She forgot to buy the ice cream.

be /biː/

The verb ‘be’ is the second most commonly used word in English but of course, it has several forms doesn’t it? Depending on the subject and the tense. So you won’t often hear ‘be’ stressed in an English sentence.

When it’s the main verb in the infinitive form, you’ll usually hear just a slightly shorter version.

I’ll be home soon.

Now in the present tenses you’ll hear ‘am’, ‘is’ and ‘are’ and these forms are usually pushed together when spoken naturally with the subject so it forms a contraction.

I am = I’m
You are = You’re
He is = He’s
She is = She’s
We are = We’re
They are = They’re

So when spoken, these contractions mean that we hardly hear the ‘be’ verb at all. The pronunciation of the past tense forms are also usually reduced. So ‘was’ becomes /wəz/

He was upstairs earlier.

And ‘were’ becomes /wə/

They were too tired.

Now in past participle form, the vowel sound is often shortened to /bin/ instead of /bi:n/ it’s /bin/

We’ve been there too.

to /tu:/

Moving on to the word ‘to’. Now ‘to’ is the stressed form but when spoken, the word is usually unstressed. Just like I said moving on to the word ‘to’.

It’s quarter to two.

of /əv/

Now ‘of‘ is another incredibly common English word, usually unstressed so it sounds like /əv/ not /ɒv/ with the lazy schwa sound again.

Would you like a cup of tea?
I’ll take a picture of you.

and /ænd/

Now of course, ‘and‘ must make our list of commonly used words, right? And just like the previous words, it’s often unstressed when spoken. ‘And‘ becomes /ənd/ or  /ən/

You and me.
Come and visit me!
We need some milk and apples.

at /æt/

Now this tiny little word ‘at’ can be stressed or unstressed.

You need to be here at three o’clock.

So by stressing ‘at’ I’m adding emphasis. I’m making the meaning stronger.

You need to be here exactly at three o’clock – not before, not after, at three.

So most of the time though, this word won’t be stressed. And the sound reduces to /ət/

I’ll meet you at the car.
Pick her up at eight.

at /ðæt/

Just like ‘at‘, ‘that‘ can be stressed or unstressed. So this word can be used as a determiner to explain which specific thing we’re talking about. So in this situation, you’ll probably need to stress this word so that it’s really clear.

Not this one, that one!

And as an adverb, it will probably also be stressed.

I’m not that hungry.

But when ‘that’ is used as a conjunction – so when it’s connecting two clauses in a sentence – it’s unstressed and the vowel sound reduces. It becomes /ðət/

I told her that I’d be here.

a /ə/ and an /ən/

So let’s talk about the articles ‘are’ and ‘an’ because they are both usually unstressed. Now they’re used singular nouns, aren’t they? When you’re talking about just one of something. So since we stress English words to make the meaning really clear, it’s much more natural to stress the number rather than stress the article because the important information is that there is just one of something.

So it sounds a bit odd to hear: No! I said I only wanted a sandwich!

It sounds much more natural to hear: No! I said I only wanted one sandwich!

So since most of the time, these articles are unstressed the vowel sound reduces to become the schwa sound /ə/ /ən/

I’m only staying for a day.
Can you pass me an apple?

it /ɪt/

Now very often the word ‘it’ is reduced too. So instead of /ɪt/ the vowel sound relaxes and it becomes /ət/ (the schwa sound) and when spoken quickly, the T is often not fully pronounced either. The air is not released after the sound, so instead of the air is caught and then you move quickly to the next sound. So listen up!

It doesn’t matter.
I must have lost it.

Now notice how the word ‘it’ is pulled into the word before it because it ends with a consonant.

Get it out of the car.

as /æz/

And ‘as’, this little word can be a conjunction, so it can connect two parts of a sentence together. It can be a preposition, even an adverb. So it can be stressed.

He wasn’t as late as I thought.

But it’s often unstressed /əz/ Again, using the schwa for the unstressed sound.

He works as a doctor.
It wasn’t as big as I thought.

for /fɔː(r)/

Last but not least, another small but mighty English word, ‘for’. Now when I pronounce this word, I don’t pronounce the final /r/ sound and that’s my Australian accent which is the same as the British pronunciation of this word /fɔː/

So the standard American accent pronounces the R at the end /fɔː(r)/
That’s my really rubbish American accent!

But whether or not you pronounce the R sound, there is a different vowel sound when this word is stressed and unstressed. And this word is usually unstressed. Just like all of the other examples that have come before, the vowel sound reduces down to become the schwa sound /fə/

He needs it for work.
Can you get it for me?

So you’ve probably noticed that the schwa sound is a very, very important sound for unstressed words, right?

And that’s because this is the most common sound in English. So as you’re using all of these small but grammatically important words in your English sentences, then start reducing the sounds of them. This is going to help you to sound more natural when you speak English. Words that are important to help someone understand your sentence should be stressed and these words are usually adjectives, verbs, nouns – that kind of thing. But other words in your sentence can be unstressed and the sound reduces, they become difficult to hear.

Okay, so before we finish I want to practise with you a little. I’m going to put a sentence up here so when you see it, say it out loud and try to reduce the unstressed words.

I’ll be there on the first.
A bottle of water.
It’s for a friend of mine.
It’s a piece of cake.

Well, that’s it for this lesson! You know that I make new lessons every week, don’t you? So make sure you subscribe to my channel. Make sure that you don’t miss any of my future lessons. You just need to click that little red button down there!

And if you want to keep practising with me right now, then check out these lessons right here! In fact, that one is great for improving your pronunciation and your natural English expression so try that one out.

Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next week. Bye for now!

mmmEnglish Video Lessons are a series of video lessons created to build confidence in English learners and focus on English in daily life. Download them and watch them anywhere! Subscribe to my YouTube Channel to be the first to get my new videos, and come and say hi on my Facebook page!!