Site Feedback

Resolved questions
Pronunciation of "can't'


A naive question.... :)
Do the British people normally pronounce "can't with a long 'a' sound like in 'calm'? Textbooks say so, but recently I've listened to the Beatles' song ' I should have known better' and I think I hear the 'a' as in 'cat' when they sing 'can't you see'.

Thanks in advance.

For learning: English
Base language: English
Category: Language



    Please enter between 2 and 2000 characters.



    Sort by:

    Best Answer - Chosen by Voting
    it's important not to say "cunt" instead of "can't".:))funny but very often Russians really pronounce can't as cunt...:))


    I listened to the sound track and I heard can't (British version) both times when it appeared in the song. The second "can't" is a little less stressed than the first one but I still recognize it as the British can't.

    When stressed 'Can' is pronounced with the a sound of cat in American and British English.
    'Can' is not usually stressed....the main verb takes the stress.
    I can SEE them.
    Because it is not stressed, it is usually pronounced simply as kn in everyday speech.
    I can GO to the store......I kn GO to the store.
    CAN'T is always stressed.
    The British can't sounds like the a in 'car'. The American can't is like the a in cat.
    Can't is usually pronounced without the final 't'. The t is turned into a glottal stop.
    I CAN'T GO to the store......I CAN'GO to the store.
    CAN'T you see........CAN'you see...

    The difference is not so much in how you pronounce the letter 'a' but in the fact that with the negative CAN'T (with or without the t) the vowel A is ALWAYS stressed. The stress on the letter a is an indication of negation.

    it's a little complicated, but I'll try to give you a general idea.
    they are pronounced differently when they are in a sentence:
    CAN = /kən/
    CAN'T = /kænt/ (US English), /kɑnt/ (UK English)
    In American English, the T in CAN'T is left out when in the middle of a sentence:
    I can't open it = /aɪ kæn oʊpɪn ɪt/ (US)

    I don't think it is left out in the same cases in British English too, but you won't hear it in cases like the following, where it is followed by some consonants (plosive):
    I can't do it = /aɪ kɑn du ɪt/ (UK) You won't hear the T, as it would be impossible to pronounce.

    The pronunciation of this verb is peculiar, but it is very important to make the difference or they won't understand you.
    ---- affirmative
    CAN /kn/
    ---- negative
    CAN'T BrE /kaan/ or /kaant/ AmE /kan/ or /kant/
    ---- interrogative
    CAN? /kn/ (or /kan/)

    CAN /kn/ CAN'T /kan/
    exception: at the end of a sentence CAN /kan/ CAN'T /kant/
    e.g: -Can you dance? - Yes, I can

    Denis has a good description of the word. However, I would just like to point out that 'sometimes' words in songs sound different to how they would be spoken. The word 'can't' is sometimes used the American way if it fits better with the song.

    @Denis "I listened to the sound track and I heard can't (British version) both times"... It is definitely 'a' as in 'cat'. Thanks for agreeing at last, Denis.

    It is a point of difference between British and American. But there are many exceptions - and you have found one. I recommend you use "can't" as spoken by British to avoid confusion between "can't" and "can". Be prepared to hear both types of pronunciation.


    In America, we pronounce it like in "cat"!
    In other English-speaking countries, though, you might hear it either way.
    In Australia, its usually pronounced as in "calm" :)

    Submit your answer

    Please enter between 2 and 2000 characters.

    If you copy this answer from another italki answer page, please state the URL of where you got your answer from.