When was the last time you really listened to a native speaker talk?
Maybe it was when you were chatting with a British or American colleague at work? Or perhaps it was when you were watching a movie or TV show in English? Well, if you were paying attention, you may have noticed something a little strange happening. The language they were using was slightly different from what you’d been taught. They seemed to be cutting out some words and skimming over others. Sometimes, they seemed to be using entirely new forms that you’d never heard before.
It’s easy to become disheartened when you hear native-level English spoken so differently from the way you speak it. You’re left with the question “What am I doing wrong?”
Well, the simple answer is: nothing. When we’re taught English, we’re taught how to speak it “properly.” This generally means making sure that every auxiliary verb and preposition is in the right place and that everything is pronounced correctly. And this is how it should be. English learners need to take things slowly at first and become familiar with the grammatical structures of the language. However, native speakers use the language in a much more fluid and intuitive way. They condense whole strings of words into just a few sounds, they skip consonants and flatten vowels. Essentially, they take “shortcuts” when speaking.
You’ll already be familiar with some of these “shortcuts,” in the form of written contractions. This is when we take a subject and an auxiliary verb or main verb and contract them into one word. For example:
- She will > She’ll
Example: She’ll be late if she doesn’t get a move on.
- I had > I’d
Example: I’d left my coat at work.
- John has > John’s
Example: John’s taken the file home with him.
- I am > I’m
Example: Hi, I’m new here. Nice to meet you.
We would expect to hear these contractions regularly from a native speaker (and even most learners). Using them makes us sound relaxed and fluent in spoken English and it’s appropriate to use them in most informal situations. They are also perfectly appropriate for informal written English, such as a message to a friend, an informal memo or a postcard.
However, we’re going to be looking at something different today. We’re going to focus on the contractions that English learners rarely get taught but are incredibly helpful for learning how to speak the language in a natural way. These are the “shortcuts” that you may have overheard and struggled to comprehend completely. Let’s look at informal spoken contractions.
Informal spoken contractions
First of all, a word of caution. While we may see some of these contractions (wanna, gotta, gonna, etc.) in very informal writing (a postcard or a short note), other forms (whatcha, d’ya) are never written and are only spelt out here for the purposes of learning them. In addition, while most of these forms are accepted as being colloquial spoken English and are appropriate in certain situations, some forms like ain’t are often considered incorrect or “bad” English. Thus, it is important that you learn them so you can understand others, but maybe it is best to avoid using them yourself.
Finally, a lot of these forms use the schwa sound. To find out what this sound is and how to form it, check out the article The Most Important Sound in English.
Now, let’s take a look at some specific examples:
Wanna: This can either be a contraction of want to (+ verb) or want a (+ noun) and it is one of the informal contractions that we are most likely to see written from time to time. The second syllable is pronounced as a schwa sound.
- I wanna see that new Coen brothers’ film tonight.
- I wanna beer. Fancy one?
Gotta: This contraction of got to (+ verb) or got a (+ noun) is, again, seen quite commonly in writing. The second syllable is pronounced as a schwa sound.
- Sorry, I’ve gotta go. I’ve gotta prior appointment.
- She’s gotta lot of respect for her teacher.
Gonna: Unlike wanna and gotta above, gonna is only a contraction of going to (+ verb), but is also commonly seen in very informal writing. Both syllables are pronounced as a schwa sound.
- They’re gonna win the league if they keep playing like this.
- She’s gonna meet me for lunch tomorrow.
Lemme: This spoken contraction is most commonly used in the imperative form, as a request or as an instruction to someone. It is a contraction of let me.
- Lemme take a look at that document.
- Well, lemme think for a second…
Kinda: This contraction of kind of means “rather” or “to some extent.” The second syllable is pronounced as a schwa sound.
- He’s kinda funny looking.
- I hope you can come. It’s kinda important.
Whatcha: This contraction is never written, but it’s incredibly common in spoken English. It is a contraction of what are you (+ verb + ing) or what have you (+ past participle). The second syllable is pronounced as a schwa sound.
- Whatcha done with my pen?
- Whatcha doing tomorrow afternoon?
Ain’t: This multipurpose contraction is used to express am not, are not, is not and have/has not. Remember, this is considered to be very informal or even “bad” English.
- I ain’t eaten all day.
- She ain’t here, so I can’t ask her.
D’ya: This form is never written, but it’s very common to pronounce the do you in questions by contracting it to only one syllable. This sole syllable is pronounced as a schwa sound.
- D’ya smoke?
- D’ya live around here?
Combining the informal contractions
So far we’ve learnt how to create these very common spoken contractions. Now, we’re going to look at combining them into longer sentences. This should help you to get a better idea of how different native English can be from the English you’ve learnt in classes.
What are you going to make for dinner tonight?
- Whatcha gonna make for dinner tonight?
Do you want to come to the cinema tonight?
- D’ya wanna come to the cinema tonight?
What have you got to do on the computer?
- Whatcha gotta do on the computer?
He isn’t going to like that.
- He ain’t gonna like that.
I haven’t got to get up until eight o’clock. Let me sleep some more!
- I ain’t gotta get up until eight o’clock. Lemme sleep some more!
I want to find the kind of girl who wants to settle down.
- I wanna find the kinda girl who wants to settle down.
Do you know if he is going to bring it today?
- D’ya know if he’s gonna bring it today?