Learn Australian English in this episode of Aussie English where I teach you the Australian pronunciation of CAN vs CAN’T.
AE 464 – Can vs Can’t | Australian Pronunciation & Accent Training
G’day, guys. Welcome to this episode of Aussie English. Today I have a question from Dan who sent me this on YouTube, and Dan said, “How do we get the difference between can and can’t in Australian English?”. So, how can we pronounce these, and how can we listen out and hear the differences? Let’s go.
Alright, so this was a really good question. Thanks Dan. And remember, if you guys wanna ask me a question that you would like me to do a video on in the future, put that below.
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Alright, so ‘can’, we’ll go through ‘can’ first. ‘Can’ has the vowel sound /æ/. Okay? So, it sounds like words like fan, van, man, plan, and scan. However, ‘can’ can often be contracted, it can be de-emphasized, when it is in a sentence that has other words, where the word ‘can’ is not the focus.
So, ‘can’ is an auxiliary verb and I can use this verb before other verbs if I want to show that I am able to do this thing. I’m able to, I can do this thing. However, it can be contracted, it ‘can’ be contracted into just the schwa sound in Australian English, English everywhere can do this. Okay? “…’can’ do this”. So, if there are words in the sentence after ‘can’ I would generally say that you can contract it. Okay? So, it sounds like ‘can’. I so say this with me.
Can, can, can, can.
Good job. And let me give you some examples, okay?
I can see. I can see. I would never say it like that. Because the word ‘see’ is there, I would say, “I can see”. ‘Can’. The other example here is: can he help you? Can he help you? Can he help you? Can he help you? You’ve got ‘help you’ in there so you can say: ‘can’ he help you? Can help you?
The only thing I want to mention, when it is stand-alone, when it is by itself, in a sentence as in someone has used a question, they’ve ask you, “Can you do this? Can you do this”, and you’ve replied, “Yes, I can.”, you would never contract it. And so, you would say the full, well-pronounced word ‘can’. You wouldn’t say, ‘I can’ or ‘you can’.
So, for example: I can help you later. Can you? Can you? ‘Can’ is the only interesting word in that sentence aside from the pronoun. Can you? Can you? You wouldn’t say: can you? “Yes, I can”, not, “Yes, I can”. Okay?
So, quick recap. ‘Can’ sounds like: van, Dan, man, plan, etc., but it can be contracted when it is not the important word in a sentence, and it can become, it ‘can’ become, ‘can’. Can, can.
Alright, now let’s move onto ‘can’t’. ‘Can’t’. So, this is a different vowel sound. ‘Can’t’ sounds like words including: car, star, far, bar. This is a long /ɐː/ vowel sound, as opposed to a short /ɐ/ vowel sound. Okay? And this happens in the Australian accent where we have this vowel difference. Can, /æ/, can’t, /ɐː/. /æ/, /ɐː/. This is Australian, could be British as well, but it doesn’t happen in the Standard American Accent.
They will say ‘can’ and ‘can’t’, ‘can’ and ‘can’t’, and you have to listen for that T.
However, because we have that vailed difference in Australian accents you won’t often hear the T at the end. You can hear ‘can’, ‘can’, you know that that is the affirmative form, there’s no negative there, ‘can’, ‘can’. And when you hear ‘can’t’, you know, that’s negated because of the vowel sound.
And remember guys, this is different from the short version of this vowel. ‘Hut’ is a very short /ɐ/ sound, but if we make that longer, it changes the meaning of the word to heart, heart. Right? So, this is why it’s important to get this vowel sound right or you will change the meaning of the word and it’s quite bad.
Story time. Okay, so once I was working in a restaurant and the Thai lady, who was my manager at the time, I had to ask for a break. I needed to go on a break. So, I said, “Can I go on break?”, and she replied to me, “No, you cunt”. So, that was incredibly awkward, because I’m sure you guys will know that that word is one of the worst, if not the worst, words in English.
The way in which I told her to get around this was to just make sure she elongates that /ɐː/ sound. So, if you’re worried about making that mistake, just make sure that your elongating the vowel sound in the word ‘can’t’. Okay? Don’t make it quick. Don’t make it quick. Can’t.
Another point we also touched on a moment ago was that we mute the T. So, quite often you won’t hear people say ‘Can’t’, you’ll hear them say ‘can’t, ‘can’t’. So, what’s happening is that that T is a stop consonant where pressure builds up behind the tongue, and then is released, it’s released, but we can un-release it, although that’s not a word, we can prevent it from being released by just going. So, we would say, instead of ‘can’t’, we don’t say the /t/ and instead we just say ‘can’t’, and the tongue stops the air, ‘can’t’.
So, it sounds like a very, very, very short N sound instead of a long N sound. So, this is another way to listen out for this. If you heart, ‘can’t’, ‘can’t’, ‘can’t’, it’s different from ‘carn’, ‘carn’. That N sound is a lot more emphasised in the word ‘carn’ as opposed to ‘can’t’.
So, let’s compare these two words, okay, where will say the T released and then we’ll say unreleased.
Can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t, can’t.
As a result of this T being muted as well, when a word follows the word ‘can’t’ and it begins with a vowel sound, quite often we will link these words with an N sound. Okay? That /n/ in ‘can’t’ right at the end there. So, two examples are: I can’t open the door. I can’t open the door. I can’t open the door. N_open, N_open. I can’t open the door.
It can’t end like this. It can’t end like this.
Although, ‘can’ can be contracted to ‘can’, because ‘can’t’ or ‘can’t’ is already a contraction of the words ‘can not’, we won’t contracted any further. Okay? We won’t say ‘can’t’. So, let’s practice pronouncing the differences between ‘can’ and ‘can’t’, okay? Listen out for it.
Can, can’t, can, can’t, can, can’t, can, can’t.
Now I’m going to say to you a list of sentences, guys, and I’m not going to show you what those sentences are until after I have said them, and I want you to see if you can pick when I say ‘can’ or ‘can’ and when I say ‘can’t’. Okay? So, listen and have a think, pause the video if you need, but practice your ear here. This is where you want to listen and see if you can notice the difference in pronunciation. Let’s go.
Listening Comprehension test:
- ____ animals feel?
- She ____ help you.
- I ____ see him.
- He ____ eat now.
- ____ they buy me something?
- ____ you say anyone?
- It ____ end like this.
- We ____ leave when you want.
- I ____ change his mind.
Good job guys. I hope that helps. I know that the different sounds between ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ can be a real pain in the butt. Keep practising it. It will take a little time, but I am sure that you will get the hang of it sooner rather than later.
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Until next time, guys, I hope you have an amazing day and I’ll see you later. Peace!
- Can animals feel?
- She can’t help you.
- I can see him.
- He can eat now.
- Can they buy me something?
- Can’t you say anyone?
- It can’t end like this.
- We can leave when you want.
- I can’t change his mind.