Function Words – American English Pronunciation + Intonation/Word Stress

Function Words – American English Pronunciation + Intonation/Word Stress


This video will focus on function words, or,
the words that will be lower in pitch, often very quick, sometimes lower in volume, and
sometimes even reduced. Reduced means a sound in the word may be altered, or dropped altogether.
If you’re not familiar with what stressed means, you might want to watch the Intro to
Word Stress Video first. Intonation is the idea that we vary pitches throughout a sentence,
throughout speech. We do not speak always on the same pitch. We vary our pitches a lot.
This is part of what makes it easier to understand what’s being said. Understanding the pitch
patterns of American English, that’s an important part to being understood. So how do you know
which words should be stressed, higher in pitch, and which should be unstressed, lower
in pitch? Well, content words are the words that will generally be stressed, and function
words will generally be unstressed. There are several categories and subcategories of
function words. This video is just an overview. Later videos will more specifically categories
with examples. Articles are function words. For example, a and the. In the sentence Do
you have the time?, do you have the, the time? Do you see how the word ‘the’ is low in pitch?
Do you have the, do you have the, do you have the time? Auxiliary verbs are function words.
Auxiliary verbs are also called helping verbs, and in English grammar they are paired with
main verbs. There are several kinds. First, the kind of auxiliary verb that helps to make
the passive voice. For example, the sentence: The wall was painted yesterday. The wall was
painted, it didn’t paint anything. Passive. The wall was painted yesterday. In this sentence,
the word ‘was’ is the auxiliary verb. The wall was painted, was, was, was painted. Do
you see how it is lower in pitch? The wall was painted yesterday. We also need an auxiliary
verb to help make the -ing, or, progressive form. For example in the sentence: You are
speaking too fast. The word ‘are’ here is the auxiliary verb. You are speaking too fast.
Do you see how it is lower in pitch than the word speaking? You are speaking too fast.
These cases are often written as contractions. You’re speaking too fast. Another kind of
auxiliary verb is the one that helps to make the perfect tense. For example, in the sentence:
She has given up. The word ‘has’ is our helping verb here. She has given up. She has, she
has. Do you see how the word ‘has’ is very low in pitch? It’s actually been reduced and
I’ve dropped the H. She has, she has, she has given up. Modal verbs are also auxiliary,
or helping, verbs. For example, might, could, and can. Take for example the sentence: I
can go tomorrow. I can go tomorrow. Do you see how it is lower in pitch. It’s unstressed.
I can, can. It’s actually even reduced, kn, kn, from can to kn. I can, I can, I can go
tomorrow. I can go tomorrow. Prepositions are also function words. For example with,
on, beside. And so are pronouns. For example our, she. In the sentence “He came with his
friends,” the word ‘with’, a preposition, low in pitch, unstressed. He came with his
friends. Also, the word ‘his’, a possessive pronoun. He came with his, with his, just
like ‘with’, very low in pitch, unstressed. He came with his friends. Conjunctions are
also function words. For example and, but, if. In the example sentence I’ll come if you
want, I’ll come if you want. You can see that ‘if’ is one of the words that is not stressed,
it is lower in pitch. I’ll come if you want. To review, function words are the words that
will generally be unstressed in a sentence. So this means they will be lower in pitch,
sometimes lower in volume, often very, very fast. Sometimes they will even reduce, which
means, a sound will change or will get dropped. They are the opposite of content words, which
will generally be stressed within a sentence. This contrast of stressed and unstressed is
very important in American English. So now that you know a bit more about it, do try
to use it while speaking. That’s it, and thanks so much for using Rachel’s English.

47 comments

  1. Always interesting topic, thanks! By the way, i have a question. "Artillery" is one of the English words in which I still cannot hear "r" in Artillery. (For me, it sounds "Actillery") Do you think this "r' is also a kind of the reduced one or something? Please check the following video as an information;
    watch?v=bZUqq_cAArM

  2. @GodBlessYou2008
    I do not hear that as a C, I hear a clear R. The R won't ever be silent or change sound, though sometimes it will be lower in pitch and low in volume when it ends a word, like 'father'.

  3. The quality is not too poor. It's just that I love watching your videos in 720p or 1080p. (I usually watch them in full screen.) It's up to you to decide what file size to upload, though. 🙂

  4. In all honesty, you´re my best english perfection source in the whole world. This topic is fascinating.
    ¡take care! my dear friend.

  5. @danieru1979 Yes. 'Will' can be contracted like that: I'll, you'll, but also the The children'll have (in these cases with the WILL contracted, HAVE will most likely be pronounced 'uhv': [ʌv] or [əv].

  6. Hi Rachel!  I always tell my students that you are my best friend, without even knowing it.  I use your videos quite frequently to help my students with their English pronunciation.  Thanks for all the hard work.

  7. I'm an ESL teacher, too, and I really enjoy watching your videos for inspiration. Thanks for the great content! 🙂

  8. There are some things I don´t realize I use until watching your videos. Very important and well explained content. Congrats!

  9. I wanna thank you a lot, because now I am able to understand american movies with no captions. you are the best american english teacher I have ever met. thank you!
    now I wanna become a translator

  10. Best English tutorial videos ever! that I've learnt the technique I couldn't manage for years, in a few minutes!
    Thank you Rachel!

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