How to sound more fluent using contractions

We use could have, should have etc to talk about things that were possible in the past, but finally didn’t happen.

We call these perfect modals (modal verb + have).

Many times students say these perfect modals as two separate words.

It seems they are afraid that using the contracted form it won’t be clear that they are referring to a past event.

So, just to be on the safe side, they pronounce the modal verb + have separately.

But … think about this:

Why do native speakers contract perfect modals most of the time?

Do they not want their point to be clear?


So there must be something right in the way they do it 🙂

And that means something useful for us to learn.


Let’s focus on rhythm.

Saying “could have” as “could’ve” creates a different rhythm than saying the two words apart.


A more relaxed flow of speech.

Which is exactly what we look for. To make our speech more fluent.

Let’s use “could have” in an example to illustrate the point.

“You could have told us.”


In this example there are 5 words.

Now, here’s the trick:

In writing each of these words are printed the same size.

On paper they look equally “important”.


If you say them the way they are written, with the same amount of stress (same “size”), they will sound like 5 individual units.

However, in speaking, words usually receive different amounts of stress. The result musically is different. There will contractions created. 👇


1-Minute Tip ⏳


Think of words as construction toy blocks.

Imagine 5 construction blocks side by side on the table with an equal gap between them. Imagine you move a chopstick over them from left to right. What “music” will that create?

They will sound something like “cluck-cluck-cluck-cluck-cluck”.


Now imagine you group them into 2 units: one unit made up of 3 blocks and another one of 2 blocks.

Imagine these two units on the table with ONE gap between them.

What will the moving chopstick sound like this time?

Something like: “cluuuuuck-cluuuck”

Which version seems more fluent to you?

To me the second one 🙂


If you say You could have told us” with a different amount of stress on the words, there will be fewer units needed.

Fewer units = more fluent speech.

So, for “You could have told us”, I would use these 2 units:


“Could have” contraction

Each unit has a “stressed” word in it: COULD and TOLD.

(A bigger font size represents that COULD and TOLD sound louder and clearer in this sentence, while the other words are softer).


When saying this sentence in everyday spoken English, we get something like this:

“Could have” contraction
Practise saying the two units separately first.
  • You could’ve
  • told us

Once you can say them on their own with ease, it’s time to connect them to make the complete sentence.

There you go! Another tip to help you understand how speech flow is related to rhythm.


You can listen to this example in this short video:

Hi, my name’s Gábor.

I specialize in building confident English fluency for businesses to help them grow globally.

If you think your business deserves to be better known abroad, don’t let poor English fluency hold you back.

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Gábor 🙂

Connect | Gábor Légrádi | MA, RSA/CTEFLA

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