Can or can’t

Today I’ll show you a musical approach to how to practise and understand the difference between “can” and “can’t” in spoken English.

When it comes to hearig the difference, students often only focus on trying to hear the /t/ in “can’t” in order to know if it is the negative form. However, there are times when it just cannot be heard easily, or not at all.

For example, compare these:

You can tell him.

You can’t tell him.

If you expect to hear the /t/ differently in these two examples, you may be surprised to find that the “t” in tell and the “t” in can’t will merge into one single /t/ sound in fluent spoken English. So you will end up hearing a simple /t/ in both sentences. Which means, trying to decide if a sentence is positive or negative just by fixing your attention on hearing or not hearing a /t/ (can versus can’t) can be misleading.

So how can you actually tell the difference then? Is it possible? Find the answer in this video.

In summary:

Don’t only focus on wanting to hear the /t/ in can’t. Practise how to hear and say “can” and “can’t” in phrases based on the accentuation explained in the video. This should give you an extra tool to better understand whether someone is saying they can or can’t do something.

If you are in the mood for some music, here’s this song snippet I wrote for a simple and fun way to practise the difference in the accentuation of “can” and “can’t”:

Have fun learning English!

Gabor Legradi
Author: Gabor Legradi

I'm an English teacher with a background in linguistics and music.

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