It’s been a while since there’s been an AccentsOff blog post. It’s because the AccentsOff world got kind of chaotic with a new website launch on top of a rough, freezing NYC winter that somehow made it hard for the fingers to type. But it’s spring now and body parts are thawed. And the brain works little. Wait, no, I mean, a little. I’ll explain.
It’s pretty astounding how changing one letter in an American English word can give a whole new meaning to what you’re saying. One eensy-weensy letter, that’s right.
INTO IT OR NOT??
I got a text this morning from a friend. He mentioned his teenage daughter, saying she was “into her book”.
I was kind of surprised because I’ve heard Claire isn’t much of a reader. So I wondered, hmmm, I wonder what book she’s reading? Maybe taking a break from Instagram for a bit? Is she starting to love to read?
But then, I checked the text again. It actually said “into her books“. Oh, right, of course! I missed the S. The idyllic picture of his daughter lost in some novel (“into her book”) got replaced with a snapshot of reality: she was up late studying for her classes (“into her books”), and NOT necessarily happily.
A FEW/LITTLE THINGS
Here’s another example. READ CAREFULLY: “I have a few things to offer you” vs “I have few things to offer you”. One little lower case A, barely detectable by the eye.
What’s the difference in meaning? “A few” is positive. It’s means “several”. Like, “I have a few minutes!” (Great!) “I have a few ideas!” (What are they?)
But “few” without the article is negative, and means “hardly any”. I have “few reasons to continue” implies someone is quitting.
This “few” business comes up all the time. In fact I just noticed a French friend (who has very good written and spoken English overall) making this mistake on a Facebook post.
And here’s a similar one: “A little” vs. “little”.
YOU: “I have a little time for you”. ME; Nice, thank you!! Let’s make it last!
But…YOU: “I have little time for you”. ME: Thanks. I don’t have any time for you, either, buddy.
That little article “a” makes a big difference, non?
DO YOU WANT TO… OR DON’T YOU??
Finally, there’s the classic “won’t” vs. “want” confusion. Have you ever experienced it? We bring this up in our sessions with so many of our accent reduction clients.
First of all, “won’t” is very hard to pronounce. I would say it’s one of the most difficult words for non-native English speakers. Check it out:
1) W is a problem right off the bat because it’s a consonant that glides around in the mouth and destabilizes everything.
2) Then you get to the O. This is a “diphthong” – a long, wavy vowel that travels in the mouth from O to OO.
3) But at the same time you’re coming up on an NT which requires great speed to hit properly. So you have to race through the O (coming off the psychotic W) trying to hit the NT properly and as a result, your O relaxes.
RESULT: Your “won’t” sounds like “want”.
Now we have reached the second, bigger problem. You are saying something that, at a quick pace, sounds like the opposite of what you mean. “I won’t go to the party” suddenly sounds awfully close to “I want to go to the party”. Because “to” is so short in English that it’s almost not heard.
So now you are stuck going to a bad party you don’t want to go to.
TIP: When pronouncing “won’t”, go for a very strong, long O. Practice “WOooo” without the NT, in fact, until that O is solid. Good luck!
If you have any more stories about “deadly” letters in American English, let us know!