Many of our accent reduction clients seeking to improve their American accent ask about using the words “gonna” (instead of “going to”), “wanna” (for “want to”), and “kinda” (for “kind of”). Some are quite opposed to using them!
Here is my take on when it’s ok to use words like “gonna”, “wanna”, and “kinda”, and when you should avoid them.
Read on or listen to the audio version instead:
The American English accent is full of contractions.
In your years of studying English and listening to native-born English speakers, you may have heard many “contractions” used. Contractions include, for example: “I’ll” (for “I will), “what’s” (for “what is”), and “won’t” (for “will not”). They are often associated with a more casual speaking style, and are typically avoided in formal writing.
The main thing that makes Group 1 (the Gonna-Wanna-Kinda group) different from Group 2 (the I’ll-What’s-Won’t group) is the fact that in Group 1 the end of the word is neutralized. This neutralization can be described as a schwa (or very neutral sound) replacing a long vowel or consonant. This makes the omission of the end of the word sound more obvious. The more obvious the articulatory omissions, the more casual the speech ends up sounding.
Listen to these Group 1 contrasts. The first example is the phrase with the contraction. The second one is the phrase without the contraction. Notice how much more natural the first version of each pair sounds:
In Group 2-type (I’ll-What’s-Won’t etc.) contractions, the omission usually occurs in the middle of the two words, resulting in a less obvious articulatory omission. In fact, Group 2 contractions are highly desirable in American accented speech. If you use them, you will sound more like a native English speaker.
But when is casual too casual??
Speaking “too casually” might bring on associations of sounding “lazy”, “mumbling”, and even “speaking poor English”!
Well, the news is that most well-spoken, native-born Americans do use gonna, wanna, and kinda. Listen to a good speaker on TV or on a podcast or radio station who is engaging and entertaining, and I guarantee he/she is using them. Even the President of the United States uses them!
Here are some guidelines on how to use gonna, wanna, kinda:
When it’s OK:
- When your audience is very familiar and friendly, for example: friends, or colleagues on your team, or a boss who thinks well of you.
- When your discourse is moving quickly during parts of sentences that do not contain important (operative) key words.
- When you’re speaking naturally and just want to sound like a regular human.
When it’s best to avoid them:
- While you’re thinking and pausing to buy yourself time: “I’m not sure how I feel about it. I’m kindaaaaaa…”
- While speaking slowly. The whole point of contractions is to make speech more fluent and move forward more rapidly toward key words and ideas. If you are speaking slowly and have time to say “going to”, don’t say “gonna”.
- When you are in a formal speaking situation like a job interview, or perhaps narrating a documentary or delivering a somber speech, avoid gonna, wanna, and kinda.