Wait, the difference between “CAN” and “CAN’T” is not the “t”???

Can and can't

So it’s pretty obvious, “can’t” has the letter “t”, which “can” doesn’t and that’s what makes pronunciation different, right? Well, not exactly.

If you check the dictionary by Merriam-Webster, you’ll find “can” is pronounced  \ kən , ˈkan also ˈken ; dialectal ˈkin \  but if you are no expert on phonetics, here is a little tip: 

  • To pronounce “can” next to a main verb, don’t pronounce the vowel sound, just say /kn/ and stress the main verb. For example, in the sentence “I can play the guitar” the word “play” is stressed and “can” reduced to /kn/ .The vowel disappeared, you can call it a schwa but the fact is it is almost not there.  I kn PLAY the guitar. Only pronounce the  /æ/ sound in positive short answers. Yes, I can = Yes, I /kæn/.
  • To pronounce “can’t”, do pronounce the vowel sound, which sounds like the  /æ/ in “cat”, “cap”, and don’t pronounce the /t/ sound.  Most Americans don’t release the final /t/ sound but end the word with an abrupt sound.

So, CAN = /kn/, CAN’T = /kæn/

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