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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