do not know or don't know

GeneD

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
Russian
Home Country
Belarus
Current Location
Belarus
I often wonder how native speakers of English pronounce words when reading literature: with or without contractions. For example, if "I do not know" is written, do you read it as it is, or do you shorten it to "I don't know"?
 

Rover_KE

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jun 20, 2010
Member Type
Retired English Teacher
Native Language
English
Home Country
England
Current Location
England
I read it as it is written, either aloud or in my head.
 

bubbha

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 2, 2016
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
Taiwan

GeneD

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
Russian
Home Country
Belarus
Current Location
Belarus
To me, it doesn't make any sense to change it.

I don't know where I got this impression from, but, for a long time until today, I believed that full phrases such as "do not", "cannot", "will not" are only used in formal writing, not in spoken language. Hence my initial question and now my confusion. :) Do you often use full phrases in speech? If so, in which situations are they mostly used?
 

emsr2d2

Moderator
Staff member
Joined
Jul 28, 2009
Member Type
English Teacher
Native Language
British English
Home Country
UK
Current Location
UK
There's a difference between what we say and what we read. In real life, I wouldn't say "I cannot come to the party" or "I will not eat that" (I'd use "can't" and "won't") but that's not what you asked us about. If the words on the page/screen are "cannot" or "will not" (or similar), then that is exactly how we read them.
 

GoesStation

No Longer With Us
Joined
Dec 22, 2015
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
I don't know where I got this impression from, but, for a long time until today, I believed that full phrases such as "do not", "cannot", "will not" are only used in formal writing, not in spoken language. Hence my initial question and now my confusion. :) Do you often use full phrases in speech? If so, in which situations are they mostly used?
We use the contractions nearly all the time in speech. We may not use them when we want to give special emphasis to the negative or make what we're saying completely unambiguous. In particular, can't sounds very similar to can, so we may say something like I can not pick you up tonight. Sorry!
 

GeneD

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
Russian
Home Country
Belarus
Current Location
Belarus
There's a difference between what we say and what we read. In real life, I wouldn't say "I cannot come to the party" or "I will not eat that" (I'd use "can't" and "won't")

Oh, that's a relief. Seriously. A moment ago I was ready to search for some book explaining the problem which, as it turned out, doesn't exist.:)
 

GeneD

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
Russian
Home Country
Belarus
Current Location
Belarus
To me, it doesn't make any sense to change it.
I began to change it not a long time ago. Unconsciously, at first, then deliberately. Why? Maybe because in Russian we don't have two different ways of expression (written and spoken) as you do in English, I thought that you naturally should unconsciously shorten them as I began to do. And also maybe because I'm learning English mostly by means of reading, I thought it might not be a bad idea to pronounce phrases in a bit more "natural" way. Now, when I know how you read such phrases, it's not easy to get used to the thought that both ways are natural to you. :)
 

GeneD

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
Russian
Home Country
Belarus
Current Location
Belarus
We may not use them when we want to give special emphasis to the negative

I didn't know this.
Is there any risk, when speaking without contractions, of sounding too formal or even patronizing towards the interlocutor?

or make what we're saying completely unambiguous. In particular, can't sounds very similar to can, so we may say something like I can not pick you up tonight. Sorry!
Yes, it's always been a question for me how you, in the US, cope with "can't".:) That's an interesting way to avoid ambiguity, but how do you know when the person who is talking to you is giving an emphasis and when just trying to say unambiguously? Or is it not important?
 
Last edited:

GoesStation

No Longer With Us
Joined
Dec 22, 2015
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Is there any risk, when speaking without contractions, of sounding too formal or even patronizing towards the interlocutor?

It would sound odd for a native English speaker to habitually avoid contractions - in fact, writers sometimes make this a quirk in a character's personality as a way to make the character stand out. It wouldn't sound patronizing though. From a non-native speaker it would just sound like something the speaker has not yet mastered.

Yes, it's always been a question for me how you, in the US, cope with "can't".:) That's an interesting way to avoid ambiguity, but how do you know when the person who is talking to you is giving an emphasis and when just trying to say unambiguously? Or is it not important?
Avoiding a contraction to provide emphasis is rare. I would generally understand it as avoiding ambiguity - but that's also not very common.

Can't ends with a glottal stop in spoken American English. In southern dialects the vowel is often lengthened so that can't rhymes with "ain't". Can is usually not stressed and shortened to k'n. It becomes very easy to tell them apart; I don't think I k'n remember thinking "I can't tell what he's trying to say!" (I used bold face to represent a strongly-stressed syllable. In speech I would probably take about the same amount of time on the one syllable in "can't" as on the four in "can remember".)
 

GeneD

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
Russian
Home Country
Belarus
Current Location
Belarus
It would sound odd for a native English speaker to habitually avoid contractions
Is it true also for three-word phrases like "would have been", "could have been"? I've heard they can be shortened to "would've been"/ "could've been" but don't know if such shortenings are as common as the two-word ones? They've always seemed to me too colloquial (don't know why)and I never shorten them. Should they be contracted in speech too?

Can't ends with a glottal stop in spoken American English. In southern dialects the vowel is often lengthened so that can't rhymes with "ain't". Can is usually not stressed and shortened to k'n. It becomes very easy to tell them apart; I don't think I k'n remember thinking "I can't tell what he's trying to say!" (I used bold face to represent a strongly-stressed syllable. In speech I would probably take about the same amount of time on the one syllable in "can't" as on the four in "can remember".)
Thank you so much for this insight! I'm going to practice distinguishing between the two when listening to American speakers.
 
Last edited:

bubbha

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 2, 2016
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
Taiwan
I don't know where I got this impression from, but, for a long time until today, I believed that full phrases such as "do not", "cannot", "will not" are only used in formal writing, not in spoken language. Hence my initial question and now my confusion. :) Do you often use full phrases in speech? If so, in which situations are they mostly used?
Sometimes for emphasis and clarity, we'll use the full form in speech.

A: I won't be able to go to the party tomorrow. I have an important project due the next morning.
B: Come on! We're all expecting you to come.
A: Seriously, I will not be able to go!
 

andrewg927

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 9, 2017
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
Is it true also for three-word phrases like "would have been", "could have been"? I've heard they can be shortened to "would've been"/ "could've been" but don't know if such shortenings are as common as for two-word ones? They've always seemed to me too colloquial (don't know why)and I never shorten them. Should they be contracted in speech too?

Yeah, they are pretty common.
 

GoesStation

No Longer With Us
Joined
Dec 22, 2015
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
It would sound odd for a native English speaker to habitually avoid contractions - in fact, writers sometimes make this a quirk in a character's personality as a way to make the character stand out. It wouldn't sound patronizing though. From a non-native speaker it would just sound like something the speaker has not yet mastered.

Is it true also for three-word phrases like "would have been", "could have been"? I've heard they can be shortened to "would've been"/ "could've been" but don't know if such shortenings are as common as the two-word ones? They've always seemed to me too colloquial (don't know why)and I never shorten them. Should they be contracted in speech too?
Yes. Pronouncing I would have been as four distinct syllables is relatively rare. I may pronounce that phrase as I'd've bin, I would've bin, or I would 'ave bin depending on various circumstances. I almost never pronounce the h in "have" in that phrase.
 

GeneD

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
Russian
Home Country
Belarus
Current Location
Belarus
Yes. Pronouncing I would have been as four distinct syllables is relatively rare. I may pronounce that phrase as I'd've bin, I would've bin, or I would 'ave bin depending on various circumstances. I almost never pronounce the h in "have" in that phrase.
After being once corrected on one of the forums when I used the word "gonna" and immediately was told that "there is not such a word in English", I have this question in my head: is it accepted here (in the place I'm writing) to write like this (or that).

The thing is, I can't say that I often see "double" contractions (like "I'd've") on the forums I happen to visit. Is there a reason for that (except the one that I visit not many English speaking forums:))? Could it be that these contractions aren't that vastly accepted for "semi-formal" writing on forums like this one? Or is it okay to use them everywhere except in formal writing? What do you think about it?
 
Last edited:

GoesStation

No Longer With Us
Joined
Dec 22, 2015
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
American English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
After being once corrected on one of the forums when I used the word "gonna" and immediately was told that "there is not such a word in English", I have this question in my head: is it accepted here (in the place I'm writing) to write like this (or that).
Write gonna and similar informal contractions like woulda or wouldna ("would have" or "wouldn't have") in the forum only when you're representing spoken English. I can't say why, but wanna, which I see all over the web written by non-native speakers, stands out as particularly galling and unnatural.

The thing is, I can't say that I often see "double" contractions (like "I'd've") on the forums I happen to visit. Is there a reason for that (except the one that I visit not many English speaking forums:))? Could it be that these contractions aren't that vastly accepted for "semi-formal" writing on forums like this one? Or is it okay to use them everywhere except in formal writing? What do you think about it?
That sort of contraction is suitable to represent spoken English. Don't use it otherwise.

In more formal writing, short contractions are OK. Write I'm, he's, they're, we're, can't, won't, etc. I didn't find an exhaustive list of suitable contractions after a brief search but I bet it's out there somewhere.
 

andrewg927

Senior Member
Joined
Apr 9, 2017
Member Type
Interested in Language
Native Language
English
Home Country
United States
Current Location
United States
The thing is, I can't say that I often see "double" contractions (like "I'd've") on the forums I happen to visit. Is there a reason for that (except the one that I visit not many English speaking forums:))? Could it be that these contractions aren't that vastly accepted for "semi-formal" writing on forums like this one? Or is it okay to use them everywhere except in formal writing? What do you think about it?

You don't see "I'd've" because it is distinctly conversational. I usually write "I would have" instead of "I would've."
 

Lynxear

Member
Joined
Dec 20, 2007
Member Type
Retired English Teacher
Native Language
English
Home Country
Canada
Current Location
Canada
Yes, it's always been a question for me how you, in the US, cope with "can't".:) That's an interesting way to avoid ambiguity, but how do you know when the person who is talking to you is giving an emphasis and when just trying to say unambiguously? Or is it not important?

This is done through the use of "word stress" which is something that is not taught often enough unless you are taking instruction in listening/speaking English.

Consider this:

1. I can't come to you. I am busy doing something.

2. I can't come to you. I am busy doing something.

3. I cannot come to you. I am busy doing something.


Each example has the same words except for "can't" being replaced by "cannot".

As you go from sentence 1 to 3 the level of annoyance increases. The example #1 is a simple statement of fact. Example #3 would probably be said if the demands for your attention were made repeatedly and you want them to stop.
 

GeneD

Senior Member
Joined
Mar 18, 2017
Member Type
Student or Learner
Native Language
Russian
Home Country
Belarus
Current Location
Belarus
Do you contract "might not" in speech?
 
Top