How to say Can and Can’t in British and American

Learn how to pronounce can and can’t in British and American English. Can is pronounced in much the same way in both varieties, but can’t is very different.  It explains one of the (many) reasons why Vicki sometimes find it hard to understand Jay.

Click here to learn about some more British and American differences.
Click here to see more pronunciation videos
Click here to learn to use can, could and may to ask for permission.

Can Can’t pronunciation video script

Hi! This video’s about how we pronounce the words can and can’t in British and American English.
She means can and can’t.
Can and can’t.
Yeah, can and can’t.
I’m Vicki and I’m British.
And I’m Jay and I’m American.
We’ve received requests for a video on how we pronounce these two words.
I’m not surprised. Sometimes Vicki doesn’t understand me.
Yeah.

I don’t want you to see.
I can’t see.
Oh well let me try again.
Why? I can’t see.
Do yopu mean you can or you can’t see?
I can’t see.

When Jay says can’t, sometimes I think he’s saying can. It’s hard to hear the difference, but don’t worry. We’ll go step by step and show you how we pronounce these two words.
Let’s start with the word ‘can’. We both pronounce it in two ways. Strongly – can, and weakly – c’n. See if you can hear the difference.

Can you hear me?
Yes, I can. Can you hear me?
Yes I can.

C’n… C’n you hear me? That’s weak. Yes I can. Can. That’s strong. Jay and I both say can and c’n.

C’n… C’n you hear me?
C’n… C’n you hear me?

C’n. It links with the next word. It links with the next word. C’n you… C’n you hear me? There’s no gap. But notice, that when we give a short answer, we both say ‘can’ strongly.

Yes, I can.
Yes, I can.

Can is longer and higher in pitch. It’s stressed. So what’s happening here? Well, normally when we’re speaking, we pronounce ‘can’ weakly. C’n. But If we’re emphasizing can and stressing the word, we use the strong form. Can.

Can’t you hear me?
No, I CAN hear you.

We always use the strong form in short answers.

Can you hear me?
Yes, I can. Cnn you hear me?
Yes I can.

Did you hear the difference between can (c’n) and can there? OK. Great. Now let’s look at ‘can’t’.

Can’t is pronounced differently in British and American.
Yes. I say can’t.
And I say can’t.
That’s different. Listen.

Can’t.
Can’t.
Can’t.
Can’t.

It’s a different vowel sound. Did you hear it?

Can’t.
Can’t.
Can’t.
Can’t.

So what happens when we use ‘can’t’ in a sentence? Let’s look at some examples.

Jay had surgery on his hand this week.
I can’t open jars. And I can’t chop. Oh, but I can write. That’s because I’m left handed.

Listen carefully to how Jay says ‘can’t’ here. When we write ‘can’t’, it ends with ‘t’. But does Jay pronounce the ‘t’?

I can’t open jars.

There was no ‘t’ sound!

I can’t open jars.
I can’t see.

No ‘t’ sound! Jay puts a stop on the word so it ends suddenly and the ‘t’ disappears. See if you can hear the difference.

Can.
Can’t.
Can.
Can’t.
Can.
Can’t.

They sound similar, don’t they? But can’t is a little shorter. It ends more suddenly.

Can.
Can’t.

Now what about British English? Here’s how I say it.

He can’t open jars.

You can hear the t sound. It connects can’t and open and links the two words together. Can’t-open.

He can’t open jars.

The t sound gets added to the next word. OK, another example. But this one’s different.

Hello. Hello. I can’t hear you.
Oh!

Did you hear a ‘t’ sound there? Listen again.

I can’t hear you.

I didn’t pronounce the ‘t’! Sometimes in British English, we’re like Americans. We don’t pronounce the ‘t’.

I can’t hear you.

So what’s happening here? Often in spoken English, we don’t pronounce the final t sound clearly in negative words that end ‘nt. So words like can’t, don’t and won’t become can(’t), don(’t), and won(’t). The t sound can disappear when we’re speaking. This happens a lot in American English. And it sometimes happens in British English too. So instead of saying don’t we say don(’t).

I don(’t) know.
I don(’t) know.

And instead of saying won’t we say won(’t).

No, I won(’t).
No, I won(’t).

And the same thing happens with can’t. Instead of saying can’t we say can(’t). We just say /n/ at the end. Can(‘t). Can(‘t). It’s a quick /n/ sound. Try it. /n/ /n/. The sound is in your nose.
In British English, we generally pronounce our t sounds more clearly than Americans, especially if we’re speaking carefully. But when we’re speaking casually and informally, we often don’t say them – just like Americans.

I can(’t).
I can(’t).

In British English, sometimes we say the ‘t’ and sometimes we don’t.

I can’t see.
I can(‘t) see.

So shall we review?
Yeah. In British and American English, when we say ‘I ca’n do it’, can sounds like c’n.
That’s right. And in American, when you say ‘I can’t do it’, ‘can’t’ sounds like ‘can’.
That’s right. ‘I can’t do it.’
So in American English can is c’n and can’t is can(t).
That’s right. Can(’t.)
American English is hard!
No, it’s easy! What do you think?
We have more videos on differences between British and American English and if you click here you can see some.
And make sure you subscribe to our channel because we produce a new video every week.
Happy studying everyone! Bye.
Bye.

Click here to learn about some more British and American differences.
Click here to see more pronunciation videos
Click here to learn to use can, could and may to ask for permission.

3 thoughts on “How to say Can and Can’t in British and American

  • Pingback: 2 tricky vowel sounds in British and American English - AH and UH

  • March 14, 2019 at 8:19 am
    Permalink

    Although it might seem otherwise to non Brits who watch British films or tourists or who only visit London – the pronunciation of “can’t” is not standard throughout the British Isles.

    It is pronounced by locals as “caahnt” or even “carnt” only in the South East of England (including London and extending to Bournemouth) and the Midlands – which it has to be said is where the majority of the population live.

    In the North and South West of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Eire it is pronounced “Kant” rhyming with “rant” (with many minor variations).

    However, with TV and other media, where London English is dominant, the caahnt/carnt
    pronunciation is increasingly standard in the South West and parts of the North.

    Separately, as an Englishman and keen listener to accents I have often had to listen very carefully to distinguish Northern Irish and also some Scottish speakers from Americans.

    Reply
    • March 16, 2019 at 5:28 pm
      Permalink

      Thank you very much for this thoughtful comment Jeremy. Viwers might like to watch our other video on the rhotic R sound and also our video on the vowel soundsUh and Ah.

      Reply

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