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Everett Leiter, Director
Confident Speech

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Tag questions in English

A tag question is an abbreviated question that follows a statement. Typically, a positive statement is followed by a negative tag question. A negative statement is followed by a positive tag question.

It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?
I didn’t offend you, did I?

Both the statement and the tag question have their own intonation patterns. The statement portion is just like any other statement. It follows the “Jump up; step down” pattern. The tag question which follows may either fall in pitch or rise in pitch. It depends on the context and meaning.

1) When the speaker is almost sure of the statement, the tag question falls in pitch.
"It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?"
2) When the speaker is much less sure whether the statement is true, the tag question rises in pitch.
"I didn’t offend you, did I?"
“It’s a beautiful day, isn’t it?” There is little doubt about this. The sun is shining. The speaker knows that it’s a nice day!
“I didn’t offend you, did I?” Here, the speaker is not at all sure.

Since the speaker is less certain about the statement, the pitch rises in the tag question.

An accent training program at Confident Speech includes learning how to use the voice correctly for different phrase and sentence patterns. Explore our web site to find out about the range of our training options. Or contact us.

How to pronounce wh-words in English

Many commonly used words in English begin with the letters wh:  what, where, when, whale, white. Originally, there was a special sound that the letters wh represented. Click on the video to hear the original sound.

However, the English language seems to be changing. More and more, the trend in recent decades has been not to pronounce the wh in any special way. Now, most English speakers in North America and the United Kingdom pronounce wh with the same sound represented by the letter "w" For the majority of speakers, there is no difference between w and wh.

There are still many speakers who use the original pronunciation. But today, most English speakers make no distinction. For speakers who use the traditional wh pronunciation, there is a distinction between certain pairs of words like wear and where; which and witch; whale and wail; and whine and wine. However, for most speakers today, both words of the pair sound the same.

What is the best way to pronounce these words beginning with wh? It makes absolutely no difference. Both are considered perfectly correct. Most listeners do not even notice which way you choose to pronounce the wh.

Don’t forget that there is a very common exception. The word whole, meaning “entire,” is pronounced as if it were spelled with an h. It sounds exactly like the word hole, meaning an opening or hollow place.

Confident Speech specializes in accent and pronunciation training. For more information about our training programs, explore our web site or contact us.

How do you pronounce the word "often?"

Do you pronounce often with a /t/ sound or without a /t/ sound?

The word often is a fascinating example of language in the process of change.  Random House Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary states that English speakers consistently said often with a /t/ sound before the 17th century.  However, in the 17th century, the pronunciation of often without the /t/ sound gained favor with educated speakers.  

For hundreds of years in modern times, often was pronounced without a /t/ sound.

In recent years, however, more and more people have been saying often with a /t/ sound, just as it is spelled. Nowadays, you hear many educated speakers using either pronunciation. So, in a sense, both pronunciations are now standard.

Our observation and the results of our survey suggest that a majority of people still say often without the /t/ sound. However, both pronunciations are very widely heard.

What is our recommendation for pronouncing this word today?

It’s fine to say often with or without the /t/ sound. However, there are still some people who prefer that the /t/ not be pronounced. If you pronounce often without a /t/ sound, nobody will object.

Explore our web site for more information about training in English pronunciation, speaking, and voice. Contact us.

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