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Weak Forms         

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We have seen that the vowels in UNSTRESSED SYLLABLES can suffer reduction, usually to , often to , and sometimes to . But what happens if the WHOLE WORD is unstressed?

As we saw in the page on sentence stress, short structural words are often completely unstressed. On of the examples was

In this sentence, the words "at", "has", "she" and "could" are all unstressed, and have weak vowels:
We call these weak forms.

Remember the rules for how to assign sentence stress, and remember that if you have learnt English as an L2, you are likely to have learnt these words in their citation form, which is their strong form - you've learnt to say /frm/ and /hæz/ instead of /frm/ and /z/.

What happens when a strong form becomes weak?

This is a detailed review of the different types of changes which structural words undergo when they become weak. For a complete look-up table of these changes, try this

Words which change their strong vowel to

Words which change their strong vowel to ()

Words which change their vowel before vowels


When strong, when weak ?

Quite often, strong forms are used instead of weak forms. The following is a summary of when strong forms are likely to occur.

(a) Normally weak, but strong when stressed

  • foregrounding
  • comparative stress
  • evasion of repetition (deacccenting)
  • citation forms
  • in front of pauses

    (b) weak forms which become strong when final

  • Prepositions and auxiliary verbs are strong at the end of utterances; pronouns remain weak:
  • sometimes strong preceeding final unstressed pronoun:

    (c) different part of speech

    Some words occur as different parts of speech with different stress and vowel quality:
  • that: weak when relative, strong when demonstrative:
  • some: weak when indefinite, strong when adjectival:
  • there: strong when adverbial, optionally weak when a dummy subject. Can also be weak finally.
  • Some verbs can be both auxiliary (weak forms) and main (strong forms):

    (d) h-dropping

  • Words beginning with h- drop the h when weak, but often retain them at the beginning of a sentence
  • If dropped h leads to V-V, it may reappear:
    but more often this leads to linking r after , , or :

    (e) conjunctions

  • and, but, than - nearly always weak

    (f) auxiliary verbs

  • strong forms finally, like prepositions
  • strong when main verbs