Have you noticed that when you use informal contractions like “gonna,” “wanna,” “dunno,” “hafta,” you don’t exactly sound like an American? 🤔
In fact, if you’re not careful, using these informal contractions can actually draw more attention to the fact that you’re a non-native speaker and enhance your accent.
In this video, I’ll explain why we use informal contractions and share twenty-two (22!) of the most common ones we regularly use in natural, relaxed speech.
I’ll clarify how to use these informal contractions more naturally, and teach you what you need to do throughout the rest of the sentence so you sound more like a native English speaker.
We’ll practice using clear, simple examples that may actually be things you would say in your normal life.
Let’s get started!
What Are Informal Contractions?
First things first, let’s talk about what we mean by informal contractions.
Informal contractions are when we combine two or more high frequency words in order to make them go more quickly and be easier to say.
For example, we often use the words “going to” or “want to” together, so we combine the words into the informal contractions “gonna” and “wanna.”
Native speakers do this automatically. We’re used to stressing important words and reducing ones that don’t matter.
When we use certain words often, we tend to combine them to move through them a little more quickly and focus attention on the words that truly matter.
Unlike the most common contractions, where we combine auxiliary or helping verbs with pronouns or negatives, informal contractions are completely optional.
We call them “informal contractions” because you’re more likely to hear them in relaxed speech when you’re hanging out with your friends or you’re speaking in a more casual setting.
When I listen to my own speech, I notice that sometimes I use these contractions, and sometimes I don’t! It really depends on what I’m saying and the way I want to focus attention on my words.
That said, when I do use informal contractions, I don’t think about it. It happens naturally. As you continue to evolve as a non-native English speaker, this may start happening for you, too!
Why We Use Informal Contractions in Natural Speech
In order to start including informal contractions in your speech, you need to be sure you’re correctly using word and sentence stress throughout the rest of your sentence. Here’s why.
When certain words, phrases or expressions are high frequency, we often link them together and reduce less important sounds or even drop sounds entirely.
When you hear informal contractions like “gonna,” “wanna,” and “dunno,” you’re going to still hear that one of the sounds inside this contraction is stressed.
The rest of the sounds are de-emphasized in order to focus attention away from the words that don’t matter.
The problem is that a lot of people learn informal contractions without any context. I get it: informal contractions are fun to practice, they’re fun to say, they’re fun to understand.
Even more importantly, they help you decode the speech of native English speakers.
The Most Common Mistake With Informal Contractions
Unfortunately, when you use informal contractions without correctly stressing the rest of the sentence, it draws extra attention to words that should actually be de-emphasized.
When we use informal contractions, we’re trying to make these words a little less obvious and focus attention on the rest of the sentence.
If you’re not distinguishing between the words that truly matter and the words that don’t, using one of these informal contractions can sound a little odd or out of place. It can even sound a little bit forced!
On the other hand, if you are correctly stressing the rest of your sentence and then introducing these informal contractions, it will help you sound more like a native English speaker.
As you continue to reduce your accent and work on how you sound when speaking English, you can start including these informal contractions.
But it’s much more efficient and much more effective to start with word and sentence stress first and then build to including these informal contractions and other ways that we link words together.
For more guidance on word and sentence stress, sign up for my free Stress Starter Kit. This five-day course will help you get started with English rhythm.
If you know you’re ready to work on your stress to improve your accent and communication in English, consider my Stress Simplified program.
Practice the Most Common Informal Contractions in American English
Now let’s talk about these informal contractions and how to use them while still correctly stressing the rest of the sentence.
Here are the informal contractions we practice in this video:
- gonna = going to
- wanna = want to
- dunno = don’t know
- kinda = kind of
- gotta = got to
- lotta = lot of
- lotsa = lots of
- lemme = let me
- hafta = have to
- gimme = give me
- tryna = trying to
- outta = out of
- shoulda = should have
- woulda = would have
- coulda = could have
- whaddya = what do you
- whadja = what did you
- wheredja = where did you
- howdya = how do you
- howdja = how did you
- whydja = why did you
- dontcha = don’t you
In the video, I give you the opportunity to consider a sentence using these contractions so you can identify which words should be stressed.
Be sure to repeat after me in order to practice correctly stressing the rest of the sentence so that you sound natural while using these informal contractions.
Do you notice how different it sounds when you de-emphasize the informal contractions in order to focus attention on the stressed words?
Practice Exercises with Example Sentences Using Informal Contractions
1. gonna = going + to
Let’s start with the informal contraction I use the most: gonna. “Gonna” is a contraction of the words “going to.”
Because “go” is stressed, we are reducing “-ing” and “to.” In fast speech, it becomes “gonna.”
Let’s look at an example sentence that includes the word “gonna.”
I’m gonna call you later tonight.
Take a moment and identify which words should be stressed in this sentence. Remember, in order for these contractions to sound natural, you need to be correctly stressing the rest of the sentence.
Try repeating it after me: I’m GON-na CALL you LA-ter to-NIGHT.
If you overemphasize “gonna,” the sentence won’t sound natural. It needs to have the flow that comes from stressing content words and reducing function words.
2. wanna = want + to
Now, let’s look at “wanna.” “Wanna” is a contraction of “want to.” Take a look at this example. Which words do you think should be stressed in this sentence?
I wanna go to the beach this weekend.
Remember, these contractions are generally de-emphasized. It’s really important you stress the content words in the sentence.
Now, let’s practice: I WAN-na GO to the BEACH this WEEK-end.
Are you starting to create that natural rhythm of English by stressing the words that matter?
3. dunno = don’t + know
Let’s try another contraction: dunno. “Dunno” is the contraction of “don’t” and “know.”
Take a look at this example. Which words should be stressed?
I dunno what time the party will end.
Take a moment and repeat after me: I dun-NO WHAT TIME the PAR-ty will END.
As you can hear, correctly stressing the rest of the sentence helps de-emphasize this informal contraction.
4. kinda = kind + of
Let’s try another one: kinda. “Kinda” is a contraction of “kind of.” Take a look at this example.
We’re kinda tired of all the rain this week.
As you can see, these are the words that should be stressed: We’re KIN-da TI-red of ALL the RAIN THIS WEEK.
Do you hear how “kinda” shouldn’t get extra attention? It should be stressed equally with the rest of the stressed words in the sentence.
5. gotta = got + to
Next, let’s look at “gotta.” “Gotta” is a contraction of “got to.”
Take a look at this example and think about which words should be stressed:
They’ve gotta do a lot of work today.
As you can see, these are the words that should be stressed: They’ve GOT-ta DO a LOT of WORK to-DAY.
6. lotta = lot + of
Next, let’s look at “lotta.” If you listen carefully, I actually said it in the last example. “Lotta” is a contraction of “lot of.”
Here’s another example. Which words should be stressed?
There are a lotta rules we need to learn.
Here are the stressed words in this sentence: There are a LOT-ta RULES we NEED to LEARN.
Did you get them?
7. lotsa = lots of
A similar contraction is “lotsa,” lots of. Here’s an example with “lotsa.” Which words should be stressed?
There are lotsa animals at the zoo.
Did you stress them correctly? There are LOTS-a AN-i-mals at the ZOO.
I hope you hear how combining these informal contractions with correct stress throughout the rest of the sentence helps you sound more natural.
8. lemme = let + me
Let’s move on. Let’s talk about “lemme.” “Lemme” is a contraction for “let me.”
Here’s an example. Which words would you stress?
Lemme know if you decide to come to the movies.
Let’s see if you got it right: LEM-me KNOW if you de-CIDE to COME to the MO-vies.
I hope you hear how stressing the correct words in this sentence helps give a nice rhythm to the way that I’m speaking.
9. hafta = have + to
Now, let’s look at “hafta.” “Hafta” is a contraction of “have to.”
Take a look at this example and think about which words should be stressed.
I hafta check to see when it starts.
Here are the stressed words. I HAF-ta CHECK to SEE when it STARTS.
I hope you can hear how the up and down between stressed and unstressed words helps create a natural-sounding rhythm on that sentence.
10. gimme = give + me
Next, let’s look at “gimme”: give me. Which words would you stress in this sentence?
Gimme a call if you change your mind.
Here’s how I would stress the sentence: GIM-me a CALL if you CHANGE your MIND.
Are you starting to get the hang of it?
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11. tryna = trying + to
Now let’s talk about “tryna”: trying to. Take a look at this example. Which words would you stress?
I’m tryna speak more clearly.
Here’s how you should say the sentence: I’m TRY-na to SPEAK MORE CLEAR-ly.
12. outta = out + of
Next, let’s look at “outta”: out of. How would you stress this sentence?
We’re almost outta time.
Repeat after me: We’re AL-most OUT-ta TIME.
You can really hear in this example that I’m not putting particular emphasis on “out of.” I’m putting emphasis on other words in the sentence.
13. shoulda = should + have
Now let’s move on to three of my favorite informal contractions. “Shoulda” is a contraction of “should have.”
Which words would you stress in this example?
You shoulda asked me sooner.
Here’s how to stress the sentence: You SHOULD-a ASKED me SOON-er.
14. woulda = would + have
Here’s a related one: woulda. “Woulda” is a contraction of “would have.” How would you stress this?
I woulda helped you if you’d asked.
Here’s how I would stress it: I WOULD-a HELPED you if you’d ASKED.
Kind of hard to say, a little bit of a tongue twister!
15. coulda = could + have
Next, let’s look at “coulda,” which is a contraction of “could have.” How would you stress this?
He coulda told us a few days ago.
Here’s how to stress this sentence: He COULD-a TOLD us a FEW DAYS a-GO.
Something to note is that some people may say “would’ve,” “could’ve,” and “should’ve.”
In fact, that sounds a little more natural for me. It was hard for me to use these informal contractions, because I don’t normally reduce the sound so much!
16. whaddya = what + do + you
So far we’ve talked about the most common informal contractions, but there are more.
I’m going to give a few more examples here, but it’s likely that you’ll hear many others as you continue to notice how native English speakers talk.
For example, let’s talk about “whaddya.” “Whaddya” is short for “what do you.”
Which words should be stressed?
Whaddya want to do after work?
Here’s how: WHAD-dya WANT to DO after WORK?
As you can hear, it sounds a little weird to put extra stress on “whaddya.”
We’re trying to rush through those condensed, contracted words.
You want to make sure you’re stressing the words that truly matter in the sentence.
(You can hear that I’m naturally including another contraction: wanna!)
17. whadja = what + did + you
Now, let’s look at the past tense version of this contraction: whadja. What did you: whadja.
How would you stress this?
Whadja do last night?
Try repeating it with me: WHAD-ja DO LAST NIGHT?
18. wheredja = where + did + you
A related example: wheredja, where did you.
Which words am I stressing?
Wheredja go on vacation last year?
Try repeating the correct stress along with me: WHERE-dja GO on va-CA-tion LAST YEAR?
19. howdya = how + do + you
Another example: howdya. That’s a contraction of “how do you.”
Which words am I stressing?
Howdya feel about that?
Here’s how it should be stressed: HOW-dya FEEL about THAT?
20. howdja = how + did + you
A similar example: howdja. It’s a contraction of “how did you.”
Which words am I stressing?
Howdja find this awesome restaurant?
Here’s how to stress it: HOW-dja FIND this AWE-some rest-AUR-ant?
21. whydja = why did you
Another similar example: whydja, why did you.
Which words are stressed?
Whydja leave so early?
Yes, you’re right. All of the words are stressed. WHY-dja LEAVE SO EAR-ly?
22. dontcha = don’t you
And last but not least, let’s talk about “don’t cha.” That’s a contraction of “don’t” and “you.”
Which words am I stressing?
Dontcha love this language?
Here you go: DONT-cha LOVE this LAN-guage?
Remember: Informal Contractions Are Completely Optional
As you can see, there are a lot of informal contractions that native speakers will naturally use when they’re feeling relaxed when they’re speaking.
Just a reminder: we do call these “informal contractions” for a reason!
While you will sometimes hear them in professional situations, it’s probably best that you emphasize speaking clearly and correctly stressing the rest of the sentence rather than trying to include these when you don’t need to.
Like I said at the beginning, these informal contractions are totally optional.
If you don’t feel comfortable using them, don’t force it.
As you continue to advance and feel more confident about your stress, intonation, linking and connected speech, you will start naturally including these contractions.
The more you listen to native English speakers, the easier it’s going to be to include them in your speech and sound natural while doing so.
Even if you don’t want to include these informal contractions in your speech, they’re helpful to understand so that you’re able to decode and be able to follow what native speakers are saying.
As always, I encourage you to listen for the words that are stressed in the sentence. That will help you understand the meaning that is most important.
If words are contracted, it’s because they’re high frequency words or they’re not that important and we just fly right through them.
Pay attention to the words that receive the most stress in the sentence in order to follow the meaning.
After reading this article and watching this video, I hope you feel much more confident understanding and eventually using these informal contractions.
Remember, in order to sound more like a native speaker when using them, you want to be sure you correctly stress the rest of the sentence.
Don’t forget that! That’s what’s going to help you sound more natural.
Now it’s your turn! Leave a comment and share: Which informal contractions were you familiar with?
As I mentioned, there are many more informal contractions that you’ll start noticing now that you understand how they work. What are some others you’ve heard native speakers use?
For more guidance on how to use your voice to emphasize the words that truly matter, check out the article and video on how to improve your pronunciation for clear communication in American English.
(I also suggest you sign up for the Stress Starter Kit!)