Pronunciation and Listening in English Part 4


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Content and Function Words


We received a lot of questions about our last discussion of pronunciation. If you remember, we talked about:



  • Words with meaning that are easy to describe – nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs
  • Content words are pronounced longer, louder and more clearly than function words



  • Words with little meaning, but are necessary to English grammar – prepositions, articles, helping verbs
  • Function words are pronounced more slowly, quietly and less clearly than content words


This is important because all you need to hear are the content words. If you can hear the content words, you can usually understand what the speaker is saying.


However, people have asked for more examples of the importance of content and function words.  So, let’s look at an example of conversation between a customer and a travel agent.


Sample 1: Only the function words


CUSTOMER: Is it _______________ to _______________ to _______________ on _______________?


AGENT: Yes, there are a _______________ of _______________. _______________ is at _______________ and the _______________ is at _______________.


CUSTOMER: _______________ is the _______________ for _______________?


AGENT: A _______________ is _______________ _______________ _______________. Do you _______________ to _______________ the _______________?


Do you understand what the customer wants? Do you understand what the agent is saying? Of course not. We only have the function words, and function words are not helpful in understanding the general meaning.



Now look at Sample 2.


Sample 2: Only the content words


CUSTOMER: _______________ _______________ possible _______________ fly _______________ Los Angeles _______________ Sunday?


AGENT: Yes, _______________ _______________ _______________ couple _______________ flights. One _______________ 9:30 _______________ _______________ other _______________ _______________ 3:15.


CUSTOMER: What _______________ _______________ fare _______________ coach?


AGENT: _______________ round-trip fare _______________ $318.00 plus tax. _______________ _______________ want _______________ make _______________ reservation?


Now, how much of this version did you understand? Where does then man want to go? When does he want to go? How much is the flight?


By listening to the content words and not worrying too much about the function words, you can still understand.


Now listen to the conversation.


I hope this has provided you with a little more understanding of how to listen in English.


Thank you for reading – and listening.  

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