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Pausing within Sentences | English Pronunciation Lesson

Speaking clearly and being understood when speaking English isn’t just about pronouncing vowels and consonants correctly, or even using the correct rhythm, stress and connected speech pronunciation rules.

Another key to speaking clearly and being understood is pausing between groups of words in your sentences.

That means, native English speakers do not speak continuously. In fact, they take tiny pauses (meaning, they don’t speak for a fraction of a second) between groups of words.

Why Pause?

  1. Give the listener time to understand your words.
  2. Emphasize one main word in a group of words.

(1) Taking a very short pause between groups of words (called “thought groups“) gives your listener the opportunity to digest, take in and understand what you have already said, without having to worry about what you are going to say next.

Example

Compare the pronunciation of the following two sentences.

  • “Why would you go to school when you could work and earn money?”

versus

  • Why would you go to school  /  when you could work  /  and earn money?”

The second sentence is much easier to understand–even for a native speaker–because I very slightly paused between thought groups, those groups of words that presented a thought together. This allowed the listener to digest and understand each part of the sentence before going on to the next part of the sentence.

Remember, the pause is very short and quick, but very effective.

Pausing + Stress

Pausing is also necessary to be understood, because when starting a conversation, English speakers unconsciously emphasize the last content word of the thought group. Therefore, the last content word of the thought group will be pronounced with more stress and a higher pitch.

Example

I didn’t just say:

  • Why would you go to school  /  when you could work  /  and earn money?”
(2) In addition to pausing between thought groups, I emphasized the last content words of those thought groups. Here, I add extra stress to three nouns: “school”, “work” and “money”.

 

Listen and Repeat

  • Why would you go to SCHOOL  /  when you could WORK  /  and earn MOney?”
Did you hear that I paused and added a bit of extra stress to the last content words of each thought group?

Listen and Repeat

  • Why would you go to SCHOOL  /  when you could WORK  /  and earn MOney?”
Remember, in English, it is the speaker’s job to be very clear. It is NOT the listener’s job to work hard to understand the speech. So, pausing and stressing content words is an important way that English speakers can be clear.

 

Content words

There are 7 categories of content words that you can emphasize in a thought group. Content words are those words that carry the meaning of a sentence. These include:

  1. nouns
  2. main verbs
  3. adjectives
  4. adverbs
  5. negatives (“not”)
  6. wh-words (“what”)
  7. interjections (“wow!”)

So, to review, when thinking about pausing when speaking English, we do two things:

  1. Pause between thought groups, groups of words that create a thought; and
  2. Emphasize the last content word in each thought group when starting a conversation.

 

Note that the rules of emphasis in a thought group will change if you are:
  • contrasting ideas
  • presenting new information
  • correcting an error; or
  • emphasizing agreement.
Let’s practice pausing between thought groups and emphasizing the last content word when starting a conversation.

 

Listen and Repeat

Notice where I’m pausing and what content words I’m emphasizing.

  • Excuse me.  /  Where is the bathroom?”
  •  “Now that I see it,  /  I think I prefer it in red.”
  • “She hasn’t told me,  /  but I think she’ll get married soon.”
  • “She’s pregnant! / And due in October!”
  • “I got a new puppy, but now I need to train her!”
  • “Though Steve Jobs is irreplaceable / I think Apple can succeed without him.”
[Notice that I deleted the [h] in the “her” and “him.”]

 

A Note about Speaking vs. Writing. In writing, the pause is represented by a comma or a period, so you can think of pausing when you speak like putting a comma between your thoughts.

Sometimes, in English, in order to speak more clearly, you may just need to slow down and start pausing between thought groups.

There was a lot of information in this lesson, so listen to it several times and then listen to native English speakers communicate. You should be able to hear now how they pause between thought groups and place special emphasis on the most important words in those thought groups.



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11 comments

  1. That’s fascinating, I like your pronunciation, and very useful lesson, please we want more lessons. Thank you for your time.

  2. loved your lesson,helped me a lot, i’m so happy that I found your website, it is just awesome. could you talk more about connected speech ? I’m having a really hard time with it.

    thanks =]

  3. I very much impressed by you. Your lessons are very important to beginners of learning american english. I like very much but the the practice is too much little. If you add some extra sentences in these lessons that will beneficial to us.
    Thank You.

  4. I’m so happy to find this website. Thank you for your all works. God bless you and have a good day 🙂

  5. This was an excellent video. Can you do more video on this? Specially if you can provide what constitutes a ‘thought-group” with longer reading passages. Also, it would be great if you can post a list of English intonations with examples. like. surprise, anger, disbelieve, disagreement ….

  6. sabina sehgal gujral

    Thank you. This content has helped my in develop some parts of my V & A training.

    Regards,

    Sabina

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