ESL - The Subtlety of English Grammar Contractions
Learning the English language to a level where you can use and understand the subtlety of vocabulary, sentence structure and ESL English grammar. Just like a native English speaker, is our goal here at Adept English. When you can listen to and start English conversations that you might have with a close friend or a partner, this is a key part of being fluent in English. The subtlety of English language contractions is what we work on in today’s English language grammar lesson.
This type of English language understanding is at a higher level. It’s not mandatory, but with lots of English language audio listening, there is no reason you cannot pick this part of the English language up, and show that you are a more advanced English speaker.
If nothing else, then today’s lesson will help you understand English language contractions and possibly help you spot when a native English speaker is giving you an expected answer to a question. Which is a very useful social skill.
It will definitely be useful to understand the hidden question your boss, at work, or your friend, in a social gathering, may ask. Or more importantly, the hidden answer they are suggesting. For example, "This part of English is something you will want to learn. Isn’t it?" (
A statement - turned into a question - with an implied answer of "yes")
As with all of our podcast lessons, there is a lot more going on than just the topic of this conversation. You will hear lots of everyday English vocabulary, spoken by a native English speaker at just the right pace for a language learner to get the most out of listening. Listening to this audio is going to help train your brain to hear and pay attention to English language cadence and rhythm of English speech. You can find out more about the Adept English approach to English language learning here.
Most Unusual Words:
Mandatory Subtlety Nuance Emphasis Mechanism Structure
Most common 3 word phrases:
|Read The Room||3|
|Contractions In English||2|
|All Kinds Of||2|
|Being Able To||2|
|Means That You||2|
|A Native Speaker||2|
Listen To The Audio Lesson NowThe mp3 audio and pdf transcript for this lesson is now part of the Adept English back catalogue . You can still download and listen to this lesson as part of one of our podcast bundles.
Transcript: ESL English Grammar Contractions That Native Speakers Use
Hi and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English.
Sometimes in English it’s the little things, which can catch you out. Sometimes as an English language learner, you’ll be understood, even if you say things a little differently to how a native speaker would say them. If you don’t know that term, a ‘native’ speaker, that’s NATIVE – that means someone whose first language is English, someone for whom the English language is automatic.
So working on these little areas, where there are differences between non-native speakers and native speakers – means that you become better at speaking English, but also at understanding other people’s English in social situations. Today I’ll cover one of these little tiny areas, one of these little bits of English language, which native speakers automatically do, but which aren’t obvious if you’re learning.
Learning English at different levels
So this podcast isn’t just aiming to help you with your spoken English – though it will do that – it’s also helping you with the nuances of English too. A ‘nuance’, NUANCE means a little, tiny difference, and in this context, a tiny, subtle, little difference in meaning, which is important if you are socialising with people in English.
There are different levels of being able to speak a language. And if you’re aiming for the higher levels, beyond speaking English for beginners, you’ll be working on being able to do what we call ‘read the room’. If you can ‘read the room’ in a language, you’re at a high level.
‘To read the room’ means that you pick up all of those social cues, those little subtle social messages that tell you about the relationships between people and their expectations. You come away from a social situation, with all kinds of awareness, all kinds of observations of other people, their relationships and their feelings – towards you as well.
That needs high level language understanding and it’s the level of language understanding that makes friendship. So let’s practise English conversations in real life with common phrases today, and cover something which we do a lot in spoken English, which falls into this category.
Contractions in English
OK, so you’re probably familiar with contractions in English? If you don’t know that formal name, ‘contraction’ then you’ll know what they are when I explain. In fact, in those last couple of sentences, I’ve used two contractions – ‘you’re’, that’s YOU’RE and that’s short for ‘you are’ as in ‘you are probably familiar’. And the second example ‘you’ll’, YOU’LL, short for ‘you will’ as in ‘you will know what they are when I explain contractions’. So those are examples of contractions.
Conversational contractions as a question at the end of a statement
So taking this a little bit further, one of the things we do a lot in spoken English, we’ll make a statement and then we’ll turn it into a question right at the end of the sentence, expecting the other person to agree with us. So an example of this would be:-
‘The sky is very dark tonight, isn’t it?’ or ‘We are very keen to travel at the moment, aren’t we?’
So this ‘isn’t it?’ or ‘aren’t we?’ on the end of the sentence invites the listener to back up, to corroborate what we’re saying. We’re expecting agreement. It’s effectively asking a question, but in these sentences, we’re expecting the other person to answer in a particular way - to answer ‘Yes’.
So these are questions expecting the answer ‘Yes’. And it’s a contraction, just like ‘you’re or ‘you’ll’, of course. So ‘The sky is very dark tonight, isn’t it?’ expects ‘Yes, it is.’ Or ‘We are very keen to travel at the moment, aren’t we?’ expects the answer ‘Yes, we are’.
So we also use this type of sentence, with the turnaround into a question at the end, when we’re expecting the answer ‘No’. That might sound like this:-
‘The sky isn’t very dark tonight, is it?’ or
‘We aren’t very keen to travel at the moment, are we?’
So here the contraction is in the first part of the sentence, in the statement part – and then the second part of the sentence turns it into a question at the end. So these are questions expecting the answer ‘No’. ‘The sky isn’t very dark tonight, is it?’ expects ‘No, it’s not’. And ‘We aren’t very keen to travel at the moment, are we?’ expects ‘No, we’re not’.
And this is something that we do all the time in conversations in English. ‘She’s not very nice, is she?’. Expected answer ‘No, she isn’t.’ Or ‘Ooh, he’s very handsome, isn’t he?’. Expected answer ‘Yes, he is’.
And with other verbs than the verb ‘to be’
And if we use a verb other than the verb ‘to be’ (which you’ll notice is the only verb I’ve used so far), if we use another verb to do this, it sounds like this:-
‘She drives very well, doesn’t she?’ - so question expecting the answer ‘Yes, she does’ or ‘Yes, she does drive well’. Or for a question expecting the answer ‘No’, it might be – ‘She doesn’t drive very well, does she?’. And the answer expected is ‘No, she doesn’t. She’s terrifying!’.
A photograph of a blurred car in motion on the road in autumn forest in rain. Explaining the subtlety of ESL English grammar contractions.
Learning to ‘read the room’ in English
And so you see how understanding this mechanism in conversations in English, helps you ‘read the room’. You start to understand that the person speaking is expecting agreement, is expecting a certain answer from the listener. It doesn’t mean you have to agree or give the expected answer, but it’s showing you their expectation.
For emphasis – removing the contractions
Now, just one more thing about this, which is also confusing perhaps if you’re learning English. Wherever there is a contraction, like ‘you’ll’ or ‘isn’t’ or ‘aren’t’, we sometimes say it in full, even in spoken English if we want to emphasise something. So for emphasis, rather than saying ‘You’ll, come next week, won’t you?’ (that’s a question expecting the answer ‘Yes’ or ‘Yes, I will’), we might emphasise it by saying ‘You will come next week, won’t you?’
Funny word order to be wary of, when you remove the contraction
And if you really, really want to emphasise this even more, you might say ‘You will come next week, will you not?’ So here we’re really pushing the expectation on the other person by expanding both contractions. And if you say it like this, they’re going to understand that it’s really, really important to you that they come next week. ‘You’ll come next week, won’t you?’ becomes ‘You will come next week, will you not?’
And did you notice the word order when that last part of the sentence was expanded for emphasis? So ‘You will come next week, won’t you?’ became ‘You will come next week, will you not?’
You might expect ‘won’t you?’ to expand to ‘will not you?’ - but it doesn’t. We always flip it around - ‘Will you not?’
‘The sky is very dark tonight, isn’t it?’. The person you’re speaking to is expected to just give a ‘Yes, it is’. But if you want a whole conversation about the sky being dark tonight, you might say ‘The sky is very dark tonight, is it not?’
So here you might reasonably expect the ‘isn’t it’ to become ‘is not it?’ when expanded for emphasis, but it actually becomes ‘is it not?’ So we do change the word order when we lose the contraction because we want to emphasise. And ‘The sky is very dark tonight, is it not?’ means that the person speaking wants a bigger conversation, a longer answer from you!
Download The Podcast Audio & Transcript
And ‘We are very keen to travel at the moment, aren’t we?’. If you want to really invite the other person to speak in agreement or at length, you would say ‘We are very keen to travel at the moment, are we not?’ We would never say ‘Are not we?’
Practice listening to English language will help you remember
This may seem complicated if it’s the first time that you’ve thought about it. But actually if you listen to conversations in English, you’ll hear this all the time. We say sentences like this so much! If you go out with someone to a restaurant or you’re walking round a museum, there’s a lot of commenting on what’s around you and you would probably put ‘isn’t it?’ as a question on the end of that.
It’s just a way of inviting conversations. So once again, the work of language learning is largely listening. Listening and listening and listening some more – until you understand these things automatically, like a native speaker. And the magic then happens – you begin automatically say it too! You start to sound like an English speaker!
Reminder of Course One Activate Your Listening
If you would like more listening practice than the 10 or 12 minute podcasts, then go to our website at adeptenglish.com and have a look at our course, ‘Course One, Activate Your Listening’ for more English conversation practice.
Boost Your Learning With Adept English
This course gives you over 5 hours of my English language teaching – so go and have a look yourself. It’s really good value for money and it will bring your English language learning on!
Anyway, listen to this podcast a few times, so that this part of conversations in English starts to become automatic for you.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.