Short-i in Frequent Words

Distinguishing between Short-i and Long-E is difficult for many students (the difference is explained in “This or These?”), but it’s a good idea to be extra careful with this vowel distinction — there are several frequently used words of English with the Short-i sound that could be confused with similar sounding words with Long-E. The words below are from the list of The 150 Most Frequently Used Words of English.

Now remember, the key to pronouncing Short-i correctly is to relax your tongue.
So, if you don’t relax your tongue then…
is — sounds like “ease”
it — sounds like “eat”
its — sounds like “eats”
his — sounds like “he’s”
him — sounds like “heme” (this is a scientific word that most people don’t know)
will — sounds like “wheel”
did — sounds like “deed”
still — sounds like “steal”/”steel”

Also, the word “six” is used often, and can be confused with the word “seeks”.

So, here’s a sentence that uses some of these words together: “Will it still work?”
But, without saying Short-i correctly, this sentence could sound like: “Wheel eat steal work?”
Or “Is it at 6:00?” could sound like “Ease eat at seeks?” (That sounds kind of crazy!)

There are some frequent words with the Short-i sound that do not have a corresponding word with Long-E: in / with / if / think / which. Even though these words would not be confused with a similar-sounding word, it still makes it harder for people to understand you if accidentally say them with a Long-E sound. So it is worth it to be careful with Short-i (not: eat ease worth eat to be careful weeth Short-i)!

Phrasal Verbs — The Good News (The Pronunciation)

The pronunciation pattern of phrasal verbs is less complicated than the grammar. Phrasal verbs have a stable, predictable stress pattern, which is: the 2nd word gets the stress. That means that the 2nd part is said more strongly (or, it sounds louder, longer and higher).

Some examples:
call OFF
pass aWAY
run INto
make UP
hang ON to
look UP to
drop IN on

This stress pattern holds true whether the phrasal verb is un-separated, or when separated by just one or by several words.
They called OFF the meeting.
They called it OFF.
They called all of the remaining sessions OFF.

LISTENING
Listening for the stress can help you distinguish between a normal preposition and a phrasal verb. Prepositions are normally weak, unstressed words in a sentence, but as part of a phrasal verb, they are stressed clearly. The following two sentences show the difference.

We turned on the wrong street.
In this sentence “on” is a preposition. It is pronounced weakly and can be hard to hear because prepositions are not normally stressed.

We turned on all the lights.
In this sentence “on” is part of a phrasal verb. It is strong and easy to hear because the second word of phrasal verbs do receive stress.

SPEAKING
When speaking it is important to say phrasal verb stress correctly because you could accidentally say something you didn’t intend. Let’s use the sentence “I ran into the store” for an example. The meaning will be different if you change the stress pattern.

“Into” as a preposition
As a preposition, “into” should be unstressed, and the words “ran” and “store” are both strongly stressed, which gives: I ran into the store. You would say it this way if you were in a hurry or if you wanted to get out of the rain.

“Into” as part of a phrasal verb
As part of a phrasal verb, “into” should be stressed, making “into” and “store” the two strongest words in the sentence. That would give: I ran into the store. Now, I hope that you don’t ever need to say it that way, because that would mean that you crashed — if you walked without looking where you were going, or if you had a driving accident and hit the store with a car.

So, the good news is, knowing about the stress pattern of phrasal verbs can help you improve your pronunciation, and also help you with figuring out a little bit of grammar.

(There are so many phrasal verbs in English that it might help to study them a bit — here are some books that I would recommend.)

Phrasal Verbs — The Bad News (The Grammar)

The topic of phrasal verbs includes a little grammar and a little pronunciation. Since the grammar part is more complicated than the pronunciation part, this introduction to phrasal verbs covers the “bad news”.

First, what is a phrasal verb?
In order to speak in English, it is important to know about phrasal verbs. They are used very frequently in spoken English — much more than in written English — and so students who have studied English mostly through reading and writing are sometimes not be aware of them.

Phrasal verbs are also sometimes called two-word verbs or three-word verbs, because they use two or three parts to make up one verb. In a two-word verb, the first part is a basic verb, and the second part looks like a preposition. Here are some examples:

“pass away” which means: to die. For example: His grandfather passed away last year.
“make up” means: to invent. She had to make up a story for drama class.
“call off” means: to cancel. The meeting was called off at the last minute.
“run into” means: to meet by chance. I ran into an old friend last week.

For three-word verbs the third part also looks like a preposition.
“hang on to” means: to keep. I think I’ll hang on to this, it might be useful later.
“look up to” means: to respect or admire. It’s hard to look up to someone who is not honest.
“drop in on” means: to make an unexpected visit. Let’s drop in on Joe to see if he wants to join us.

Here are some important things to know about the grammar of phrasal verbs.

1. Are they separable or non-separable?
Some phrasal verbs can be separated and some cannot. If they are separable, other words can be in between the two parts.

An example of a separable phrasal verb is “call off”. It can be used together or separated.
They called off the meeting.
They called the meeting off.

But if a pronoun is used in place of the noun, then the phrasal verb must be separated.
They called it off.
It is not correct to say: ! They called off it.

An example of a non-separable phrasal verb is “run into”.
I ran into an old friend.
It is not correct to say: ! I ran an old friend into.

2. Some phrasal verbs have more than one meaning.

“make up” can mean…
invent: She had to make up a story for drama class.
compensate: We can make up the lost time if we hurry.
reconcile: They were angry with each other all day, but finally decided to make up.

Phrasal verbs can be confusing because there are thousands of them, some have several meanings, some are separable, and some are not. The bad news is that you can’t easily predict which ones are separable and which are non-separable. So you need to be aware of them, and watch out for them. They are used all the time in spoken English.

(Note: There are workbooks and dictionaries available just for phrasal verbs — here are a few that I would recommend.)

We’re where we were.

That sentence uses the words “where”, “were”, and “we’re” which sometimes get confused by learners of English. Those words are all pronounced differently, and it is important to say them correctly because they are frequently used words. Some students are not sure how to pronounce them, and perhaps some of the confusion comes from the words “there”, “they’re”, and “their” which are homonyms and do sound the same.

The homonyms “there”, “they’re”, and “their” are often tricky for native speakers of English when they write – it’s easy to use the wrong spelling since they sound the same. But native speakers are not confused when they hear these words, because they expect these words to have the same sound.

However, “where”, “were”, and “we’re” do not sound the same. Native speakers’ ears expect them to sound different, so it can cause miscommunication if you don’t say them correctly.

How to pronounce them.

WHERE – In this word, the “E” sounds more like “A” because of the influence of the “R”. This word is one syllable and it is a homonym with the words “ware” and “wear”.

WERE – In this word, the “R” sound is acting as the vowel (the “E” is has no sound), and it is one syllable.

WE’RE – This is a combination of the words “we” + “are”. Even though native speakers sometimes pronounce this the same as “were”, this word will be most clear if you pronounce it as two syllables, and keep the Long-E sound of the “E” in “we”.

So now you can say: We’re where we were.

The Most Frequently Used Words

The most frequently used words of English have the highest percentage of irregular spelling patterns, so if you learned to say them by looking at the letters, you may be saying some of them wrong!

Get a pdf of the 150 most frequent words, then listen to check yourself.

Words 1-50
Words 51-100
Words 101-150