Content Words vs Function Words

Posted On May 06, 2022 |

Why do native speakers speak so fast?

What if I told you that the truth is native speakers don't really speak that fast? In reality, they are just completely familiar with the way spoken English works, so they automatically know what words to stress, and what words to de-stress.

Just like other languages, English has two types of words: content words, and function words. Content words, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. are essential because they provide meaning. Without content words, we have no meaning.

Function words, on the other hand, such as prepositions, conjunctions, articles, etc. are not as important. They simply help us construct grammatically correct sentences. In fact, if you leave out all the function words in a sentence, the meaning can still be understood from the context.

For this reason, we can say that content words are stressed, that is to say, we say them with more emphasis. And function words are de-stressed, so we say them more quietly and quickly. In other words, we linger on content words, and we rush through function words when we speak English.

Take a look at the following basic sentence: "The dogs are chasing the cats." In this sentence, there are three content words: dogs, chasing, and cats. If I were to leave out the function words in this sentence (the and are respectively), it would be grammatically incorrect, but you'd still be able to understand the meaning.

The sentence would look like this: "dogs chasing cats". Is it grammatically correct? No! But are you still able to understand the message I'm trying to get across? Yes!

Taking this into account is essential to understanding why spoken English is so different from written English. So yes, native speakers might speak a little faster sometimes, but what's really happening is they're stressing and de-stressing the right words in the sentence, which gives off the impression they're speaking faster, but they really aren't.

If you want to know more about this, you can check out the video below where I talk about content words and how they help you deliver your message clearly.

And if you're interested in learning more about my 1:1 coaching services for working professionals and upper-intermediate to advanced level English speakers, you can visit my website.

I also recommend that you download my free guide to understanding and using spoken English. It comes with audio and practice, and I also give you three tips that you can implement right away to sound more natural in everyday situations.

All the best,

Ben

Accent & Pronunciation Coach

Categories: Accent Training, American English, Pronunciation