Understanding Can and Can’t

Understanding Can & Can'tA student in English Pronunciation class asked how to make “can” and “can’t” different, because when she hears Americans use these words it’s hard to tell them apart! Sometimes you hear the T on “can’t”, but not always.  There is an easier way to know the difference:

When we use “can” (affirmative), the vowel often gets reduced, and sounds like “kin” or “kun”.

But with “can’t” (negative), the vowel never gets reduced.  It always sounds like a short A sound.

“I can [kin] do it.” “Can [kin] you call me?” “We can [kin] go.”

“I can’t [kant] do it.” “Can’t [kant] you call me?” “We can’t [kant] go.”