Contracting Words with ‘Of’ – English Speech Habits

a pink neon question mark in a box down a dark hallway, doubts about contracting words with 'of' in English speech
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In English, like in any language, we speakers have some funny habits when it comes to using the language. Hey, at least it adds some character, am I right? Today I want to dwell a bit on this thing we do when we contract a quantifier word with the word “of”. This is similar to what happens when we combine “want to (wanna).” But first thing’s first; what in the Anglo-ing world is a quantifier?? Well, quantifiers are words that indicate a quantity (no, really!) or in other words, an amount of something. 

Contracting Quantifiers with ‘Of’

Some examples of this are: a little, a lot, many, some, a few

Read more about the types of quantifiers:

When describing an amount (or quantity) of something, some of these words are followed by “of.” 

  • a lot of cake; some of the cake; a bit of cake

Keep in mind, this is not all the time. Many quantifiers and some of their uses don’t have an “of” after them. 

  • some cake; a few cakes; many cakes

*“Some cake” and “some of the cake” can mean the same thing. Although, usually “some of the cake” sounds more specific (a piece of a specific cake) while “some cake” sounds more general (a piece of any cake)

When there is an “of” behind those quantifiers that need it, some speakers have a habit of combining the quantifier word with “of.” In this way, it forms a contraction. 

  • There’s a lotta cake left in the fridge. (a lot of)
  • Do you want to take home somma this cake? (some of)

This is more common in speech and when people are talking quickly. This habit is not a rule though, and these words are almost never spelled in the contracted way except in very informal text. It is also not universal and not everyone has this habit. Still, it is fairly common and a good thing to be aware of, say, when you talk with native speakers or watch TV. 

This plays into the larger trend of changing short words with the “shwa” sound (uh, like ‘of’, ‘to’, ‘the’) and just contracting them with a bigger word.

The most popular one of these you’ll notice in day-to-day speech will most likely be kinda. As a quantifier, it has about the same meaning as “somewhat” or “a little bit.”


Examples

Here are some other common instances of contracting quantifiers with “of.”

a bunch of

  • They’re a buncha sore losers. (They’re a bunch of sore losers.)

some of

  • Do you want somma my fries? (Do you want some of my fries?)

kind of (used as a quantity)

  • I kinda like him. (I kind of like him.)

a couple of

  • They’re just a coupla / couple’a guys hanging out. (They’re just a couple of guys hanging out.)

enough of

  • Okay, I’ve had enough’a this. (Okay, I’ve had enough of this.)

all of

  • Oh no! All’a / all’o the food is gone. (Oh no! All of the food is gone.)

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Not Pronouncing the ‘D’ & ‘T’ – English Speaking Habits

a cat sticking its tongue out, representing the tongue-twisting nature of people not pronouncing their d's and t's in common English speech
Don Hassan

Don’t know what I’m talking about? Watch it here:

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Dropping the D & T

We’re here to look at a funny habit that many English speakers have. Sometimes we drop the “d” or the “t” sound in the middles or ends of words. This is more common if that “d” or “t” is next to another consonant, and especially if it’s between two consonant sounds.

Examples

  • “I can’t hear a thing you say.” Pronounced, I cann hear a thing you say.
  • “There’s going to be a band night this evening.” Pronounced, There’s going to be a bann night this evening.

Above, the “t” in can’t gets lost between a “nnn” and a “hhh” sound. The “d” in band gets lost between two “nnn” sounds. This doesn’t always happen as a rule, but it is common for many people.

The “d” and “t” sounds when next to consonants are already pronounced weakly in normal cases, so it wasn’t so hard to completely omit them. Still, the sound is not simply dropped, but usually, the sound before it gets a little stressed. Remember, that’s like the “n” sound in I cann hear a thing you say.

Taking other letters along

In some words, the “d” and “t” take some other letters away with them. This can be heard in some accents with the words don’t, doesn’t, and didn’t, among others. Watch how many sounds get dropped from these words.

Examples

  • “He doesn’t look like he knows what that means.” Pronounced, He ‘onn’ look like he knows what that means.
  • “Elvis also played the guitar, didn’t he?” Pronounced, Elvis also played the guitar, dinn’ he?

This might look pretty funny on paper, but it sounds smoother in speech. Again, not all English speakers have these habits when talking, but they can be noticed in several accents. This usually happens so that the words can come out easier since so many “d’s” and “t’s” right next to each other just don’t seem natural.

It’s some people’s way of making the speech flow better. Of course, lots of people may find these habits weird or think they’re uneducated, and there are plenty of those that do try to annunciate all their letters. This is just another habit that English learners may come across when they practice their new language.

Read more: about dropping d’s and t’s especially in American English

Find more posts like this in the Blog.

More examples

I havenn heard from you in a while. (haven’t)

It’s hard to benn metal. (bend)

Chris ‘onn’ even know how to change a tire. (doesn’t)

I dinn’ see that one coming. (didn’t)

Using ‘They’ for One Person – English Speaker Habits

What is ‘They’?

“They” is a common word, right? It is taught that “he” is for a male and “she” is for a female. If it’s me and you, then it is “we.” And if it’s multiple others, then it’s “they.” But English speakers have this funny habit of “they” that can be tricky for second-language students. “They” is often used to talk about one person. But normally, it is used to refer to a group of people whether all male, all female, and any other possible mixture of genders. Technically, it’s also used to refer to a group of nouns in general, but we’re focusing on people here.

“Correct” usage:

  • There are a lot of people at the door, and they don’t look happy.
  • The tree was full of apples, but they all fell down

The Singular ‘They’

Informally though, “they” can be used to refer to just one person. That’s what we call “they” as a singular pronoun. This may be for a couple of reasons.

Usually, it’s when we don’t know the person’s gender.

This can happen a lot in English because many professions and occupancies don’t denote a specific gender (e.g. teacher, classmate, student, doctor). In other words, we don’t know just from hearing the word if that person is a male or female.

This also may happen if the person’s gender is irrelevant to the conversation or if we want to hide the person’s gender on purpose. Another case is for gender-fluid people or people that consider themselves as a “they.”

At this point, it’s more a choice of respect for that individual, but this is probably the least common instance of using “they” for a single person.

He or She – She or He

Normally, the grammatically correct way to refer to someone whose gender is yet to be revealed is by saying “he or she/she or he.”

Habit:

-“I met with my new doctor yesterday.”

-“Really? Were they nice to you?”

More correct:

-“I met with my new doctor yesterday.”

-“Really? Was he or she nice to you?”

Other Forms

The same goes for the object position where it changes to “them.”

Habit:

  • “What about your cousin? Are you going to the festival with them?”

More correct:

  • “What about your cousin? Are you going to the festival with her or him?”

I’m sure this might sound really weird if you’re learning, but that’s what lots of English speakers do. It doesn’t quite look correct on paper, but this is a very common habit.

We also do the same for possessive cases, using “their.”

Habit:

  • “One of my classmates left their bag in the lunch yard.”

More correct:

  • “One of my classmates left his or her bag in the lunch yard.”

Using the Right Pronoun

Again, this is normally used when we don’t know the gender of the person or if we intentionally want to hide it. When we do know the person’s gender, then we use whatever the correct pronoun is.

Incorrect (assuming John is a male):

  • “What about your cousin, John? Are they taking you to the festival?”

Correct:

  • “What about your cousin, John? Is he taking you to the festival?”

Even though saying “his or her/her or his” is more grammatically correct, it sounds unusual or very formal to many English speakers, especially in a casual setting. It might be preferred in more formal settings though, like on the news, in business meetings, or in formal papers and articles. Otherwise, it’s completely normal to do this, even if grammar teachers won’t like it.

I wrote the examples as Habit and More Correct because saying “they/them” in this way is so common in English that it’s almost an accepted rule despite being technically incorrect. If you’re talking casually, I would urge you to use this form instead of “he or she/she or he” because it sounds very formal. It may be the better option for formal settings though, so keep that in mind. Don’t worry too much about it though. If you’re learning English, no one should hold it against you if you use one or the other.

Other Examples

  • “We hired a new employee at the company, but I still haven’t met them.” (gender is unknown)
  • “Your friend bought you flowers? They sound like such a sweet person!” (gender is unknown or is irrelevant)
  • “My son got a new principal at his school, but I still don’t know their name. They don’t start until Thursday though.” (gender is unknown)
  • — “My cousin started their new job yesterday.” — “Really? Is your cousin a he or a she?” — “Does it matter?” (gender is intentionally hidden)
  • “Dannika is my gender-fluid friend, remember? They’re a big fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.” (the person in reference is gender-fluid, identifies as “they”)

**Thank you for reading and wanting to learn these fun English habits! If you want to read more on this subject, check out this article on APA Style. Read about other English-speaker habits on the Blog. As always, take care and keep up your studies! They will certainly pay off. Peace.