The Difference In Pronunciation Between The Words Can and Can’t For An American Accent

Learn the difference between can and can’t for an American accent!

Hi Esther here from Speak More Clearly and welcome to this training video in which we will look at the difference in pronunciation between the words ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ for an American accent.

It’s sometimes difficult to tell if someone has said ‘can’ or ‘can’t in a sentence especially if they’re speaking with an American accent.

The vowel in can and can’t is the same, the ‘a’ /ae/ vowel. This is the same ‘a’ as in the word ‘cat. 

Because the vowel is the same in both words and the /t/ at the end of can’t isn’t aspirated but stopped you need to pay attention to the length of the ‘a’ vowel. 

We don’t say cant. We don’t release the air with the /t/. We do stop the /t/ – can’t.


The ‘a’ in can’t is held on slightly longer.  Just listen and see if you can hear the difference. 


Can’t – the ‘a’ goes up and down slightly more, and is held on slightly longer. 


Practise words:



You could slightly overdo the length of the ‘a’- hold it on longer- when you speak if people don’t understand which you have said. 

Depending on the sentence, often the ‘a’ in can is said as a schwa  /ə  /. The ‘a’ is shortened.  So instead of can, it’s said can /kən/

For example:

I can come tomorrow.  


This also helps as the ‘a’ becomes shortened even more. But, the ‘a’ in can’t is never pronounced as a schwa. 

Listen to the difference.




Practise sentences:

I can come tomorrow.

I can’t come tomorrow. 

The /t/ is stopped – your tongue goes up to the ridge to start the /t/ sound, but it stays there and doesn’t release and drop down as it normally would for /t/.


I hope this has made the difference clearer for you. 

If your goal is to speak English clearly and be understood well, we have a lot of audio and video lessons in our AmericanBritish and Australian accent courses.

For more pronunciation tips, check this video lesson on shit or sheet? ‘i’ and ‘ee’ sounds.

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