negative auxilliary verbs:
contracted forms: pronunciation

Dog Show

Yasmeen from Portugal writes:

What I want to know is what does shan't mean when someone says:

We shan't be able to get into the show.

Does it mean should not, abbreviated as do not is abbreviated to don't? And how do we pronounce it? Please tell me about abbreviating other verbs like were not, must not and so on. Thank you.


Roger Woodham replies:

future predictions: shall not > shan't
future predictions: will not > won't

Shan't and won't are the contracted forms of shall not and will not. They are both used to make predictions about what will happen in the future, as in your example, Yasmeen. Won't can be used with first, second and third person pronouns, so you could also say We won't be able to get into the show with little or no difference in meaning. Shall and shan't in this sense are used only with first person pronouns, I and we.


shall and shan't: pronunciation practice:

For pronunciation practice of shall and shan't forms, connect up to the audio link now.

Shall has two different pronunciations, a weak form where you can hardly hear the vowel sound, which is the normal pronunciation in the middle of sentences, and a strong form, when you want to emphasize the vowel, where it is stressed. The weak form sounds like this: shll. And the strong form sounds like this: shall.

Negative contractions like shan't always have a strong pronunciation. There is no weak form of shan't. But note that there is an r sound in shan't which is pronounced in exactly the same way as the r sound in aren't and can't.

Now practice these contractions and note how the weak and strong forms are used:

We shall see you on Sunday, shan't we?
~ No, you won't. I can't make it on Sunday. You'll see me on Wednesday.
~ Can you try to be here by six o' clock?


Aren't they at home? Can't you knock again?
~ There's no point, is there? They're at gran's, aren't they?
Today's Saturday. I can try and reach them on the phone. I'll give them a ring, shall I?


I can get in through the back door. I'll go round the back, shall I?
~ No, don't go round the back. There's a dog in the back garden. It'll bite you.

Did you notice in this exercise that can has two pronunciations like shall? It has a weak form where you can hardly hear the vowel and where it sounds like this: cn and a strong form which we need to use when making questions and in question tags where it sounds like this: can.

Note also the weak form of will, which sounds like this: 'll.

Repeat the exercise and make sure that you get all the strong forms and the weak forms correct.


shall = must

Occasionally we use shall to indicate that something must happen and we can use it with second and third person pronouns, you, he, they, etc, as well as first person pronouns, I and we. When we use shall in this way, it has no weak form. Shall must be pronounced in full as shall. It is always stressed and emphatic.

Why are you crying? You shall have a chocolate Easter egg. I'll see to that!


If he wants a top-of-the-range car, that is what he shall have!

prohibition: must not > mustn't; do not > don't
advice: should not > shouldn't
advice: ought not to > oughtn't to

Mustn't is similar in meaning to shouldn't and oughtn't to, but it is stronger and more definite. When you use mustn't, you are telling people not to do things. It has the same force as don't, as in: Don't do that! When you use shouldn't or oughtn't to, you are advising people not to do things.


mustn't / shouldn't /oughtn't to / don't: pronunciation practice:

For pronunciation practice of the contracted forms mustn't, shouldn't, oughtn't to and don't, connect up to the audio link now.

Note that the middle t in mustn't and oughtn't is not pronounced. Note also that the vowel sound in don't is exactly the same as the vowel sound in won't. Practise the pronunciation of these forms with these examples:

You mustn't answer the phone if anyone rings
~ Why mustn't I? Why can't I? You shouldn't treat me like a child.


Now I mustn't smoke any more cigarettes today.
~ You ought to give up, you know.
~ I can't do that, but I should try to cut down, shouldn't I?


We ought to wake Helen, oughtn't we? She mustn't oversleep. Her mother should be here soon and she mustn't find her in bed.


Don't do that! You mustn't do that! If you do that, it won't work any more and you won't be able to listen to your favourite radio programmes.


If you would like more practice more please visit our in the You, Me and Us part of our website.