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The big difference between “can” and “can’t”

Me: I have received Jason’s mail, and I can get his points.

The other side: …..Do you say you Can or you Can’t?..

Me: I have tested the new account, and I can access the web site.

The other side: …..Do you mean you can or you can’t?

These two paragraphs of exchange both happened just last week. You must have discovered I met a big problem. My U.S colleagues can’t understand whether I am speaking in the affirmative or  negative. I was very frustrated to discover this problem.

At first I thought I could help them understand me by stressing the pronunciation of the “T”. However when I want to express something in an affirmative way, they are even more confused than before.  I’ve now discovered that when Americans want to  affirm something they will stress the verb after “can”. On the other hand, when they want to express the negative, they will stress on the word “can’t”, so I realized if I want to make the pronunciation of “can” and “can’t” more understandable to my U.S. colleagues I should put less stress on “can”.

My second method  is  using “I am able to” and “I am not able to” to express the same meaning, however, I don’t think the native speaker use this method to communicate, and I haven’t heard they ever have such problems until one day I found a podcast titled  “Americans Pronounce Can’ vs. Can’t” which compared the difference of native speakers. This podcast describes that when Americans say “can” they pronounced it like “king” whereas they say “can’t” they pronounced it like “kent”. It’s a very exciting discovery for me and I would like to try it in the future. However I still want to verify this with you my readers. Is it true?

Thoughts on “The big difference between “can” and “can’t””

  1. Good point on how such a simple thing can create a misunderstanding. I think that your suggestion of saying “I am able or able” to do something works well. Of course if you say, “I am able” then the confused response might be, “Yes. I know that you are Abel – but can you?” 🙂

    More seriously, I think that contractions such as can’t can be misunderstood even with native English speakers so avoiding them can help too. In other words; “can” / “cannot” works well too to avoid confusion.

  2. Abel Shen (Hangzhou, China) Post author

    Yes,You’re right,this kind of thing really happened before,but I am too shy to share this experience.:)

  3. Great points! You’d be surprised how widespread communication difficulties can be. I’m a native English speaker but originally from Ireland, so not an American English speaker. I remember when I first came here being very confused when people would say they ‘lucked out’ I would commiserate as to me it meant they were out of luck. Eventually I came to understand that they had received good fortune not bad. I think there may be much greater use of slang in American English – further complicating things 🙂

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