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The question have confused me for a long time. How to distinguish "are" and "aren't" in American accent? Usually, the pronunciations are:

  1. are is pronounced as /ə/ or /ɑ:r/
  2. aren't is pronounced as /'ɑːrənt/

According to my hearing, many Americans would omit the final /t/ in aren't, making it /'ɑːrən/, which is very close to the pronunciation of are(/ɑ:r/). In fact, I almost cannot find any difference.You can hear this sentence here. It says: These aren't the only governors touting comebacks. But for me, the aren't in the sentence is more like an are, isn't it? Can anyone tell me how to distinguish the two words? Thanks.

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    There are several cues I use to distinguish are and aren't. First, aren't usually got more stressed than are. Second, even though you can't hear the /t/ sound, it's likely that you can hear the /n/ sound after /r/. Third, the "pitch contour" (the rising and falling of the intonation native speakers use) of are and aren't are usually different. Finally, and this might be the hardest one for non-native speakers to observe, is the quality of the "stop" of /t/ sound. Almost always, you could hear some quality of choppiness of this /t/ sound. Afaict, all cues are in your clip. [fixed misspellings] – Damkerng T. Feb 11 '14 at 12:14
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    Context helps a lot. If you're still not sure, you can always ask, "Did you say are, or are not?" – J.R. Feb 11 '14 at 13:41
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    Also: the negative will never be unstressed, while the positive may be; and even if the /rnt/ is greatly reduced, the vowel will usually be nasalized. – StoneyB on hiatus Feb 11 '14 at 14:22
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    Native speakers do what J.R. said regularly, by the way. – Panzercrisis Feb 11 '14 at 23:23
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    Hmm... I'm a native speaker, but the clip sounded like "aren't" to me, not "are." I could hear both the 'n' and the 't' sound, though the audio quality made it more faint than it probably was in person. While some - particularly those with a thick Southern accent - do leave off the 't' sound, it seems to me that most Americans (including even most in the Southeast) do pronounce it. Maybe if we're talking quickly someone who isn't used to it just can't hear it well? – reirab Jun 4 '14 at 15:20
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I'm from the Southeastern US. That omitting the final "t" sound is in a good many words. But when we do it, we usually pronounce the last sound a little differently than usual. I mean, it's basically the same sound, but we time it differently and such.

For example, even though we don't pronounce the "t" in "aren't", we still say "aren't" differently than we would "aren'". Same thing between "different" and "differen", or "mitigate" and "mitigae".

It's real difficult to describe the difference on paper. It's kind of like we don't say the last sound quite as long, or that we stop making the last sound very suddenly. Except that might not be 100% true, and we really slightly alter the sound into something more like a gutteral whisper, and we use something like a different, harsher tone. In this way, relatively soft sounds like "ay" and "n" are kind of hardened and are made to sound more like "ayt" or "nt". We fake the "t" sound essentially. Again it's something really hard to describe, but hopefully this helps.

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I'm from the Midwest US. When pronouncing aren't in a sentence, I replace the [t] with a glottal stop [ʔ]. So in a sentence starting Those are the only... I pronounce are the as [arðə]. While in Those aren't the only..., I say [arʔðə], also with a bit of nasalization before the glottal stop (not sure how to write this). Listening to your recording, this is exactly what that speaker did -- there's a noticeable gap between aren't and the.

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Are in everyday speech will often (almost always?) be part of a contraction with the pronoun they, i.e. "they're", whereas aren't (are not) won't be contracted with the pronoun, and it will receive some emphasis. So, frequently the parsing rhythm combined with the difference in vowel sounds (they're, they aren't) will be the best clue.

They're háppy to do it.

They áren't happy to do it.

But how to distinguish "they are" from "they aren't"? Native speakers will say "are" quickly and with hardly any emphasis whatsoever, whereas "aren't" will be given much greater emphasis.

They are háppy to do it.

They áren't happy to do it.

The speaking in that recording is on the rapid end of the spectrum. But if you listen, the word aren't in "these aren't" receives considerably greater emphasis than 'these'... These áren't.

  • +1. When I want to emphasize "are" in a sentence, I feel like I ought to put an exaggerated amount of emphasis on it, lengthening the word. Probably because otherwise, it'd sound too close to aren't? – Dan Getz May 25 '15 at 2:24

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