Pronunciation: what’s the difference between want and won’t?

BizarroEyeChartPronunciation is one of the tricky aspects of learning English. There are few rules and lots of exceptions, this is way listening to podcasts and watching movies/series is so important. The more you’re exposed to the language, the easier it’ll be to learn the right pronunciation.

Today I’d like to point out the differences between words that sometimes students perceive as having the same pronunciation. This often happens with ‘minimal pairs‘: words that differ in their pronunciation only for one sound, like ‘want’ and ‘won’t’.
Other times it’s the spelling of a word that misleads the reader into pronouncing it as a different word, some students have a hard time distinguishing between ‘heart’ and ‘earth’ (and what about ‘hurt’?!).

Also, people in the UK pronounce some words differently from people in the U.S. One of the striking features of British pronunciation is that the ‘r’ is often silent. For instance, to say ‘nurse’ an American would say nɜːrs while a British would drop the ‘r’ and say nɜːs. 

In London it gets even ‘worse’ as some people tend to drop even the ‘t’. For instance, ‘a bottle of water’ becomes ‘ˈbɒʔl əv ˈwɔːʔə’ >> Click here to listen to a Londoner saying this sentence but don’t panic! Remember that you can always remind these Brits that you’re not from here and it’d be nice if they could make an effort to pronounce words properly 🙂

This symbol ‘ʔ’ is called ‘glottal stop‘ and replaces the ‘t’ in the sentence above. If you are passionate about languages you can read more about the ‘glottal stop’ here.

If you’re not familiar with the International Phonetic Alphabet that I use in this post, the British Council website has very useful chart that you can find here. The phonetic transcriptions that you find below refer to BrE and not AmE (that’s why the ‘r’ is not there!).

Below you find a list of the most common words students find confusing. Try to read them aloud and then check your pronunciation by clicking here and listen to a Londoner saying these words.


/wɒnt/          /wəʊnt/


/kɔːs/                 /kɔːz/


/wɜːk/              /wɔːk/


/wɜːd/             /wɜːld/


/ləʊ/           /lɔː/

HAIR & HER (and EAR!)

/h/          /hə/          /ɪə/


/ɜːθ/      /hɑːt/     / hɜːt/

BAG & BEG (and BUG!)

/bæɡ/      /beg/      /bʌɡ/


/tiːθ/    /θf/

SHIT & SHEET  – this one is a classic 🙂

ɪt/        /ʃɪ:t/

Hope you’ve found this post useful,

/tɔːk   su:n/ ! 🙂