180: 'because'→'cuz': stressed, unstressed, informal

How to know which form of this high-frequency word to use.


Hi again, and welcome back to Seattle Learning Academy's American English pronunciation podcast. My name is Mandy, and this is our 180th episode.

This is another intermediate to advanced lesson. I'm going to include International Phonetic Alphabet symbols in the transcript for this episode to help provide extra clarity, so if you want to see those, just go to www.pronuncian.com/podcast and click episode 180.

The word because is one of those words that we use all the time. In fact, because is in the top 100 most frequently-used words of English. Like many high-frequency words, its pronunciation can change based on the word being stressed in a sentence or not. The word because is extra-complicated because there are three forms:

1) the stressed pronunciation (because) /bɪˈkɔz/
2) the more common, unstressed pronunciation (because) /bɪˈkʌz/
3) the informal form of ('cuz) usually written as 'c-u-z /kʌz/

So, after all of that, what exactly is the difference between these pronunciations and why do they matter for speaking in an American accent?

First, let's talk about what's true for both the stressed and unstressed form. The first syllable is pronounced /bɪ/ with a short i sound, not /bi/ with a long e sound. This shouldn't be surprising, since the second syllable of the word is stressed. If the second syllable is stressed, the first syllable will be reduced and a reduced letter 'e' is often reduced to a short i sound.

Now, let's talk about the changes to the word based on the it being the stressed word in a sentence or not. The word because is a simple conjunction, so it's not usually given extra emphasis. As a conjunction, it joins ideas. The ideas, not the joining words are usually stressed.

If I want to give it extra emphasis, though, I can. To stress because the second syllable is pronounced with the aw sound /ɔ/: because. Can you hear the aw sound /ɔ/ in because? Many dictionaries show this pronunciation first in their transcription, even though it isn't a common as the reduced form.

Here's a stressed example of the word in use:

Why did she stay home today?
Because she was sick.

That was the less commonly-used stressed form. How do you pronounce the reduced form? It's simple. To say the reduced form, the second syllable is reduced to a short u sound /ʌ/, because. The vowel of the first syllable is still a short i /ɪ/, and the vowel of the second syllable is a short u /ʌ/, because.

She stayed home because she was sick.

Don't think of this reduced form as informal. There's no reason to stay away from it during regular conversation. It doesn't sound informal; it sounds natural and fluent.

The informal version of because is the single-syllable 'cuz. This is simply because with the first syllable removed. You'll sometimes see it spelled as 'c-u-z.

She stayed home 'cuz she was sick.

This is the version you can use with your friends, but not with your business acquaintances or during formal presentations for work.

Now, if you're thinking that it's safest to only use the formal, stressed version of because, I want you to realize that there is a cost to doing that when you're speaking with native English speakers. Using formal speech in an informal situation makes you sound less fluent. Being able to speak informally will help you sound more relaxed.

Let's practice all three versions, so you can be aware of the differences and use the form that is best for any given situation.

First, the stressed pronunciation that uses the aw sound: because /bɪˈkɔz/
Next, the unstressed, more-common version that uses the short u sound: because /bɪˈkʌz/
And finally, the informal, single-syllable form: 'cuz /kʌz/

Again, stressed: because /bɪˈkɔz/
Unstressed: because /bɪˈkʌz/
Informal: 'cuz /kʌz/

Try using these in conversation, and let us know how it goes. Leave us a common on our Facebook page: Facebook.com/EnglishAssembly. If you want to learn more about these concepts with a teacher who specializes in pronunciation training, send an email to info@seattlelearning.com and one of our teachers will contact you right away. We teach in-person in the Seattle area, or via Skype to the rest of the world.

That's all for today, everyone. This has been a Seattle Learning Academy digital publication. SLA is where the world comes to learn.

Thanks for listening. Bye-bye.