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Using Short English Words AT, OF, A, THE in Conversations

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Hi guys, hello boys and girls, and welcome back to English Harmony video blog.

I’m Robby, your English fluency mentor from EnglishHarmony.com and in today’s video we’re going to look at what you should be doing when you’re not sure of usage of certain little English words such as “at”, “of”, “a”, and “the”.

So basically, when you’re speaking and you’re not sure of whether you should stick that little word in the phrase or sentence or you shouldn’t – let me tell you right up front: if you start analyzing your speech too much and you start wrecking your head over these tiny little details, your fluency is gonna go out the window.

Here is a typical example of what I’m talking about today – just listen to it once more: “out the window”.

What did I just say?

Did I just say, “out OF THE window” or did I just say, “out THE window”?

Those Little Words Blend Together In Fast Speech!

Here’s the funny thing: when you speak quite fast, those little words blend together and regardless of whether you stick both of them in there, “of the window”, or just “out the window”, it sounds almost the exact same!

It just dissipates in the larger sentence and you can implement this strategy in your entire speech!

So basically when you speak quite fast – please bear in mind I’m not advocating for fast speech, you shouldn’t be aiming to do that because it’s one of the biggest pitfalls that foreign English speakers fall for and I was the same years ago. I was trying to match native English speakers in the way they were speaking, obviously quite fast, and I was getting myself into awkward situations all the time.

I was hesitating, I was stumbling upon words simply because I couldn’t maintain such speed of speech, right? So, you don’t want to do that and what I’m saying is, even if you speak quite slowly, English words tend to blend together in a sentence so you wouldn’t be saying, “out of the window”, pronouncing each individual word VERY CLEARLY.

When you say, “out the window”, it becomes one piece.

It comes out of the mouth in one go: “My fluency goes out the window” or “I’m looking out the window”.

So basically, even if you’re unsure which version is correct – “out of the window” or just “out the window” – don’t think too much.

You just say it out loud, “out the window”, and then, obviously, you can make a mental note of it and then, later on, you can go online and you might want to check out this article where I’m talking about how to look up correct English collocations on the internet, right?

If You’re Not Sure of the Correct Way of Saying It, Look It Up Later On!

Basically make a mental note, look up the proper version of how it has to be said and then memorize it, repeat it, and make it your permanent spoken English pattern, right?

Embed it in your brain!

But, if you’re in doubt, don’t stress out too much over that because, as I said, if you start over-analyzing your speech, your fluency will go out the window.

And you may want to ask: “what is the proper version?”

Well, the funny thing is, in this particular situation, you can say both: you can say, “out the window” or “out of the window” – it doesn’t really matter. Both of those are correct.

Well, “out the window” is the most commonly used expression but “out of the window” is not gonna be incorrect, right?

But basically the home-take lesson from this video is: you can implement the same strategy whenever you’re unsure of whether to use the definite article “the”, indefinite article “a”, or other short English words such as “at” and “of”.

If you’re unsure of that, you can just speak quite fast and people won’t, more often than not, they just won’t actually hear whether you used it or not.

And here’s another example: “Back IN THE day when I was still young…” and, obviously, I’m not gonna be telling you what happened when I was still young. This was just an example and the first part of the sentence was a typical English phrase or the so-called collocation, “back in the day“, but when you speak quite fast, you don’t actually hear the definite article “THE”!

You may actually not stick it in, but the sentence, the phrase, will sound almost the exact same: “back in day”, “back in the day”.

If someone were to ask you – “listen, why did you not say, ‘back in the day’?” you can tell them – “no, I said, ‘back in the day’!”

The “the” bit becomes almost inaudible, right? The short word “the” is just so short that for most English speakers it’ll be almost inaudible and you may wanna check out this article where I’m talking about the fact that sometimes native English speakers won’t even spot little mistakes because they will just wash over their ears.

They will just hear the whole meaning of the sentence, if you like, without actually realizing that you just omitted a little word such as the definite article “the”. But, obviously, the proper phrase is, “back in the day” and the funny thing is that the more you get involved in spoken English practice, whether you speak with others or yourself, which I warmly advise you to do, or, indeed, you do both – you get out there and you speak with real people in real life and then, when you’re on your own, you speak a lot with yourself, which is exactly what I’m doing on a daily basis, right? – your mouth will almost correct your speech by itself, right?

The More You Practice, The More Your Mouth Will FEEL When To Use Those Little Words!

“Back in the day” – your mouth almost inserts the “the” bit in the phrase because if you say, “back in day” it doesn’t flow naturally, really.

If you purposefully omit “the” bit – “back in day” – it doesn’t sound right but “back in THE day” it kind of ensures the natural flow of the speech.

So basically, the more you speak, the more your mouth is gonna actually start correcting your speech by correcting those little bits in the phrases and sentences that you’re saying out loud, right?

And here’s another example: let’s say you’re talking about your front garden, right? You have a back garden and you have a front garden in the front of your house, right?

And then you’re saying a phrase: “My garden out the front”.

And then you may start wondering, is it “out AT THE front” or “out THE front” and here’s the funny thing: even if you say, “out AT the front”, which is actually incorrect – the correct version is “out the front” – but even if you say the “at” little word in there, it almost dissipates in the larger phrase “out at the front” ❗

I actually just said, “out at the front” but the two words “at” and “the”, they almost disappear in the larger sentence, “out at the front”.

So, again, your mouth automatically wants to kind of correct the speech by telling you that the “at” word even doesn’t have to be stuck in there, you know, because it doesn’t sound natural. “Out at the front”, “out at the front”, “out at the front” – the speech doesn’t flow naturally, right?

But if you just say, “Out the front” – it’s the proper version of this particular English collocation but, as I said in the beginning of this video, you don’t have to be analyzing, right? Don’t analyze!

Don’t start dwelling upon it too much while you’re speaking because your fluency is gonna suffer BIG TIME. You just speak, you make a few mental notes so that you can look those things up later on online and memorize the proper way of saying this or that particular English phrase. So, in this case, “out the front” was the correct version.

To finish off this video, I’m gonna give you another example: “promise of a better life”.

This is a typical English phrase once more and, if you’ve been watching my videos in the past, you’ll know that I’m all about English phrases, collocations, and expressions because that’s what develops your fluency.

The more expressions and phrases you memorize and use them in your speech, the better your fluency becomes, right?

And “promise of A better life” is a phrase you’d use in a situation when you’d, say, have to tell someone why you immigrated to an English speaking country, like in my case.

I immigrated to Ireland because it was a promise of a better life. And if you’re not sure whether you should stick the little indefinite article “A” in front of “better”, you can just say it out loud without much thinking – “promise of a better life”.

So, did I just say the “a” bit or I didn’t? You can’t really tell, can you? No, because the “a” just disappears in fast speech.

Don’t Compromise Your Fluency By Speaking Too Fast!

Please bear in mind you don’t have to speak too fast to kind of force those little bits – A, THE, AT, OF – to disappear. Obviously, it’s much better to slow your speech down and make a mistake and not say it where it probably has to be said, right?

You don’t have to compromise your fluency on account of making your speech fast and not let others know whether you said the “a” bit or not because you’ll just start stumbling upon words and, basically, you’re not gonna be able to speak fluently at all!

It’s gonna be even much worse, right? 😉

So you may wanna slow your speech down and allow for those mistakes of not having said the “a”, “the”, “of” and “at” bits, right?

But what I’m saying is, if you’re quite comfortable speaking at a normal speed, those little bits will just disappear and people will be none the wiser, whether you just said them or you didn’t.

So, “promise of a better life” is the correct way of saying. “Promise of better life” is the improper phrase because it actually demands the indefinite article “a” and here’s how you can find it out: you just go online, Google it, use the quotation marks, and it’s all explained in the article that I suggested you to read a while ago while you were watching this video, right?

Well, there aren’t actually any definite rules on how to use these articles because some phrases actually don’t have those little bits in them. Say, this phrase: to “blow things out of proportion”. You may think that, going by the previous one, “promise of a better life”, you’d also have to use the indefinite article in this one – “blow things out of A proportion” – but it’s not the case. The “a” bit is actually omitted in this phrase and the correct version is “blow things out of proportion” but, even if you said, “blow things out of a proportion”, others just wouldn’t hear it.

It just disappears! 😀

So basically what I’m trying to explain to you in this video is that even if you’re in doubt and you say something that shouldn’t be said or you omit something that has to be said, if you speak at a natural speed, people will oftentimes just dismiss it – they just won’t hear it.

And, obviously, I’m not suggesting you should adopt incorrect speech patterns.

Whenever you’re in doubt, you make a mental note and look up the proper way of saying this or that particular thing online, right? But while you’re speaking, don’t freak out over little things such as whether you should use this or that particular little word or you shouldn’t, right?

I hope you find this video useful for your English fluency improving related activities and thanks for watching and talk to you soon again and, obviously, if you have any questions whatsoever related to this video or English fluency improvement in general, don’t hesitate to publish comments below this video, right?

Thanks, my friends, and talk to you soon again. Bye bye!

Robby 🙂

P.S. Would you like to find out why I’m highlighting some of the text in red? Read this article and you’ll learn why it’s so important to learn idiomatic expressions and how it will help you to improve your spoken English!

P.S.S. Are you serious about your spoken English improvement? Check out my English Harmony System HERE!


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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • “Right up front” means right from the start, before anything else has been said.



  • puputeh

    Hi Robby,

    let me tell you right up front.

    What does it mean “right up front”? is it same meaning with up front?