I am a student in China learning American English.
I have listened to some videos and found it hard to distinguish can from can’t. I am looking for some advice that may help me.
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It only takes a minute to sign up.Sign up to join this community
"Can" is usually pronounced /kən/ (with a schwa sound): as in "I can (/kən/) ride a bike". It is treated as a function word and as such, is unstressed.
"Can't" is pronounced /kænʔ/ (with a glottal stop replacing an expected /t/ sound) as in: "But, I can't (/kænʔ/) ride a horse."
The distinction for the listener is the unstressed schwa (/ə/) in "can" and the fully stressed /æ/ in "can't".
The exception to this is when "can" is at the end of a sentence: "Can (/kən/) you ride a bike?" "Yes, I can." (/kæn/). In this position "can" is stressed and is pronounced: /kæn/.
The negative response would be: "No, I can't." (/kænʔ/), pronounced (/kænt/) in careful speech.