I'm not a native English speaker, so I am learning the pronunciation of words mostly from using Google.

The way I found how to pronounce the word "want" was more or less like how I (british-way) say "can't" (/wɒnt/), which I presume the American way of pronouncing it.

But when I listen to British speakers, what I hear sounds more like "won't".

So I'm confused whether the British actually pronounce is as /wɒnt/ but I'm keep hearing it wrong. I'm interested in the knowing the correct British pronunciation of that word. Thank you.

  • @sumelic Sorry I might have picked the wrong word to show how it's pronounced. I just figured that Americans say "can't" starting like you say "ca" in "cat" where as British say "can't" starting like you say "ca" in "car". I meant the latter way of pronouncing "can't" which is "kind of" similar how "want" is pronounced by Americans. BTW thanks for the suggestions. – Ε Г И І И О Sep 28 '15 at 7:03
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    There is no word that Americans pronounce in a way to rhyme with the British pronunciation of "want." But if you know how to pronounce "taunt" and "font" in an American accent, and "taunt" does not rhyme with "font" for you, then your pronunciation of "taunt" is close to a rhyme for the British pronunciation of "want." If "taunt" does rhyme with "font" for you, there is no example word you can use. – sumelic Sep 28 '15 at 9:43
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    @WS2: The British pronunciation of "want" does rhyme with the British pronunciation of "font" and "mont," but not with the usual American pronunciation of "font" and "mont." – sumelic Sep 28 '15 at 9:50
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    @BrianHitchcock: The vowels in British "want" and "water" do sound similar to an American English speaker. However, they are distinct in standard British English: "want" has the short vowel /ɒ/, while "water" has the long vowel /ɔː/. – sumelic Sep 28 '15 at 9:57
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    I as a welshman (british) would like to add that I do not think want and font rhyme, want (at least here) is pronounced like 'one-t' and font is pronounced like 'f-on-t', similar but there is emphasis on different parts creating a different sound. I know little of phonetics so cant really explain much clearer unfortunately – nickson104 Sep 28 '15 at 10:16

First, British English speakers do not all pronounce things the same way. There is a lot of dialectical diversity in Britain. As you saw in the comments, nickson104 is a Welshman and he pronounces "want" a different way from what I describe in my answer. No one pronunciation is absolutely "correct," since you'd need to specify in what context you mean it. However, I guess you mean to ask about the usual pronunciations for foreign learners in particular. That makes things easier, since resources for teaching British English as a second language tend to converge on a standardized or generic variety. Throughout this answer, I'll refer to "standard" AmE and BrE, by which I basically mean the forms that dictionary pronunciation guides and the like tend to record (and that foreign students tend to learn in classes).

How "want" is pronounced (according to a British dictionary)

The Oxford Learner's dictionaries list the British pronunciation of "want" as /wɒnt/.

Context on what these symbols mean

The word "can't" is not pronounced with /ɒ/ in any dialect of English, as far as I know. It seems you mean [ɑ]: this is the vowel sound generally heard in "father," "car" (if you pronounce it without an "r" sound), and the American-accent pronunciation of "not."

In standard American English, the vowel in words like "lot, not, stop, robot" (we name the vowel in this class of words "LOT" for short) is pronounced the same as the first vowel of the word "father" (named FATHER); the symbol for the American pronunciation of both LOT and FATHER is [ɑ]. For this reason, many pronunciation guides based on American English don't use the symbol /ɒ/ at all, and always use /ɑ/ instead.

However, in standard British English, the vowel used in FATHER words (like "father") is different from the vowel used in LOT words (like "not, lot, stop").

The FATHER sound, /ɑː/, is pronounced pretty much as in the American pronunciation of the word "father." The vowel is "long," literally: it is generally held for a longer period of time than the LOT sound (that is what the symbol /ː/ means after a vowel).

The LOT sound, /ɒ/, is pronounced somewhat like a short version of the vowel in American "father," [ɑ], but more like a short version of the vowel sound in American "law," /ɔ/; if "law" has the same vowel as "father" for you, use a short version of the vowel sound in "fort" instead, but remove the "r" from the end of it.

(These are just approximate descriptions; the important thing is to be aware that there is a difference so that you can listen for it and learn more about it if you need to.)

The word "can't" has the long [ɑː] sound of "father"; it does not have the short [ɒ] sound of "lot". The word "want" has the short [ɒ] sound of "lot"; it does not have the long [ɑː] sound of "father".

General advice for studying pronunciation

Google doesn't pronounce words very naturally and sometimes has mistakes. A better way to learn pronunciation is to study English phonology so that you know what sounds and distinctions to listen for (especially the distinctions that aren't in your native language), then listen to native speakers in Youtube videos and things like that, and if you want to know how to pronounce a specific word, look up how it is transcribed in a dictionary that gives pronunciation and listen to it on a site like Forvo.

  • Thanks for the comprehensive writeup. I referred dictionary.cambridge.org/pronunciation/english/want and felt that British say it in a way where the 'starting sound' is almost the same as the starting sound for the word "won't". Is that true? or am I confusing you? I'm not familiar with phonetic writing so bare with me. – Ε Г И І И О Sep 28 '15 at 7:23
  • I have no idea what you are attempting to say to answer the question. – Blessed Geek Sep 28 '15 at 7:25
  • @BlessedGeek: Sorry, I'm still trying to improve it. It's kind of hard to explain pronunciation. What part is the most unclear at the moment? – sumelic Sep 28 '15 at 7:27
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    @ΕГИІИО: To me, it does sound a little like my (American English) pronunciation of "won't." In fact, British people have a slightly different way of pronouncing the vowel in that word as well. British people do pronounce "want" and "won't" in distinct ways, so you should try not to pronounce them the same way. – sumelic Sep 28 '15 at 7:28
  • In BrE, won’t is more commonly a diphthongal /wəʊnt/; that may be part of the confusion here. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Sep 28 '15 at 7:32

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