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My wife is Guyanese and she tells me that in Guyana they are taught to pronounce "to" as an American would pronounce "toe." Guyana was a British colony (the most recent invaders) and their educational system and language are mostly British. Is this the way the word is pronounced in British English?

  • I'm struggling to think how the American pronunciation of to may differ from the way it is commonly heard in Britain - and no obvious difference comes to mind. This is a question for a phoneticsist. It is certainly the case that Caribbean English greatly differs in pronunciation and content from the Received English of the UK. . – WS2 Nov 21 '15 at 20:17
  • @WS2 Are "to" and "too" the same in BrE? – Matt Samuel Nov 21 '15 at 20:24
  • To, Too, Two all sound the same. They should never sound like "toe". – Joe Dark Nov 21 '15 at 20:43
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    I think someone is pulling your toe. – ralph.m Nov 21 '15 at 22:31
  • @ralph.m she's adapted her accent so that it's mostly American (it was almost there in the first place, except it sounds more British when she's reciting something) but when she speaks to Guyanese people she definitely pronounces it "toe." – Matt Samuel Nov 21 '15 at 22:34
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In Southern Standard British English this word has two weak forms and one strong form. This applies both to the preposition to and the to that we see before infinitives.

The strong form is /tu:/ (like the word too).

The weak form is /tə/ before a consonant (like the last syllable of pasta) and /tu/ when it occurs before a vowel. Unlike stressed to, this last word has a short vowel. The vowel quality may be like the GOOSE vowel or like the FOOT vowel, depending on the speaker.

The strong form is used when the word is stressed, or when it occurs without its following noun or verb.

So we see the strong form therefore in the following sentences:

  • I want to.
  • Where are you going to?

In the first sentence the rest of the implied verb phrase after to is missing. In the second sentence the Complement of to is represented by where which has been moved to the front of the sentence.

In the following sentences we will most likely see the weak form /tə/:

  • I asked to go.
  • I've been to the shops.

In the sentences above we see to occurring with its following verb and noun respectively. Both occurrences are before a consonant.

In the following we would expect to see /tu/, where the word occurs before a vowel sound:

  • I need to ask.
  • I've been to Amsterdam.

Some speakers of very modern RP always use /tə/ for the weak form. Where it occurs before a vowel these speakers usually use a glottal stop at the start of the following word. This is called a hard attack.

Note that there are many other varieties of British English apart from Southern Standard British English. These may have different realisations of this word.

  • I've been waiting around for representatives of the other varieties, but if they don't come in a couple of days I'll accept your answer. Your answer is a little surprising to me because the "very modern RP" pronunciation seems pretty much the same as General American (perhaps American television and movies are responsible for that). – Matt Samuel Nov 24 '15 at 2:13
  • @MattSamuel It's certainly possible. Might also be Cockney influence too. Gen Am usually uses a glottal for vowel vowel linking where RP speakers tend to use /r/ or other approximants. – Araucaria - Not here any more. Nov 24 '15 at 11:20
  • Note that "I want to" can be shorted to "I wanna" which seems to have evolved from pronouncing "to" as /tə/ in this case. – Apologize and reinstate Monica Jan 31 at 0:07

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