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I am confused at whether or not there is a weak form at preposition's 'ON'. I've checked at some dictionaries at Cambridge and Oxford dictionary, they don't mention on the weak form's pronunciation. However, I, am a Japanese, checked at English-Japanese dictionaries, they mention on the weak form as /ən/.

For example, is there the difference of pronunciation between 'It goes on' and 'There is an apple on the table' in connected speech?

Does it exist?

Thanks Yuichi

*It's Edited

  • Are you asking about the pronunciation difference when saying "What's going on?" and "It is on the table."? – user140086 Feb 23 '16 at 8:33
  • Thank you for commenting. Yes, I would like to ask what you said. Could you tell me if you know it. Thank you. – user161825 Feb 23 '16 at 8:46
  • My pleasure. Can you try to edit your question? Your question is not clear. – user140086 Feb 23 '16 at 8:47
  • In my speech (British), neither "in" nor "on" is ever reduced to /ən/, in any context, as far as I can observe. The vowel is probably centralised to some degree, but they remain distinct. "An" is often reduced to /ən/, however. – Colin Fine Feb 23 '16 at 12:18
  • @Gandalf; 'to' and 'of' are regularly reduced to /tə/ and /əv/ in BrE. Aren't they in AmE? – Colin Fine Feb 23 '16 at 13:09
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If you reduce 'on', you get syllabic 'nn', which is the same as you get when you reduce 'in'. Since there are many contexts where either is possible, to avoid clashes, we refuse to reduce 'on': no matter how low the stress, the vowel quality will always remain.
Of course, we could have chosen to do this to 'in' instead. But it's a question of conserving energy, 'in' being much more common, and also a common prefix.
Contrary to what has been stated above, I don't think that one on one will have a reduced on because that can too easily be confused with one and one.
As an aside, Yuichi, I am impressed with how acutely Japanese speakers hear English, being able to distinguish subtle differences most native speakers miss.

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I cannot speak for all dialects, but in my BrE, North London dialect, on is never reduced, although many other prepositions are (for, of and so forth). Of often becomes əv and for could easily become . But on is always on.

Interestingly, I cannot think of a single case of reduction of a high back vowel, although I can easily think of examples for other vowels.

  • Does of have any other pronunciation? If that's the weak form, what's the strong form ( in your dialect) ? – Daniel Oct 10 '18 at 17:27
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    The strong form, for me, would be /ov/. Admittedly it doesn't turn up very often, but it turns up in stressed contexts, so if for example someone were to say "Humboldt university in Berlin", I'd correct them to "Humboldt University /ov/ Berlin" – Henry Brice Oct 14 '18 at 13:04
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Speakers of the various English dialects may disagree as to whether or not the prepositional use of "on" is stressed in their part of the world, Yuichi, but the important thing for you to remember is that such differences do occur. So your dictionary is absolutely correct to prepare you for them.

The key factor, perhaps more so in American English, that determines whether a word is weak or stressed in individual speech is a matter of its importance to the speaker and/or its importance to the listener's understanding of the sentence. For instance, "It goes on" employs "on" as an adverb, a part of speech that very typically takes high intonation in English, even more so when it distinguishes one phrasal verb from another. Consider the differences between "Go up", "Go down" and "Go on" and you'll see just how important each final syllable is, which means that each of these words is usually stressed.

Now look at your other example, "There is an apple on the table". In this sentence "on" is employed as a preposition to form the adverbial phrase "on the table" and while the entire phrase functions as an adverb, word stress among its three syllables may vary. Everyone would agree that "the" takes a weak pronunciation, with "on" and "table" being more stressed, but the question is to what degree.

If someone is looking for the apple under the table, a speaker would likely say "No, it's ON the table", because "on" is now of greatest importance to the sentence. However, if someone is looking on the kitchen counter, a speaker would probably say "No, it's on the TABLE", because "table" is now the operative word.

To complicate things further, many American speakers prefer to drop intonation over nonoperative words rather than place an "unnaturally" high stress over key words, so what becomes most relevant is the contrast among syllables, rather than the more traditional stress of syllables. Hence "on the table" is very frequently pronounced in the US as "/ən/ the table", which confuses no one, since the apple could not possible be in the table.

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