This question is all on the title. English is written in the way that each word is separate. Then how about pronunciation? Does a break appear, separating words while you pronounce? Or is it not necessary in physical world as real sounds, but it is always true in your mind?

Because, I'm native in Japanese and usually, and don't care about separation of words both in speaking and writing, this question comes to me. And many people in Japan seem true of the case, not caring about the separation.

Please think about it.

  • 2
    It is never "wrong" to have "dead air" between words, though when you do so you tend to sound a bit mechanical. (But it's often a good approach to take when there is a problem with one person understanding the other, for whatever reason.) In normal speech, though, words are pronounced pretty much back-to-back, and much of the art of "normal" English speaking is learning how to subtly join words by altering slightly the ending sound of one and the starting sound of the next. Most speakers of the language are not even aware that they are doing this, as they learned the techniques as infants.
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 3:33

4 Answers 4


The short answer is "not usually."

Text segmentation--for example, the boundaries between words in print--is a different phenomenon from speech segmentation. Anyone listening to someone speaking a foreign language will be hard-pressed to determine where one word ends and the next begins. Semantic context, grammar, and other contexts are required to know where one word ends and the next begins.

Boundaries in print are a different issue. Different languages use different kinds of orthography, and handle segmental boundaries differently.

In different language there are different contexts where people pause, (e.g. in English people do often pause between clauses or phrases, and between sentences). But generally, airflow continues without discrete pauses between words. There are even ways that adjacent words change each other's pronunciation slightly (e.g. saying the n sound in "in case" more like an -ng sound).


No, as an English speaker, I do not take a break between words when pronouncing, and I think it is rare for English speakers to do that. At least, that is, if I take "break" to mean some time between words during which I am not pronouncing any sound of English.

For instance, if I say your second sentence even very slowly, one word at a time, it comes out "Englishshizzzwrittenninnnthuhuhwayyythattteachchworddizzseparate". That is, the last sound of each word, or sometimes the vowel of the last syllable of a word, is prolonged. Often when English speakers think they are pausing between words, and write a comma, there are no actual pauses, in the sense of periods when no sound is articulated.

However, you could understand "break" in a more general sense of any phonetic modification that helps hearers to tell where one word ends and the next begins. In that sense of "break", in my example above where I lengthened the sound at the end of each word, I did, after all, have breaks between words.

Here is a reference to a similar, but more systematic way of marking the ends of words by lengthening sounds, in Italian: Syntactic gemination.

Another common way of marking word breaks is to accent or stress words at a fixed place with respect to the ends of words, either on the last syllable, the next-to-last, or using more complicated rules. In Spanish, for instance, since ordinarily penultimate syllables are stressed, you can usually tell that a word ends one syllable after the stress. And some languages fix stress with respect to the beginnings of words, instead of the ends.

Phonologists' general term for marking breaks in this general sense between words, or between phrases, is the "demarcative" function.


No. That is one† function of punctuation marks such as the comma and semi-colon.

I have just finished reading a book by David Crystal on the history of punctuation that discusses this. You can read a review of it online in which this point is expanded. The book itself makes enjoyable light reading if you are interested in linguistic history.

Punctuation may have other functions such as reflecting the grammar and/or clarifying the meaning where there is the possibility of ambiguity.


It depends one the variation/dialect/accent and the structure of the words and the sentence. Sometimes we break things up just for the sake of clarity.

Growing up in rural Southern USA, I was often asked "Jeet?" 'Jeet' is a highly condensed form of "Did you eat?"/"Have you eaten yet?" No break at all between those words while speaking.

Many of our slang words (wanna, shoulda, kinda, etc.) come from lazy speaking (want a, should have, kind of, etc.) and the reduction of sounds that's just part of normal speech.

And then there are "thought groups"--an informal term for words that belong together, usually in a longer sentence. We often take a breath between groups.

Our neighbor gave us a bottle of wine.

Our neighbor who lives upstairs / gave us a bottle of wine.

Our neighbor / who lives upstairs and gave us a bottle of wine / died yesterday.

Without breaking things up with breaths, someone who wasn't listening closely might think the upstairs neighbor died because he gave us a bottle of wine.

  • 1
    wanna, gonna, etc are not examples of "lazy speaking" but rather of natural combinations of sounds much like what happens when one pronounces handbag at normal speech speed, when it invariably becomes /hambag/. The BBC has some good lessons and many more examples on this. I don't have the links at the moment. Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 15:46
  • 1
    @Clare Assimilation of all types is arguably the result of laziness when speaking, which isn't surprising since an optimised combination of laziness and clarity is the default when speaking. Commented Dec 28, 2016 at 17:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.