Pronouncing “use” and “have”

rogersgeorge on September 11th, 2012

Sometimes we change the pronunciation of a word depending on how we use the word. Everybody knows about changing the accent on some words to distinguish between their noun and verb usages. Address, accent on the second syllable, is a verb (the speaker will address the crowd). Address, accent on the first syllable is a noun (my address is the name for where I live).

Never mind that there’s also a slight variation in how you pronounce the “a” at the beginning of the word. On second thought, what about that slight difference? In address, the noun, the a is pronounced like the a in AAK! (The phonetic character is æ, and we call it a short a.) But in the verb, the a is pronounced with a sound called the schwa, rather like uh, and it happens to be the most common vowel sound in English, and we don’t even have a letter for it. In fact, ASCII doesn’t have it in its character set. The phonetic symbol looks like an upside down lowercase e.

Okay, that was a long digression. Sorry. Back to “use” and “have.”

Use: Mostly we think of “use” as a verb, and we pronounce it “yuze.” When we (ahem) use the word as a noun, such as when we say that we put something to good use, we pronounce it “use.” The “s” is unvoiced. But what about when you refer to a past customary activity? That’s a verb, and it’s always in the past tense. For example, we say

We used to do it that way.

When you refer to a past customary behavior, do not betray illiteracy by spelling it “We use to do it that way.”

Have: We use “have” all the time as a helping verb, and when we want to indicate possession. We pronounce it “hav,” or to be phonetic, “hæv.”

But when we refer to an obligation, we pronounce it “haf;” the second consonant (the “v”) is unvoiced. (I have to explain the correct spelling or illiterate people will get it wrong.)

I have to help you with your English.

 When you refer to an obligation, do not betray illiteracy by spelling it “haf.”

I did, however, find something that is called a HAF: a high air flow computer case.

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rogersgeorge on March 3rd, 2012

A while back I posted about things professionals generally write that amateurs generally don’t write. Today I turn the tables and point out a few goofs that definitely brand you as an amateur. Most of these are the fault of spoken English. The spoken version of these words is misleading, and if you seldom write, you might write the way these words sound, and get them wrong.

Confusing use and used. When you describe something that was the policy in the past but isn’t any more, we say something like “This is the way we used to do it.” Read that aloud, and you’ll notice that you pronounce used to as useto. In English we find it hard to pronounce a voiced and an unvoiced pair like D and T together. (Try it.) The unvoiced T wins. (Yes, linguists, I know they are called  alveolar plosives. They used to be called lingo-dental stop plosives when I was in college.) I recently ran into this in Google+ on a page about weight loss that showed a photo of a svelte guy in some oversized trousers:

Those clothes actually use to fit him perfectly


This isn't the photo from the Google+ page, but it's a pretty good example of weight loss

Confusing suppose and supposed. We use this word when we want to say that we expect something to be a certain way. For example, you guys might hear something like

“You are supposed to put the seat down!”

However, when you are guessing (or being polite), then “suppose” is correct.

“Yes, I suppose I should remember to put it down, Dear.”

The reason for this mistake is similar to the reason I mentioned above for use and used. The last sound in “suppose” all by itself is voiced, like a Z. Add an -ed ending, and we can combine the two voiced sounds, ZD. Try it. Now add the unvoiced T. The ZD combo loses out to the unvoiced T sound that follows.

Confusing of and have. I’ll do the example first, which I found on a pretty good techie site in an article about pay-per-click ads.

Thus, if you had 1,000 people clicking on your $55 per-click ad, it would cost you $55,000 dollars and you’d of sold between 20 and 30 products. Google could quite easily deliver the 1,000 visitors to your site in a matter of hours.

(For you math types: How much would that product have to cost for this guy to break even?)

The guilty party here is our tendency to use contractions. In English you can contract a lot of words, including “have” when it’s used with an auxiliary verb. So “could have sold” can be pronounced (and written, but it’s pretty informal) “could’ve sold,” which sounds a lot like “could of.” If you don’t realize what you’re saying, you could get it wrong.

Even if you’re an amateur, don’t make these mistakes.