A fantastic way to practise natural speech and understand the usage of weak and strong forms in English is by memorising a few simple phrases. The more practical or fun the phrases are, the better. English offers these fascinating collective nouns, also known as 'terms of venery,' which make talking about groups of animals pretty interesting.
By familiarising yourself with these expressions, you're effortlessly incorporating weak forms, linking words and perfecting intonation without conscious effort.
The collection of collective nouns listed below may seem not very practical but they're a fantastic way to make your English conversations memorable. Instead of simply saying 'a group of snakes or crows,' why not try 'a bed of snakes or a murder of crows'? It adds a touch of fun to your language.
Effective ways to practise using the listening activity I provided below.
In these expressions, the word “of” often transforms into a weaker sound, such as /əv/ or even /ə/. Note that the final sound /v/ from 'of' /əv/ can be dropped when there is a consonant sound after it. However, the final sound cannot be dropped when the following word begins with a vowel sound. For example, in 'a colony of ants.' In these expressions, we use the weak form of "a" pronounced as a schwa sound. For example, "a tower of giraffes" might be pronounced as "ə tower‿ə giraffes."
In speech, we might link the words together smoothly using linkings eg.: consonant-vowel linking in phrases such as ‘a be ‿d of snakes’ or ‘a floc ‿k of birds’ and the linking /r/ in phrases such as 'murde ‿rof crows' or 'clowde ‿rof cats'.
Stress pattern/ rhythm of English (weak-strong-weak-strong):
Notice how I emphasise words like 'tower' and 'giraffes'—I'm putting extra energy into these words to demonstrate where stress lies in English. Content words are stressed while function words are quieter.
A natural way of Speaking:
Remember, using weak forms is optional. People will understand you if you use strong forms, but it's more natural to use weak forms in rapid, casual speech. Understanding these 'rules' will also boost your listening skills, making it easier to follow native speakers. Don't be afraid to omit some letters and change them into the schwa sound! It's easier and faster this way. I know, it might be challenging because you want to say everything you see on the paper, but remember, what we say is different than what we see.
Click the audio icon below to listen to fast speech pronunciation and learn how sounds change when we speak naturally.
A tower of giraffes.
A murder of crows.
A litter of puppies.
A clowder of cats.
A colony of ants.
A parliament / ˈpɑːləmənt/* of owls.
A school of fish.
A gaggle of geese.
A flock of birds.
A pack of wolves.
A herd of cattle.
A bed of snakes.
A pod of dolphins
An unkindness of ravens.
An army of frogs.
Awesome! Once you've listened and practised, record yourself.
Send me your recording for valuable feedback, which is essential in the learning process.
As a closing note, here’s a fun sentence combining some of the collective nouns.
"A murder of crows flew over the tower of giraffes, while a school of fish swam peacefully below.
*Yes, that's the correct spelling. In English, we write 'Parliament' with the letter "i" in the middle - not a 'Parlament' as in Polish.
Enjoy! Happy learning!