How English is Really Spoken: Colloquial Contractions (Wanna, Gotta, Gonna)


Gonna Wanna GottaAre you confident listening to native speakers? Does it seem that we’re speaking too fast, or a lot differently than you learned in school? For a lot of people, the solution is simple: learn to hear the colloquial contractions “wanna, gotta, and gonna.”

These are three of the most common English colloquial contractions, or sound morphs. Schools rarely teach these, but they are very important for fluent English communication, and we use these A LOT!

While a lot of grammar nazis tend to think that these are incorrect, the truth is that it is perfectly okay to use these in any and all spoken English situations. It’s even common for native speakers to use them in informal writing (to friends, online chat, text messages, etc).

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The only area where you should definitely not use them, is in formal written English (reports, research papers, formal e-mails, etc), in which case, you need to spell them out in long form.

If you don’t know how to listen and understand how native speakers use these, there is a lot that you won’t understand. Learning to use them correctly in your speaking and writing will make your communication much more effective.

How Natives Connect Their Words (Gonna, Wanna, Gotta)

Wanna = Want to (simple present)

The first one we’re going to talk about is “wanna,” which we use instead of “want to.” In U.S.A. and a lot of other English speaking countries, the “nt” sound is completely lost (and pronounced as a flat “n”) when followed by a vowel sound.

I wanna hold your handHere are some American examples of the :

  • internet = “innernet”
  • international = “innernational”
  • interconnected = “innerconnected”

In a similar way, “t” of “want” is lost as “want to” becomes “wanna.” This is also the case with the past tense “wanted,” which is pronounced as “wah-nid.”

Check out a great example of “wanna” in the famous Beatles song “I wanna hold your hand” (the Beatles are British). 

*Note: “Wanna” not used with third person (“she ‘wanna’ is not correct”)

Examples of WANNA in Famous Songs

I want to hold your hand (Beatles): “I wanna hold your hand”

Rock and Roll all Night (Kiss): “I wanna Rock ‘n Roll all night.”

Gotta = have got to (present perfect) 

“Gotta” is not correct  grammar, but it’s very commonly used in the U.S. in both informal and formal spoken English, as well as informal written English. Let’s look at, for example: I gotta go (pronounced “I godda go”)

I’ve got to go = I have to go (or “I must” go) 

You can conjugate this as “I gotta study more,” or “you gotta learn English,” “he’s gotta drive better” (with 3rd person we correctly conjugate the modal verb “have”) or “we gotta go.”

The above examples are the most common, but there are other situations that have the same exact same pronunciation, but employ the large variety of meanings of the verb “get” when followed by the article “a.” Any use of the word “got” (past tense and participle of “get” + “to” or “a”) results in the same “godda” pronunciation.

  1. “Got a” as possessive: “I got a car” (I’ve got a car/I have a car)
  2. “I got a (‘godda’) nice present for my birthday” (received) 

Examples of GOTTA in Famous Songs

I gotta feeling (Blackeyed Peas): “I gotta feeling, tonight’s gonna be a good night.” (I have a feeling)

You gotta be (Des’ree): “you gotta be bad, you be bold, you gotta be wiser.”

Gonna = Be + Going to + Verb (simple future)

When using BE + GOING TO + VERB to talk about what you intend to do in the future, native speakers nearly always say “gonna” instead of going to. Take a look:

Example 1:  I’m + going to + read a book = I’m + gonna + read a book

Example 2:  You’re + going to + learn English = You’re + gonna + learn English

Structure:   To be + going to + verb = To be + gonna + verb

This is an excellent tool when you learn to use it correctly, but be careful, because it’s easy to get confused about a few small things.

Common mistakes to avoid:

  • You can’t use gonna with the present continuous: a lot of people confuse the simple future structure of be + going to + verb for the future use of the present continuous with go. If this is still confusing to you, here are a few examples to help clarify.

Examples to Help Clarify

A. I’m going to go to Paris tomorrow. (CORRECT: I’m gonna go to Paris)

B. I’m traveling to Paris tomorrow

C. I’m going to Paris tomorrow. (INCORRECT: I’m gonna to Paris)

These Examples Explained

A- (Simple Future: be + going to + verb)

This is the only example that can use “gonna” and “going to” interchangeably because it uses the simple future structure to express intention for the future.

B- (Present Continuous Future: be + verb-ing)

This example uses the present continuous for fixed future plans/arrangements. This is how it’s normally used (without go, which can be a confusing way to learn this difference). If you are going to teach this, it’s much better to first use an example of the future use of the present continuous without go, or wait awhile.

C- (Present Continuous: be + verb-ing)

This example also uses the present continuous with go to talk about future plans (I’m going to Paris tomorrow), but it doesn’t use the verb (as example 1 does). Remember, the present continuous structure uses “be + going to” but no verb. This is why the present continuous use of “go” in the future cannot use “gonna.”

Examples of GONNA in Famous Songs 

It’s Gonna Be Me (‘N Sync)

Bad Boys (Inner Circle): Whatcha gonna do when they come for you


So now that you’ve learned a little bit about colloquial contractions, or sound morphing, we encourage you to pay attention to how native speakers use them. You’ll start to notice them everywhere.

Remember, it’s totally acceptable to use these in any spoken situation, and also informal writingbut DO NOT USE THESE IN FORMAL WRITING!

While it is important to know how to write formal e-mails, reports, and research, it’s just as important to communicate fluidly in informal situations. There is no good reason why the great majority of English schools, teachers, and blogs totally ignore these important aspects of the English language.

Now “wanna, gotta, and gonna” are yours to use. First pay attention to how they are used by native speakers in your life (be it TV, movies, music, online interactions, or real world friends), and then start to play around with them.

If you want to read more about this, and more native fluency secrets, check out 3 Powerful Fluency Secrets They Won’t Teach You in School

Real Examples in Our Learn English with TV Lesson: Friends

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