gonna / wanna / dunno & Co.

When should I use words like “gonna” in English?

The answer is never… unless you wanna.

Recently a client asked me when to use the word “gonna” in English: an online translation tool had suggested she use it when she typed in the query “Ich werde ins Kino gehen”. The suggested translation was: “I’m gonna go to the cinema.”

Wanna and gonna are examples of the kind of relaxed pronunciation that is often used in spoken English, in particular in informal speech (and especially in American English) instead of saying (or typing, for instance in an SMS or online) want to and going to.

We do not typically use these words in a professional setting. So in fact, the translation tool was doing its job: punch in a casual sentence, receive a causal answer. But that goes to show you that using translation tools can only get you so far if you don’t fully understand the basics, such as the difference between „going to“ and „will“.

Don’t get me wrong: gonna and wanna are considered a part of the standard language and used accordingly (just like contractions such as they’re and you’ll). However, though you’ll certainly find these words in a dictionary, they’re never used in very formal speech or in formal, academic or legal writing.

The words wanna and gonna reflect how words like ofto and have very often elide to a schwa sound in [ə] rapid speech. See the following examples:

  • a lot of: a lotta
  • kind of: kinda
  • out of: outta
  • sort of: sorta
  • going to: gonna
  • got to: gotta
  • have to: hafta
  • want to: wanna
  • ought to: oughta
  • could have: coulda (or could uhv)
  • must have: musta (or must uhv)
  • should have: shoulda (or should uhv)
  • would have: woulda (or would uhv)

There are plenty of other examples. Dunno which ones? (dunno = don’t know) You oughta start paying more attention to song lyrics when you stream or switch on the radio.

The same thing happens all the time with the word „you“:

  • did you: didja
  • do you: d’ya
  • don’t you: doncha
  • got you: gotcha
  • get you / get your: getcha
  • would you: wouldja

This kind of elision is everywhere! And if you’re a fan of English-language sitcoms and movies, if you pay more attention as you watch, you’ll start hearing how the actors elide words in this way almost all of the time.

So the next time you’re down to Netflix and chill, don’t forget to your homework.