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gonna, gotta, wanna and dunno

  Wedding

Daniel Haieck from San Luis in Argentina writes:

I would like to know please under what circumstances we should use wanna and gonna, and what exactly they mean. Thank you.

 

Roger Woodham replies:

wanna / gonna

Wanna and gonna are frequently used in speech in informal colloquial English, particularly American English, instead of want to and going to. You will also see them used in writing in quotes of direct speech to show the conversational pronunciation of want to and going to.

Gonna to express the going to form of the future is used with first second and third person singular and plural. Note that in the interrogative, are is omitted in second person singular and first and second person plural

  • What we gonna do now? (= What are we going to do now?)
  • Don't know about you two. I'm gonna put my feet up and take a break.
  • We're gonna carry on and try and get there before dark.
  • What's he gonna wear on his wedding day?
    ~ I dunno. But he's gonna look real smart.

Wanna can be used with all persons singular and plural, except third person singular. This is because wanna scans with I want to, you want to, we want to, they want to, but not with he/she wants to where the final s is too intrusive:

  • What you wanna do now? (Instead of: What do you want to do now?)
  • I wanna go home. My mum and dad are waiting for me and they wanna go out.
  • You'll never give up gambling. I'm sure of that. ~ You wanna bet?
    (which means: Do you want to place a bet on that?)

a wannabee

This term derives originally from the US, but is now used extensively in British English. A wannabee (literally a want-to-be) is someone who is trying to copy somebody else. Usually the person they are trying to copy is somebody famous.

  • Scores of Britney Spears wannabees raided the shops where she had bought her latest outfit.


 

 

gotta

Gotta is used in a similar way to gonna and wanna, in this case to show the conversational pronunciation of have got to, or as informal alternatives to have to or must. It is not so much used in the interrogative:

  • Don't go out there tonight. It's really dangerous.
  • ~ A man's gotta do what a man's gotta do
  • I gotta / I've gotta phone home right now. My mum'll be worried.
  • You gotta / You've gotta get changed right away. The match starts in five minutes.
 

dunno

Dunno, meaning I don't know is characteristic of very informal speech in British English. Note that the word stress in this expression is on the second syllable, whereas with gonna, gotta and wanna it is on the first syllable.

  • Are you going to college when you leave school? ~ Dunno!
  • Will you quit your job if they re-locate to Manchester?
    ~ I dunno
    .
   

When to use these expressions

You don't ever need to use these forms actively yourself, Daniel, as a language learner. They may sound too informal if you do, although if other native speakers of English around you are using them, there is probably no reason why you shouldn't use them too, as you 'grow into them.' It is, of course, important to recognise and understand them.

Gotta, wanna and gonna in the history of popular music

Gotta, wanna and gonna have been used regularly in the titles and lyrics or popular songs since the 1950s or even earlier.

If you would like more practice more please visit our Message Board in the You, Me and Us part of our website.

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