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English Pronunciation: The Schwa

Pronouncing the Schwa

In English, schwa is the most common vowel sound. It is a weak, unstressed sound and it occurs in many words, especially if syllabic consonants are not used.

To further complicate things, the schwa does not represent a single letter. Any vowel can be pronounced as a schwa and the pronunciation of a vowel can change depending on if the syllable is stressed or unstressed. Depending on dialect, it may correspond to any of the following:

'a', as in about [əˈbaʊt]

'e', as in taken [ˈtʰeɪkən]

'i', as in pencil [ˈpʰɛnsəl]

'o', as in eloquent [ˈɛləkʰwənt]

'u', as in supply [səˈpʰlaɪ]

'y', as in sibyl [ˈsɪbəl]

various combinations of letters, such as 'ai' in mountain [ˈmaʊntən] unwritten as in rhythm [ˈrɪðəm]

Getting the schwa sound right is a great way to make your pronunciation much more accurate and clear to North American listeners. If you say these examples out loud, you will be able to better understand the schwa sound.

Boiling it all down, it is basically the ‘uh’ in English pronunciation.

Download this great worksheet from the BBC to help you work on properly pronouncing the schwa.

Do you have more questions about pronouncing the 'schwa'??? Let us know in the comments!

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