The Schwa


Many people don’t know about the schwa. Native English speakers usually use it naturally but non-native speakers/teachers of English often mispronounce it.


In linguistics and phonology, the schwa is the vowel sound in many lightly pronounced unaccented syllables in English words of more than one syllable. It is most easily described as sounding like the British English “er” or the American English “uh”. It is written as the symbol ə (a rotated e). It is the most common vowel sound in the English language. Its sound depends on the adjacent consonants and it is a very short neutral vowel sound.

It is a characteristic of English (and the English accent in other languages) that unaccented neutral vowel sounds, especially before ‘r’ or ‘l’, tend to become a schwa. A schwa sound can therefore be represented in English by any vowel. In most dialects, for example, the schwa sound is found in the following words:

  • The a in about is a schwa
  • The e in synthesis is a schwa
  • The o in harmony is a schwa
  • The u in medium is a schwa
  • The y in syringe is a schwa

Other common examples follow below. See how it feels to say them with the ‘uh’ sound. How many more can you name?

irritable, acceptable, unacceptable, preferable, administrative, strategy, kitchen, psychology, water, law and order, fish and chips, comfortable, vegetable, kitchen, America


Author: Janet Carr

Fashion, beauty and animal loving language consultant from South Africa living in Stockholm, Sweden.

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