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Childrens words -Click to listen

The schwa sound is soft and unstressed. It occurs twice in the sentence a Balloon.
Click on the pictures to hear these words. Where was the schwa sound?
What other objects have this sound in their name?

Introduction to Schwa

The reduced vowel sound called schwa is the most common vowel sound in spoken English. Schwa is a quick, relaxed, neutral vowel pronunciation very close to a short u. The purpose of schwa is to allow unstressed syllables to be said more quickly so the main beats of spoken words are easier to place on the stressed syllables.

Schwa does not have an exact and standard pronunciation. Due to the near-identical pronunciation of schwa and short u, many dictionaries merge the transcription of the two sounds and strictly use @computer. Separate symbols are retained here to indicate whether a vowel sound falls on a stressed or unstressed syllable.

Schwa occurs in two different circumstances:

  1. in an unstressed syllable of a multi-syllable word
  2. as a reduced vowel sound in a function word

Schwa in an unstressed syllable

In words with more than one syllable, not every syllable is given equal emphasis when spoken. Three levels of syllable stress are possible:

  1. stressed
  2. secondarily stressed
  3. unstressed

Every multi-syllable word has a single stressed syllable. The single stressed syllable of the word has the most emphasis. The remainder of the syllables may have a secondary stress or may be unstressed.

The word emphasize has all the levels of stress. The first syllable is stressed, the second syllable is an unstressed syllable pronounced as schwa, and the third syllable has a secondary stress.

Listen to the word

Some Example words

computer, balloon, alphabet, pencil.
What other words do you know with this sound?

Sound Sound Sound SoundSound

Doctor Forster went to Gloucester

Click on the Doctor. Does he say the word "computer"


Doctor Foster

Doctor Foster went to Gloucester
In a shower of rain
He stepped in a puddle
Right up to his middle
and never went there again.

Doctor Foster

About this schwa sound

Words that begin com- or con- usually have an unstressed first syllable. Here are some exceptions

Example words

computer, doctor, potter, monitor, furious, nation, curtain, pencil, Japan, ...

concrete, conversation, contact, combination, combat, Common, Complicated, Congress,

unstressed short first syllable

ability (Not able), above, abort, abuse, achieve, adapt, adopt, ahead, alarm, alone, aloof, amongst, annoy, apparent, appalled, arrive, assume, attack, aware, away, occur, oppose, address, adjustable, appreciation, available, allert, associate, apologise, additional, ...

This is the most common vowel sound in the English language. use this sound to make your speech smooth and run together well.
Notice the different ways of pronouncing the word 'the' in examples 6 and 7. Can you see why this is so?

Schwa practice. Listen and repeat sentences read by native Engish Speakers.

Click a 'native' speaker's flag for examples

  1. Arsenal footballers in London.
    Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker.
  2. Alone again
    Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker.
  3. pencil breaker
    Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker.
  4. patterned curtains
    Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker.
  5. Ellevate the nation
    Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker.
  6. The attacker arrived early
    Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker.
  7. The doctor assumed I had an appointment
    Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker.
  8. That teacher creature.
    Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker.
  9. Monitor the situation
    Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker.
  10. Doctor Foster went to Gloucester.
    Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker.
  11. Worcester sauce
    Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker. Listen to a native speaker.

Words that can be stressed or unstressed

These words can be stressed or unstressed. Make example sentences with them and find any other words that do this.
was, can, them, ...

     888888888888888888888
   s 88 ooooooooooooooo 88     s 888888888888888888888888888888888888888
   S 88 888888888888888 88    SS 888888888888888888888888888888888888888
  SS 88 888888888888888 88   SSS 8888                         - --+ 8888
  SS 88 ooooooooooooooo 88  sSSS 8888           o8888888o         | 8888
 sSS 88 888888888888888 88 SSSSS 8888         o88888888888o         8888
 SSS 88 888888888888888 88 SSSSS 8888        8888 88888 8888      | 8888
 SSS 88 ooooooooooooooo 88 SSSSS 8888       o888   888   888o       8888
 SSS 88 888888888888888 88 SSSSS 8888       8888   888   8888       8888
 SSS 88 888888888888888 88 SSSSS 8888       8888   888   8888       8888
 SSS 88 oooooooooo      88 SSSSS 8888       8888o o888o o8888       8888
 SSS 88 8888888888 .::. 88 SSSSS 8888       988 8o88888o8 88p       8888
 SSS 88 oooooooooo :::: 88 SSSSS 8888        8oo 9888889 oo8        8888
 SSS 88 8888888888  `'  88 SSSSS 8888         988o     o88p         8888
 SSS 88ooooooooooooooooo88  SSSS 8888           98888888p           8888
 SSS 888888888888888888888__SSSS 8888                               8888_____
 SSS |   *  *  *   )8c8888  SSSS 888888888888888888888888888888888888888
 SSS 888888888888888888888.  SSS 888888888888888888888888888888888888888
 SSS 888888888888888888888 \_ SSsssss oooooooooooooooooooooooooooo ssss
 SSS 888888888888888888888  \\   __SS 88+-8+-88============8-8==88 S
 SSS 888888888888888888888-. \\  \  S 8888888888888888888888888888
 SSS 888888888888888888888  \\\  \\       `.__________.'      ` .
 SSS 88O8O8O8O8O8O8O8O8O88  \\.   \\______________________________`_.
 SSS 88 el cheapo 8O8O8O88 \\  '.  \|________________________________|
  SS 88O8O8O8O8o8O8O8O8O88  \\   '-.___
   S 888888888888888888888 /~          ~~~~~-----~~~~---.__
  .---------------------------------------------------.    ~--.
  \ \______\ __________________________________________\-------^.-----------.
  :'  _   _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _  _ _ _ _   _ _ _           `\        \
  ::\ ,\_\,\_\_\_\_\\_\_\_\_\\_\_\_\_\,\_\_\_\           \      o '8o 8o .
  |::\  -_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-_-___  -_-_-_   _ _ _ _  \      8o 88 88 \
  |_::\ ,\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\___\,\_\_\_\,\_\_\_\_\ \      88       \
     `:\ ,\__\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\  \,\_\_\_\,\_\_\_\ \ \      88       .
      `:\ ,\__\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\____\    _   ,\_\_\_\_\ \      88o    .|
        :\ ,\____\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\_\____\  ,\_\ _,\_\_\_\ \ \      'ooooo'
         :\ ,\__\\__\_______________\__\\__\,\_\_\_\,\___\_\_\ \
          `\  --  -- --------------- --  --   - - -   --- - -   )____________
            `--------------------------------------------------'

        

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