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Pronunciation tips
phonemic symbols
Schwa is the name for the most common sound in English. It is a weak, unstressed sound and it occurs in many words. It is often the sound in grammar words such as articles and prepositions.

Getting the schwa sound correct is a good way of making your pronunciation more accurate and natural.

The phonemic symbol for this sound is Schwa.

Listen to the sound schwa:
In unstressed syllables
Any vowel letter can be pronounced as schwa and the pronunciation of a vowel letter can change depending on whether the syllable in which it occurs is stressed or not.

Listen to these two words:


In the word 'man' the letter 'a' has its full sound - represented by the symbol /æ/.

In 'postman' the syllable 'man' is not stressed and the letter 'a' is pronounced as schwa, represented by the symbol Schwa.
Not just a letter
The sound schwa does not only represent a single letter. In some words it is the sound of several letters or even a whole syllable.

This is often, but not only, seen in words which have a syllable made up of a vowel letter followed by the letter 'r'. Remember the schwa sound is only used if the syllable which it is in is not stressed.

Listen to these examples, the schwa sounds are marked in red:

This present is for my brother. It's a book about a boy wizard.

To survive the cold weather you have to make thorough preparations.

DownloadDownload these examples (39k)
In these activities you have to identify where in a word or phrase the schwa sound appears.

Schwa exercises (32k)
DownloadDownload the exercise examples (316k)
To watch a video about schwa, go here >>