The Schwa Sound – The Most Common Sound in English

Have you heard of the “schwa” sound?

It is the most common sound in the English language and, because of that, it is the most important.

Sounds Like “Uh”

It sounds like this – uh. It’s the sort of sound that you might make when you’re sitting down to relax after a hard day’s work – uh. For this reason it is often referred to as a lazy sound or a Friday afternoon sound – uh.

When to Use The Schwa Sound

When Words End in “r”

It occurs in words that end with an “r” like in the words, teacher, colour or helicopter.  So,

teacher = teachuh

colour = coluh

helicopter = helicoptuh

Demonstrates the schwa sound
Helicopter is pronounced as helicoptuh

These are called unstressed syllable sounds.

To Replace a Vowel Sound

Also, it is often used to replace a vowel sound such as in:

  banana which becomes buhnanuh

  umbrella becomes umbrelluh

In those two words the “a” at the end of the word is pronounced as an uh

The word problem is pronounced problum

The letter e is pronounced as eh.

Police is often pronounced as puhlice, so the “o” becomes an “uh.”

To Replace Words

An example of using it in a sentence could be, “Yesterday I saw a film at the cinema.” So the words “ a film” is pronounced as “uh film.”

We also use it in the phrase, “cup of tea.” This is often pronounced as “cuppuh tea.” So the word “of” is often pronounced as “uh.”

The “uh” sound can also be used to replace the word “for.” So, we might ask someone, “What are we eating for lunch today?” This is often pronounced as “What are we eating fuh lunch today?”

So, to summarise, examples of where the schwa sound is used includes:

Unstressed syllables like in the word teacher

Replacing the vowels, a, e, i, o and u and

it can replace whole words such as: a, for and of.

Persevere With The Schwa Sound And You’ll Sound More Natural

To conclude the schwa sound seems like a difficult concept to grasp at first but it is worth persevering with.  It will improve your English rhythm and intonation when you understand and use it. This will help you to sound more like a native English speaker.


Paul Andreas

Paul Andreas is a Certified Speaking Coach and qualified TEFL Teacher Online English Lessons delivered by Skype for IELTS exam preparation and conversational English. Get a free trial lesson.

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Emanuel

    Ah, so that’s what the Schwa sound is! Thank you for explaining it so well.

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