The ə Sound (/ə/ Phoneme)

This is the ə sound. As in the words:

  • a /ə/
  • the /ðə/
  • about /əbaʊt/

 ə soundHow to pronounce the ə sound

It is a Vowel sound and it’s technical name is the ‘Mid-Central Vowel’. It is often called the schwa sound but that refers to the symbol that is used it is nothing to do with the phonetics of the sound.
Remember that the key to pronunciation is physical and the name tells us about how the sound is made physically. In this case your tongue is in the middle and the center of your mouth.
All vowels are made through the mouth and are voiced so you vibrate your vocal chords to make the sound.
It is similar to the /i:/ sound, but it is shorter /ə/ not /ɜ:/.

To produce the ə sound put your tongue in the middle and in the center of your mouth and make a short voiced sound.

How the ə sound is Spelled

The /ə/ sound is spelled in lots of different ways. Sometimes with the letter ‘u’ as in the word:

  • just /dʒəst/

It is also very often spelled with the letters ‘e-r’. As in the word:

  • other /‘ʌðə/

But it can also be spelled with the letters ‘o-u’ as in the word:

  • could /kəd/

And there are lots of other ways that this sound is spelled, and it is a very common sound. Even the letter ‘l’ can make this sound, As in the word:

  • people /’piːpəl/

Like with all vowels in English, the spelling can be very inconsistent and you will always find alternative and unusual spellings of the vowels sounds. This is especially true with the /ə/ sound.
It is one of the most difficult things in English but you just have to learn it.

Examples of the ə sound

Here are some words that start with the ə sound:

  • us /əs/
  • again /ə’gen/
  • American /ə’merəkən/
  • another/ə’nʌðə/

Here are some words that have the ə sound in the middle:

  • even /’iːvən/
  • woman /’wʊmən/
  • family /’fæməli/
  • student /’stjuːdənt/

Lots of words end with this sound. Here are just a few.

  • never /’nevə
  • after /’ɑːftə/
  • under /ˈʌndə/
  • Mr /’mɪstə/

So that is it for the /ə/ sound but we have made additional videos on each of the groups of sounds Vowels, Diphthongs, Single Consonants, or Consonant Pairs as well as a video explaining the the phonetic chart.

2 Responses to “The ə Sound (/ə/ Phoneme)”

  1. Abdulmohsen Alshulayaln March 14, 2016 at 9:37 pm #

    thank you

  2. joyce luna September 24, 2016 at 1:37 am #

    pasta …what is the vowel a sound that drives Americans crazy…I say “passta” or “pawsta”, sometimes.


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