The vowel /ə/ (called "Schwa") central, mid, lax vowel

  • Your lips should be relaxed and slightly open, not rounded or spread.
  • Let your tongue rest in the center of your mouth, without touching any part of your mouth.
  • Breathe out, and let your vocal cords vibrate. Pronounce the vowel quickly and softly.

It is a reduced vowel, which means it is shorter and quicker than other vowels and only appears in unstressed syllables. This vowel is found in most unstressed syllables in English.


  • "a" - about, majority
  • "o"- official, lion
  • "u" - undo, medium
  • "e" - different, wanted
  • "i" - family, reality
  • "io" - mission, condition 
  • "ai" - certain, mountain
  • "ia" - special, essential

Grammar Tip: In addition to unstressed syllables within words,  /ə/ is often used in a certain set of words called "function words" (or "structure words"). These are words that carry grammatical meaning within a sentence. They are often spoken quickly with reduced vowels in conversational English.

  • Articles: a, an, the
  • Prepositions: of, to, for, at
  • Conjunctions: or, and
  • Pronouns: him, her, them, you, some
  • Auxiliary verbs: do, can, have


Download english phonetics exercises audio
Download File


Listen to these sentences. The underlined words are function words. Notice how the function words are pronounced with /ə/ instead of a full vowel,
Download english phonetics exercises audio
Download File
  • Have you told him the news?
  • I can come to the party with him.
  • Jeff and I took them some cake.




Compare /ə/ with /ʌ/:

Download english phonetics exercises audio
Download File

These are both central, mid, lax vowels. However, /ə/ is a reduced vowel and /ʌ/ is a full vowel. This means that /ə/ is shorter and softer than /ʌ/.

Compare Word Forms:
A stressed syllable in a word may become unstressed when a suffix is added to the word, which changes the word stress. Listen to these examples. Notice how the underlined full vowel becomes the reduced vowel /ə/ when the suffix is added.
Download english phonetics exercises audio
Download File
  • office --> official
  • major --> majority
  • biology --> biological
Listen and repeat these words:
Download english phonetics exercises audio
Download File
1. sofa
2. about
3. undo
4. umbrella
5. unlucky
6. potato
7. motion
8. wanted
9. lion
10. method
11. collection
12. uncertain
13. stability
14. magazine
15. industry
16. period
17. avoidance
18. photography
19. additional
20. uncomfortable

Now, practice /ə/ in sentences. Say the words first, then the sentences. (Remember that in a sentence, some function words will also have /ə/.)
Download english phonetics exercises audio
Download File
1. family - support - decision - abroad
His family doesn't support his decision to go abroad.
2. important - complete - assignments
It's important for you to complete all your assignments.
3. helpful - collect - supplies
Before you start a project, it's helpful to collect all your supplies.
4. apartment - beautiful - colorful
Your apartment is so beautiful and colorful!
5. uncomfortable - about - personal - problems
I'm uncomfortable talking about personal problems.
6. somebody - applied - position
Somebody told me that you applied for a new position at work.
To practice with different varieties of English, choose another native English speaker by clicking one of the links below: