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
Listen to these sentences. The underlined words are function words. Notice how the function words are pronounced with /ə/ instead of a full vowel,
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.
Now, practice /ə/ in sentences. Say the words first, then the sentences. (Remember that in a sentence, some function words will also have /ə/.)
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.