Episode 15:

Pronunciation - The Schwa /ə/

Helpful Links:

Transcript of the Episode:

Welcome to the English for Everyone ESL Podcast! I’m your host, Caren Hayden, and I’m here to help you improve your English.


Do you want to sound more like a native English speaker? Then you must master the most common vowel sound in American English – the schwa! Today, I will tell you what the schwa sounds like and when you should use it. Stay tuned!



So, what does the schwa sound like? It sounds like this: /ə/. It’s almost the same as a short “u” sound, but it’s even shorter and weaker. /ə/ I think it’s the easiest sound to make in English because it requires the least amount of effort, and your mouth remains totally relaxed and just slightly open. In fact, it’s called the “lazy sound.” /ə/ You barely push any air out! Try it. /ə/, /ə/, /ə/. It almost sounds like someone lightly hit you in the stomach when you weren’t ready for it. /ə/


When you see the schwa sound represented in the dictionary, it looks like an upside-down “e.”


Every vowel, and even transition sounds between two consonants, can be pronounced as the schwa sound.


Here are some examples of when different vowels sound like the schwa. You’ll notice that the schwa is NEVER the stressed syllable of a word.


  • The “a” in “about” is a schwa [əˈbaʊt]. It’s not a-bout or a-bout; it’s uh-bout.

  • The “e” in “taken” is a schwa [ˈtʰeɪkən]. It’s not ta-ken or ta-ken; it’s ta-kun.

  • The “i” in “pencil” is a schwa [ˈpʰɛnsəl]. It’s not pen-sil or pen-sil; it’s pen-suhl.

  • The “o” in “memory” is a schwa [ˈmɛməri]. It’s not mem-o-ry or mem-o-ry; it’s mem-uh-ry.

  • The “u” in supply is a schwa [səˈplaɪ]. It’s not sup-ply or sup-ply; it’s suhp-ply.

  • The “y” in sibyl is a schwa [ˈsɪbəl]. It’s not sib-il or sib-yl; it’s sib-uhl.

  • The unwritten sound between “th” and “m” in “rhythm” is a schwa [ˈɹɪðəm]. The sounds “th” and “m” don’t blend together, so a schwa is spoken to link the two sounds.


Let’s practice saying all these words again. Try to make sure that your schwa sound is shorter, lower in volume, and not stressed.

  • about

  • taken

  • pencil

  • memory

  • supply

  • sibyl

  • rhythm


Does your language have the schwa sound? When does it occur? Leave a comment on the show website or send me a message.


Thank you so much for listening to the English for Everyone ESL Podcast! Don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. You will find the transcript of today’s show and some helpful links about today’s topic on the show website: www.englishforeveryonepod.com. [Stay tuned for the slower version of today’s episode].


[slower version, same transcript]

Bye Bye!



Music is Where’s My Jetpack by Computer Music All-Stars found on www.freemusicarchive.org