Why is the schwa sound so essential for English learners who want to sound fluent?
Perhaps it’s the way it drastically improves your sentence flow, making your conversations sound natural and effortless. Or maybe it’s how it improves your listening skill, and ultimately your overall comprehension.
You know what? It’s both those things.
Correctly pronouncing the schwa sound in English is an underutilized skill that significantly impacts your overall fluency. Practicing it regularly is the best way to make correct pronunciation a habit so that you can sound fluent sooner.
This list of schwa words and phrases will teach you the schwa in all its forms and help you master its pronunciation.
What Is the Schwa Sound In English?
The schwa in English – pronounced shwaa – is a reduced vowel sound used to emphasize the stressed vowel in words for clearer context.
In short, the schwa allows unstressed syllables to be said quicker, so the most important syllables are more noticeable. You essentially make the context of the sentence easier to understand.
The schwa sounds like a lazy ‘uh’ sound and requires very little effort to pronounce.
Any vowel can become a schwa, but only when it isn’t the stressed syllable. Because the schwa is never stressed!
So you don’t pronounce the vowel /O/ in “improvement” with the schwa, for example, but you do with /A/ in “important.”
We also use the schwa in function words, which have little or no meaning on their own but play an important role in grammar.
These are all function words:
- Articles (a, an, the)
- Prepositions (in, of, with, before, etc.)
- Conjunctions (and, but)
- Auxiliary verbs (be, do, have, will, shall, would, should, etc.)
Say this sentence out loud a few times, reducing the stress on the function words:
“We can probably get it before them but we should hurry and be careful with it.”
There are more sounds to master than just schwa. Our Creativa course Mastering North American Pronunciation features professional-quality videos, exercises, and real-world examples to give you more of the details of pronunciation that other courses miss.
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Schwa Words and Phrases by Vowel
|Account||This account has been inactive for over six months, so we’re going to close it.|
|Actually||I’m actually from a small town in Northern Ireland.|
|Agreement||We’ve reached a new agreement in regards to the monthly spending limits.|
|Although||Although I’m new here, I’ve made so many new friends.|
|Available||We don’t have that particular model available, but we can email you when we do.|
|Balloons||I need to buy some balloons for my little brother’s birthday next week because he’s obsessed with them.|
|Capital||He wasn’t able to invest in the project because he didn’t have enough capital.|
|Central||Head down the main road for 10 minutes, and you’ll see the central station.|
|Especially||I’m especially bad at math. I can never seem to pass my algebra exams!|
|Financial||She’s been working in the financial sector for a few years now.|
|Important||It’s important that you have experience with sales. It’s non-negotiable.|
|International||I’ve been studying international business for three years now.|
|Manager||My cousin is the manager so she can give us a deal.|
|Natural||I only drink natural wine. The standard stuff gives me a headache!|
|Particular||The company is looking for somebody with a particular interest in content marketing.|
|Pleasant||We had a pleasant stay at the hotel the other day.|
|Political||Our family dinners always turn so political; I’m over it!|
|Popular||I remember that guy. He was the most popular guy at school, but now he’s a mystery.|
|Significant||There has been a significant decline in bee populations around the world.|
|Usually||I’m usually reading at the park on the weekends.|
|Achievement||Becoming fluent in another language is one of my biggest achievements.|
|Center||I used to work at the clinical center on the other side of town.|
|Department||John got transferred to another department a few weeks ago.|
|Different||I always cook the same thing, so I’m going to try something different tonight.|
|Evidence||The police were unable to find any evidence at the crime scene.|
|Example||It’s essential to set an example for younger people.|
|Foreign||She’s been working in foreign affairs for about five years.|
|Government||Government is one of the outstanding achievements of modern civilization.|
|However||However you choose to do it is perfectly fine with me.|
|Interpersonal||The job demands leadership & interpersonal skills.|
|Management||Only a few candidates received proper training in management.|
|Minister||The prime minister of a Commonwealth country typically serves a four-year term.|
|Movement||I heard a lot of movement in the attic last night. Maybe we have rats.|
|Present||I need to present my research to the professor next week, and I’m pretty nervous.
Note: stress on the first /E/ makes present (preh-znt), like “gift.” The schwa moves to the second /E/.
|President||The president resigned after the scandal of 2017.|
|Recent||We had to close the store because of a recent security issue.|
|Remember||Remember to pick up your brother from school today.|
|Society||We need to come together as a society and solve climate change.|
|Specific||The employer was looking for very specific experience among the candidates.|
|System||We’ve developed a new system that’ll reduce costs and increase production.|
|Administration||I used to work in administration before my promotion.|
|Attention||If you don’t pay attention, you’ll never learn.|
|Authority||She’s the authority on Middle Eastern cooking.|
|Council||I applied for a job at the local council last year, but I didn’t get it.|
|Distribution||We need to improve packaging and distribution if we expect to turn a profit.|
|Duplicate||I need to make a duplicate of all the data on my hard drive.|
|Intricate||I love to read novels that have intricate plots.|
|National||Tomorrow is national IPA day. Cheers!|
|Necessarily||Just because you write something down doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll remember it.|
|Official||Let’s shake on it to make it official.|
|Parliament||I used to dream about having a job in parliament.|
|Production||The car went out of production in 1995.|
|Question||It wasn’t a question, rather a statement.|
|Religion||I don’t believe in any particular religion.|
|Responsibility||I think that part of becoming an adult is taking responsibility for your problems.|
|Retention||Because of water retention, my stomach looks bloated.|
|Security||We need to change the security cameras because they’re not working correctly.|
|Sufficient||There is sufficient data to prove that extraterrestrial life exists.|
|University||I encouraged her to enroll in a university.|
|Community||I’m so glad we moved because I feel a real sense of community living here.|
|Concerning||His behavior lately is hugely concerning.|
|Considerable||I’ve spent a considerable amount of time on this project and fear that I won’t finish it on time.|
|Continuing||There are continuing efforts to control climate change, but they’re not enough so far.|
|Director||Steven Spielberg is the second wealthiest director in the world.|
|Environment||If we don’t start taking care of the environment, we won’t be able to live here much longer.|
|Information||Gather all the necessary information and get back to me.|
|Memory||She has such an impressive memory. She never misses a single detail!|
|Obvious||The answer seemed obvious to most, but I just didn’t understand the question.|
|Opportunity||This job is a fantastic opportunity for me to refine my interpersonal skills.|
|Opposition||The labor party lost to the opposition by four seats.|
|Original||This is an original, limited-edition piece from the 80s.|
|Personal||It’s nothing personal; I just don’t think he’s the right candidate for the job.|
|Political||She has more political experience than everybody in the room combined.|
|Provide||Are you able to provide me with an ETA?|
|Reason||You haven’t given me a reason as to why you were late yet.|
|Season||It’s mushroom season at the moment. They’re everywhere!|
|Serious||My last boss was so serious all the time. I never saw him smile!|
|Tomorrow||Tomorrow is not promised, and today is short.|
|Album||I liked their first album more than their second.|
|Calcium||I feel so weak lately, so perhaps I need to consume more calcium.|
|Circumstance||I can’t imagine a circumstance in which I would do that.|
|Cultural||After he released that video, he was accused of cultural appropriation.|
|Curriculum||The teacher was making students complete work that wasn’t part of the curriculum.|
|Difficulty||This game’s too easy. Perhaps I need to increase the difficulty.|
|Maximum||The maximum fine for littering is $10,000.|
|Medium||I must be gaining weight because I don’t fit in size medium anymore.|
|Minimum||My last colleague was so lazy and would always put in the minimum effort required.|
|Particularly||He didn’t look particularly concerned when he found out he lost his job.|
|Premium||I subscribed to the premium plan last month and will never regret it.|
|Stadium||We were seated in the upper tier of the stadium, so you probably couldn’t see us.|
|Substantial||I have a substantial amount of money in an account I can’t access.|
|Successful||She defied the odds and became successful at a young age.|
|Sufficient||A two-week course in photography should be sufficient to teach you everything you need to know.|
|Suggesting||He’s been suggesting things at our meetings for weeks, and the managers never listen.|
|Supporting||She’s been supporting her husband financially while he looks for a new job.|
|Supposedly||He supposedly made a lot of money in the crypto market, but I don’t believe him.|
|Unless||They’re not going to come to dinner unless you invite them!|
|Upon||She was admitted to his office immediately upon her arrival.|
And Y—Which Also Takes the Schwa When it Functions as a Vowel
|Syringe||The doctor drew a dose of the vaccine into the syringe.|
|Analysis||The market analysis revealed some things we didn’t know about our potential customers.|
|Pyjamas (British spelling)||I’ve never owned a pair of pyjamas because they never fit me properly.|
|Cylindrical||Perhaps what made Pringles so famous was the cylindrical can.|
|Oxygen||There is definitely less oxygen at the top of the mountain because I nearly passed out!|
|Anonymous||Alcoholics Anonymous Founded in 1935 in Ohio and is now a worldwide organization.|
|Martyr||Killing him would only make him a martyr.|
|Mysterious||He died under mysterious circumstances, but it was ruled a suicide.|
Schwa Words with Vowel Endings
Most words ending in an unstressed -our in British English end in -or in American English. The spelling is uniform everywhere, wherever the vowel is stressed or unreduced (like contour or velour).
Here are some examples of -our ending words that take the schwa with British/Australian pronunciation:
You’ve heard the saying; practice makes perfect, and that couldn’t be more true for the schwa sound. You can see from the list above just how many common words we use every day have the schwa.
Your English success lies in the stress! Regularly practicing a few of the phrases above will help develop good pronunciation habits and accelerate your English fluency faster than you expected.