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What Is a Schwa? (with Examples)The schwa is the most common vowel sound in English. It sounds like a short 'uh.' The symbol for a schwa is ə (an upside down "e"). The schwa can be represented by any vowel letter. In these examples, the vowel creating the schwa sound is shown in bold:
|vowel||vowel as a schwa|
|vowel||vowel as a schwa|
(The schwa is between the "th" and "m.")
The Schwa Is Never StressedThe schwa is never a stressed vowel. It can only be formed by an unstressed vowel. However, not every unstressed vowel is a schwa. (Most unstressed vowels are not schwas.) Look at this example:
(In "banana," the first "a" is a schwa, the second "a" is a stressed vowel, and the last "a" is an unstressed "a.")
The Lazy VowelThe schwa is produced when the lips, tongue, and jaw are completely relaxed, which is why it is known as the "lazy vowel." It exists because creating the syllables we need to pronounce words is hard work for our vocal tracts, and using a schwa in a syllable instead of the proper vowel is easier.
Schwas Make Spelling More DifficultIn any word with a schwa, the schwa syllable ranks lowest among its sibling syllables in terms of helping the word to be understood. So, the schwa exists to improve efficiency in speaking. That's great. However, it causes lots of issues with writing in English because writers are often left guessing what vowel to use for a schwa sound. For example:
|word with schwa||common misspelling|
Why Schwas Are ImportantThe sound a vowel makes depends on whether it is a short vowel sound or a long vowel sound. Let's look at the letter "e" as an example:
pine(no sound from the "e")
uncle(no sound from the "e")
Recognizing the letters is the easy part of learning to read. Learning the syllable types is the hard part, and this is made even harder by the schwa. Without any clear warning, a schwa can undo the standard rule for a syllable type. So, from that perspective, it is a menace.
There are two ways to address the schwa issue:
- Don't teach the schwa. This relies on a learner's imitation of words eventually trumping the reading rules.
- Do teach the schwa. Some students benefit from understanding the schwa as it offers an explanation of why a reading rule does not apply. Interestingly, teachers of students with learning difficulties find teaching the schwa useful. (If you have a view on this, please tell us using the contact form below.)
How To Get The Schwa Symbol
(Method 1) Copy and paste the symbol.Press the "copy" button, and then paste the symbol into your document.
(Method 2) Use the "Alt Code."The Alt Code for ə is Alt 601. If you have a keyboard with a numeric pad, you can use this method.
- Hold down the Alt key and type 601 on the numeric pad. When you lift the Alt key, ə appears. (The Num Lock button must be on. This is used in programs like Word.)
(Method 3) Use the HTML Decimal Code (for webpages).
(Method 4) Use the HTML Entity Code (for webpages).
(Method 5) Use the CSS Code (for webpages).
|CSS and HTML Text||Output|
(Method 6) Use the HTML Hex Code (for webpages).
[ Hold down Alt ]
[ Press x ]
(Note that you can omit any leading zeros.)
|let str = "\u0259"|
document.write("My symbol: " + str)
|My symbol: ə|
(Method 8) Use an Image (for various).
|<img src = "myImage.png"/>||ə|
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