Home / English Lessons / [ə]: The De-Stressed Schwa Vowel Sound | Part 2 | English Pronunciation Lesson

[ə]: The De-Stressed Schwa Vowel Sound | Part 2 | English Pronunciation Lesson

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This lesson is Part 2 in the series on the De-stressed Schwa Vowel Sound [ə]:

Part 1: [ə]: The De-Stressed Schwa Vowel Sound | An Introduction

Part 2: [ə]: De-stressing Words to Schwas

Introduction

As was discussed in Part 1 in this series, speaking English with the correct music doesn’t just require stressing syllables and words. An important part of rhythm in English is de-stressing certain syllables and words. De-stressing means that some sounds are said:

  • quicker; and
  • more relaxed

than other sounds. The most de-stressed sound in English is a quick [ə], the “schwa”, which helps create the music of English.

De-stressed Words

Native English speakers de-stress several function words so much so that we say them with or as a schwa, a quick [ə]. This is done, because one of the goals of the English speaker is to speak with efficiency — to say the most we can, in the shortest amount of time. So, why bother saying a word so clearly when it doesn’t even carry meaning? The listener doesn’t need to hear function words — such as prepositions and conjunctions — the way they need to hear content words that carry meaning in sentences (think, verbs, nouns, etc.).

Example

Native English speakers don’t clearly say

  • “Date of birth”

…and why should we? The listener already knows that the middle function word is “of”, and “of” carries no meaning — it’s just there for grammar. So we de-stress it, and:

  • “of” [ʌv] –> [ə]
  • “date of” –> *”data” [DEY də]
  • “date_of_birth” –> [DEY də BɝRθ]
    • [DEY də BɝRθ]

(Note that because Americans do not push out a lot of air on the /t/ in the middle of their words, “data” is said with a [d]: [DEY də]. Whereas British English speakers are more likely to aspirate that /t/ and say it as a [t]: “data” [DEY tə]. Let’s practice more function words that are de-stressed all the way down to a schwa [ə].

Listen and Repeat

a

“a” –> [ə]

  • “What a joke!”

and

“and” –> [ən]

  • “I’ll have some bacon and eggs please.”

of

“of” –> [əv] or [ə]

  • “I cook at home most of the time.”

the

“the” –> [ðə]

  • “What the heck is going on here?”

or

“or” –> [ər]

  • “I like the shirt in either black or white.”

him

“him”  –> [əm] (Also see the lesson on h-deletion for more information on saying the “h” pronouns.)

  • “Go get him a drink.”

can

“can” –> [kən] (Also see the lesson on “can” vs. “can’t” for more explanation and practice.)

  • Can you believe it? He passed the test!”

do

“do” –> [də]

  • “What do you do for a living?”

you

you” –> [yə]

  • “See you later!”
  • “See ya!”

to

“to” –> [tə]

  • “Let’s go to the store today.”

Remember, you don’t always have to speak this way in order to be understood. But you should know that native English speakers de-stress some function words all the way down to a schwa — an [ə] — so that you can better understand them.

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One comment

  1. Alejandro García

    These podcasts are extremely useful for me. Thanks a lot again. Great job !!!

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