The UH and the Unstressed Schwa
The “schwa” sound, written phonetically by speech-language pathologists as /ə/, is the most common sound in American English. It sounds like “UH” and it appears in the “unstressed” syllable of a word. If you are trying to improve your American English pronunciation, this sound is very important because at least one in five English words has the schwa! This vital sound can significantly impact how you clearly you speak in American English AND it can impact your rhythm.
The UH sound is present in the “stressed” syllable of a word.
The placement of the two sounds is exactly the same.
The word “above” (uh-bUHv) is a great example of these two sounds in one word. The first syllable of this word is unstressed and “shorter” and the second syllable is stressed, and “longer”.
The stressed UH can be represented by “o” or “u”, yet the unstressed schwa can be represented by any vowel letter or combinations of vowels. In fact there are at least 20 possible spellings of the schwa.
More examples of the schwa in multisyllabic words include: unexpected, about, problem.
Examples of the stressed UH in multisyllabic words include: thunder, hundred, mother.
Please let me know if you have any questions!
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