What is a Schwa?

What is a ‘Schwa’?

From Word Genius

Have you searched your brain and given up?

It’s not a common word, but it’s more than just a fun word to say. It’s that upside-down “e” seen in the dictionary, squeezed into a string of phonetic symbols.

How to Pronounce “Schwa”

A “schwa” is the “ǝ” symbol in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). It is an unstressed syllable pronounced like “uh.” Most of the time, this syllable comes in the middle of a word — notice how the “e” in “dozen” and the “o” in “memory” don’t have an outsized presence in the pronunciation of the word. 

The word “schwa” comes from the Hebrew word shva. When reading Hebrew, two dots beneath a letter indicate a schwa. In English, there isn’t a visual indicator other than in the IPA pronunciation in the dictionary. That upside down “ǝ” symbol indicates the pronunciation of the “uh” of “schwa.”

A schwa is a vowel sound in an unstressed syllable, where a vowel does not make its long or short vowel sound. It usually sounds like the short /u/ sound, but is softer and weaker.

Examples of a schwa:

  • a: balloon.
  • e: problem.
  • i: family.
  • o: bottom.
  • u: support.
  • y: analysis.


4 thoughts on “What is a ‘Schwa’?”

  1. Thank you for that interesting fact.
    I was partially right thinking it was Jewish because of being raised in a multi-ethnic neighborhood when I was a young boy.

  2. Marsha+Shearer

    Happily, this is a fun fact I didn’t know and now that I do, can immediately forget. Doubt even Wordle will touch it. My brain needs the space for the real tricky stuff-like finding my car keys!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to content