For as frequent as the “SCHWA” [ Ə ] vowel sound appears in Spoken English, it can be a little hard to describe. It is found only in unstressed syllables, and I sometimes refer to it as the “throw away” vowel. As far as jaw, facial muscles, and tongue, it is the most neutral and relaxed vowel sound in the IPA. Edith Skinner describes the way to make this sound as “you merely part your lips, relax and let go your lower jaw and tongue, then vocalize.” [from her book Speak with Distinction]
In fact, this is the vowel sound that most unstressed syllables in Spoken English tend to be. Here’s a good example: the phonetic symbol for the vowel sound in “could” is [ ʊ ]. However due to typical speech patterns, it is not uncommon for an English speaker to use the “SCHWA” [ Ə ] vowel sound instead.
Other short words that are common to hear pronounced with a [ Ə ] sound in Spoken English are: a an the am can does had has have was would them at from in to of and as but that than
Take a listen to the examples in the video. I will take you through some words where [ Ə ] can be heard in initial, medial, and final position. After the video, you will then complete a short multiple choice quiz that will ask you to select which syllable in each word provided would be pronounced with a [ Ə ] sound.