Schwa Is the Most Common Sound In the English Language

In the English language, there is an interesting sound that can come from any of the vowels – a, e, i, o, u, and y. The sound is called a schwa.

We teach schwa in the Orton Gillingham scope and sequence early and again later. It’s a lesson that keeps going over time.

A schwa is represented in print with an upside-down e, a lower-case, upside-down e. The sound a schwa makes sounds like a short u, /u/.

Schwas are only found in multi-syllable words. Let me give an example. Cotton. You don’t say, cot-ton (where the o sounds like the word ton), you say, cotton (and the second o sounds like a short u). This is a schwa.

A schwa is never found in the accented syllable. The accent will never fall on the syllable with a schwa. This comes in handy when breaking up VCV words and pronouncing them.

In the word, love, the o sounds like short u, but it is not a schwa because it is a one-syllable word. Same with the word “was.” Not a schwa. Note: some people do believe a schwa can be found in one-syllable words. I was taught differently and stick with it because it is easier for students to break down words if they know the schwa is never on the accented syllable.

An “a” at the end of a word will always be a schwa. Examples: cola, mocha, umbrella, pizza, Montana.

Here are a few more examples of words with a schwa – there are many in the English language.

  • Serpent
  • Tomato
  • Velvet
  • Signal
  • Mental
  • Lemon
  • Denim
  • Above
  • Cadet
  • Pecan
  • Beside
  • Mitten
  • Napkin

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(9) Comments

  1. Thanks for the post! I have a question… you say that the schwa is only in multisyllabic words but what about words like “the” and “a”?

    1. One syllable words do make the sound, but are not considered a schwa. A tad confusing, but it’s true — a schwa is only multi-syllable words.

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