English speech rhythm 1- the weak / 'schwa' vowel



Listen in British and American English



T h u m b n a i l   i m a g e 

 > >  Rollover to see larger image image

»Practise rhythm in the phrases below. Listen in British or American English 


Pronunciation of the weak or "schwa" vowel:

                        U.K.                             U.S.A.          

The use of the weak or "schwa" vowel gives English speech its natural rhythm. It is used in:

1. Certain unstressed syllables (see 1 above): 

"together, photographer, analysis, percent"


                        U.K.                             U.S.A.          

2. Positive auxiliary verbs (see 2 above):  

"was, were, have, does"


                        U.K.                             U.S.A.          

3. Non-final prepositions (see 3 above): 

"to, for, of, into"


                        U.K.                             U.S.A.          

4. Other function words (see 4 above):   

"a, an, and, but"


                        U.K.                              U.S.A.          

(blue = ‘weak’ vowel)


                        U.K.                              U.S.A.          

  • •  He’s got to try to find out how to get there.

  • •  She can swim and ski but she can’t skate.

  • •  Don’t forget to phone first and check they can go.

  • • They sleep at eight and wake at ten

  • •  He went to live in Canada for four years

  • •  Seventy percent of photographers prefer this camera.


The ‘weak’ vowel is NOT used when:


1. Prepositions and auxiliary verbs are sentence final.

Compare:


“Where are you going to?”             

       U.K.                      U.S.A.          

“I’m going to France?”                     

       U.K.                      U.S.A.          

2. Auxiliary verbs are negative.

“He can’t go tomorrow”                    

       U.K.                     U.S.A.          

3. The speaker wants to emphasise a preposition, positive auxiliary verb or other function word.

“Did you say you got a nice present from Sarah?"                                    

       U.K.                    U.S.A.          


“No, I gave a nice present to Sarah”                                                          

       U.K.                    U.S.A.          

“Tim was there, but you weren’t there, were you?                                 

       U.K.                    U.S.A.          

“I was there; you just didn’t see me”                                                        

       U.K.                    U.S.A.          

Rewind / fast-forward with progress bar above


Back to top