Spelling the 'schwa' sound:
Spot the weak vowel sound.

Schwa sounds are found in unstressed syllables. If you are able to identify stressed and unstressed syllables, it will help you be aware which vowels need more care.

Stressed and unstressed syllables:

stressed and unstressed syllables Old science-fiction films sometimes featured 'robot' speech, in which each syllable was pronounced with exactly the same strength, or stress.

Hear examples of 'robot' speech.

In normal speech, longer words have one syllable which sounds stronger than the rest. This is called the stressed syllable. Read these words aloud in your normal voice:

stressed syllables in English language stressed syllables in English language stressed syllables in English language
elephant gorilla kangaroo

In each word the stressed syllable is in orange. In that syllable you can hear the vowel sound very clearly. In the other two syllables the vowels sounds are often unclear. It is these unstressed syllables which cause the most problems for spellers.

Try this exercise to test yourself in spotting stressed syllables and the schwa sound. Each word has been split into two syllables. Decide which syllable is stressed and which syllable contains the schwa sound. Type them in the correct column, as in the example.

Whole Word

Type in stressed syllable

Type in syllable with schwa sound



Skip this exercise and go to the next part of this unit: Learning tips for schwa words. *

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Unit 24: Spelling the 'schwa' sound - the neutral vowel
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