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Vowel sounds in unstressed syllables
In the previous topics, we studied sounds that we usually meet in stressed syllables. But in a huge number of words, there is more than one syllable. That means some of them are unstressed.
1. Sound /ə/, or Schwa sound
/ə/ is a short vowel sound, the most common in spoken English. Its transcription is also called Schwa. You can see the Wikipedia page for further information if you'd like. When we pronounce /ə/ the lips are relaxed, not rounded, the jaw is half-open, and the tongue is lying flat in the middle. It is very similar to /ʌ/.
mother, curious, about, the, American
/ə/ occurs in:
unstressed syllables of a multi-syllable word
If the vowels a, o, u, e are not stressed they get a Schwa sound. Compare the examples of vowels in stressed and unstressed syllables.
add — address, sale — saloon, alias — political
along, away, machine, Japan
object —objection, pose — position
occur, control, police, proportion
sure — pleasure, ugly — suggest
measure, surround, suppose
pence — tuppence, era — overall
tunnel, beverage, squirrel, liberal
Some short function words like "to", "for", "the", "some" are pronounced with a reduced vowel sound /ə/ in connected speech. We do so to emphasize important content words.
Please give it to me.
Shall we go to the cinema?
Can I have some water?
I’ve got something for you.
We spent some time together.
2. Sound /ɪ/
The sound #2 that we have in unstressed syllables is /ɪ/.
become, begin, believe, demand, erase, report, result
with -age and -iage
average, mortgage, package, percentage, village, carriage, marriage
with u and ui
minute, lettuce, biscuit, circuit
Unfortunately, there are no definite rules on when to use which sound. We can only talk about common cases. The main thing is to remember that in unstressed syllables, vowels are read differently than in stressed ones. If you doubt, it is best to always check the transcription or listen to the voicing. When you learn new words, don't forget to note the transcription.