Before we get into what an unstressed vowel is, it will be useful to understand what a vowel is.

The alphabet is divided into two types of letters; vowels and consonants. Consonants differ from vowels in how our lips and mouths move differently to pronounce them. Our lips will not touch when we pronounce vowels. Why not practice saying them out loud and see for yourself?


A, E, I, O, U


B, C, D, F, G, H, J, K, L, M, N, P, Q, R, S, T, V, W, X, Y

An unstressed syllable is a part of the word you don’t emphasize or accentuate, like the to- in today or the -day on Sunday. These may be referred to as unstressed vowels or simply unstressed letters. So, what happens to a vowel in an unstressed vowel? When silent vowels are unstressed, silent letters are letters that can’t be heard when the word is spoken, making learning to spell and recognize silent vowels important in the classroom.

The letter ‘y’ is a bit unusual in that it can play the role of a vowel in certain words. For example, the term ‘symbol’ imitates an ‘i’. There are other words, too, like ‘Auntie,’ that could also be spelled ‘Aunty.’

What is the difference between stressed and unstressed vowels?

Stressed vowel sounds are longer, louder, and higher pitch than vowel sounds without stress. You can use just one of these features or any combination of these features simultaneously. Overall, stressed sounds are “stronger” than unstressed sounds.

Stressed vowels and syllables tend to be spoken with and have more energy or power. This stressed energy usually comes from the diaphragm, whereas unstressed vowels and syllables are weaker and less energetic.

Did You Know…?

  • The word facetious contains all five vowels in alphabetical order.
  • Every English word contains at least one vowel, except for abbreviations.
  • Most languages have at least three vowels, the most common being ‘a, i, and u’ or something very similar.

Learn to Recognise Unstressed Vowels

So, now we have looked at vowels in general and their role in speech, language, and spelling. We can now move on to explore what is an unstressed vowel

The unstressed vowel is the little ‘uh’ sound in many words. For example:

The ‘a’ in asthma

The ‘er’ in water,

The ‘ar’ in the liar,

The ‘or’ in factor,

These sounds are often pronounced as ‘uh.’ The unstressed vowel is also known as the schwa by linguists, and there is even a symbol. It looks like this ǝ- a little upside down, e. Any written vowel can be spoken as an ‘ah’ sound.

The unstressed vowel is the most common sound in English, but it is tricky to teach because we don’t spell it out.

For example, we don’t spell ‘water’ as watuh’ or ‘lair’ and ‘liah.’ We have to use clues about vowel stress and syllable structure to determine where the sound goes.

Fun Fact:

The unstressed vowel or the schwa has also been referred to as the murmur vowel, the indeterminate vowel, the neutral vowel, the obscure vowel, and the natural vowel.

The unstressed vowel is one of the easiest sounds we can make because all we need to do is move our vocal cords. Other sounds require us to lower or raise our tongues or move our jaws. That’s why some of the first noises a baby will make will be that ‘uh’ sound because it’s so easy.

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