Schwa Function Words

Listen to the following sentence. How many function words are pronounced with a schwa?

Are you going to make the tea?

Three function words contain a schwa sound: are /ə/, to /tə/ and the /ðə/.

Why are function words pronounced with a schwa?

  • Many function words are pronounced with a schwa when they are weak.
  • If a function word is stressed, it cannot be pronounced with a schwa.


First say the function word strong and then weak with a schwa.

to /tu:,tə/ are /ɑ:,ə/ was /wɒz,wəz/ from /frɒm,frəm/ there /ðeə,ðə/ can /kæn,kən/ her /hɜ:,hə/ for /fɔ:,fə/ were /wɜ:,wə/ at /æt,ət/


Listen to the recording and decide which schwa function word is missing.

A.  You promised not to say anything.

B.  When _____ you planning on telling me?

C.  _____ I help you at all?

D.  I worked really hard _____ this.

E. _____ weren’t any interesting books.

F.  The play starts_____ 7:30.

G.  What _____ your name again?

H.  _____ hair’s very long.

I.  Michael’s _____ Northern Ireland.

J.  _____ you busy later?

A. to B. were C. can D. for E. there F. at G. was H. her I. from J. are

If you would like to practise pronouncing the Schwa – come along to the Free Schwa Class – it takes place at least 4 times a week in Central London (Holborn) at Pronunciation Studio – 90 minutes of tuition and a course sample – and it’s free to join – click here for dates!