I wonder schwa sound [ə] such as but, cut, sub in weak form etc. is voiced or unvoiced sound. Thank you!

  • 3
    In the mainstream dialects of English, but, cut and sub do not use the schwa sound. The schwa is some kind of vowel sound, so of course it is voiced. Please search the site for existing questions about schwa.
    – Kaz
    Jan 30, 2014 at 3:07
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    Possible duplicate: ell.stackexchange.com/questions/14563/…
    – Kaz
    Jan 30, 2014 at 3:08
  • 1
    The schwa is a vowel. Not a particularly distinct vowel, but a vowel nonetheless. Unless you're whispering, it is physically impossible to have an unvoiced vowel.
    – Martha
    Jan 30, 2014 at 4:20
  • 1
    Some languages do use unvoiced vowels, so it's reasonable to ask. And although /ə/ and /ʌ/ are considered different phonemes, phonetically there may be overlap. See What's the difference between Schwa (/ə/) and Wedge (/ʌ/)? for some discussion.
    – user230
    Jan 30, 2014 at 7:35
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    The linked question doesn't address the question asked here, so I voted to leave this question open.
    – user230
    Jan 30, 2014 at 7:36

2 Answers 2


A google search for "unvoiced schwa" turns up examples for both English and other languages. Mostly it is voiced but there are a few exceptions where it is unvoiced :)


I had never come across the concept of an unvoiced vowel, never mind an unvoiced schwa, but it turns out that it is possible to record such a phenomenon with a spectrogram.

Norman Lass in Contemporary Issues in Experimental Phonetics gives the word commercial as an example: "The /k/ sound appears to be unusually long because of the unvoiced quality of /ə/". Figure 6.18 in this reference is particularly illustrative.


@StoneyB explains in the comments that the unvoiced schwa does not happen with stressed syllables and thus it doesn't happen in but, cut or sub.

  • 2
    The unvoiced /ə/ occurs only in reduced contexts, not in cut, sub, but where the vowel bears primary word stress. This is another reason why phonologists tend to distinguish English /ə/ from /ʌ/ and to reserve the term schwa for the former. Feb 25, 2014 at 17:27
  • @StoneyB, the OP especifies cut, but and sub in their weak form, would that make the unvoiced schwa possible?
    – Nico
    Feb 25, 2014 at 17:57
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    'Unstressed' and 'reduced' aren't quite the same thing - ordinarily a full noun like sub or verb like cut won't be reduced. Sub-, maybe, as in <subordinate>, but, just possibly. Feb 25, 2014 at 18:17

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