Why in words like temperate there is a small ə in it?

  • /ˈtem.pᵊr.ət/

I'm looking at the version in the Cambridge English Dictionary


3 Answers 3


That superscript schwa means that the R is syllabic for some speakers i.e. capable of making a syllable of its own. You will also hear it being pronounced with the schwa. For syllabic consonants, we use another diacritic (a small vertical line below the consonant) in phonetic transcriptions, but dictionaries use [ᵊ] before the syllabic consonants for convenience. You could transcribe temperate alternatively as [ˈtem.pɹ̩.ət]. Note that I used [ɹ] because [r] is the symbol for a trilled R (again, IPA uses /r/ for convenience).

Similarly, button is /ˈbʌtᵊn/ (syllabic n or /-ən/), bottle /ˈbɒtᵊl/ (syllabic l /-əl/).


The small schwa is not used by all dictionaries. For example, you can check the word in the Oxford dictionary and find it written /ˈtempərət/.

IPA has its own spelling rules and conventions. The Oxford & Cambridge dictionaries do not follow the same conventions; this reflects a lack of standardisation.

Both transcriptions of 'temperate' have the same pronunciation: /ˈtem.pᵊr.ət/ & /ˈtempərət/

As a side note, there is a variant of 'temperate' that is pronounced as two syllables. It can be written in IPA in different ways, according to different styles of transcription:





Some of the above examples are more difficult to read / understand than others. If the transcription needs to be explained every time, then it is overly complex and therefore unhelpful to most English learners.


Because phoneticians like to make things overly complicated. The needs of English learners are different. The complexity and lack of standardisation puts people off of learning IPA.

  • 2
    That is not a very helpful answer for the OP.
    – mdewey
    Commented Jun 22, 2021 at 13:07
  • What does OP mean? At the top of the page it says this forum is for English learners. I am answering the question for an English learner. It's not an academic conference. Have you ever considered that overly academic answers are not very helpful for students? Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 5:30
  • 1
    (OP=original poster, i.e. questioner.) The problem with your answer isn't that it's insufficiently academic. It just doesn't answer the question (i.e. what the /ᵊ/ means). You've given your opinion of phoneticians and of why IPA is offputting to some people, but those things are tangential. I see now that you've added a better answer subsequently.
    – rjpond
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 13:58
  • 1
    Hi, maybe it's because you're kind of new in Stack Exchange. The forums in Stack Exchange are more for objective answers. Questions that require personal opinions or answers that are personal opinions aren't much encouraged.
    – m26a
    Commented Jun 23, 2021 at 14:45

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