Recently I am reading Mastering the American Accent by Lisa Mojsin. Here are some quotes from this book:

The vowel within the unstressed syllable is reduced and becomes a neutral, short vowel called the “schwa” and is pronounced as /ə/.

According to it, it seems that all unstressed vowels can be pronounced as schwa.

There are many examples in this book. For instance, the letter e in enjoy is unstressed, so it is /ə/. But in fact, enjoy in many dictionaries is pronounced as /ɪnˈdʒɔɪ/.

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Please help me to figure out the correctness of the line above. Is it okay always to pronunce unstressed vowels as schwa?

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    No. I breather when I sleep, but this does not mean that I sleep when I breathe. The schwa is an unstressed vowel, but not all unstressed vowels are schwas. Consider the word volcano. That has two unstressed vowels, neither of which are schwas. Here's another example. Blue bottomed baboons are mammals, but not all mammals are blue bottomed baboons. For example, humans aren't blue-bottomed baboons, and neither are cats. Jul 1, 2023 at 10:29
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    The book looks wrong to me. I think the unstressed initial vowel in enjoy, entail, enlighten,... is normally enunciated as /ᵻ/, which is definitely not a schwa. Well, it's not just me who thinks that - it's the first phonetic transcription given for all those words in the full Oxford English Dictionary. Jul 1, 2023 at 11:07
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    Does this answer your question? What is the difference between /ɪ/ and /ə/? Jul 1, 2023 at 11:22
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    There is free variation between the KIT vowel and schwa in British English, and also apparently from the comments in Gen Am. Jul 1, 2023 at 13:11
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    In some prefixes such as be- and en-, specifically. Jul 1, 2023 at 19:05

1 Answer 1


No, it is not correct that all unstressed vowels are pronounce as schwa. Most are --maybe around 90%-- but certainly not all.

Take the word "envy" from your examples. It's pronounced /'ɛnvi/. Note the unstressed /i/ at the end. It cannot be pronounced */'ɛnvə/.

Diphthongs are usually not reduced when unstressed. The word "borrow", for instance, is pronounce /'bɔroʊ/. Note the unstressed /oʊ/ at the end. There may be varieties of English where that word is pronounced /'bɔrə/, but they're far from standard.

The preposition "on" is also pronounced /ɑn/ rather than /ən/. The latter pronunciation would usually be understood as "in" or even "and" rather than "on".

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