Screenshot of IPA for bird

Screenshot of IPA for wonderful

Hello,this is from the online Cambridge dictionary.

What I wondered is that why the vowel in bird and the second vowel in wonderful are different from each other?

What I think is that the vowel should be the same in the two words.But according to the dictionary,it is /ə/ "wonderful" while /ɜ/ in "bird".Why?


2 Answers 2


In standard Englishes, the vowel qualities of the SCHWA and NURSE vowels, /ə/ and /ɜ:/ respectively, are virtually identical as shown on this vowel diagram:

enter image description here

However, although these vowels are very similar in quality they are different phonemes. The NURSE vowel that we find in the word bird nearly always occurs in stressed syllables. SCHWA, on the other hand occurs exclusively in unstressed syllables. It will usually be much shorter in duration than an occurrence of the NURSE vowel.

If you tried to pronounce wonderful with a sustained second syllable, for example if you made the second syllable two or three seconds long, you would find the vowel to be indistinguishable from the vowel in bird.

  • This answer is about British English. The OP's tag is American English, where aside from the stress on the syllable, the two vowels are completely indistinguishable in many dialects. Feb 17, 2017 at 13:19
  • @PeterShor Well, that's pretty much what I thought I was saying? In any standard Englishes those vowels will have the same quality (regardless of any /r/-coloring). The only perceivable difference will be the probable length of the vowel. Feb 17, 2017 at 13:30
  • I believe the length distinctions in vowels in British English are quite a bit larger than those in American English. Feb 17, 2017 at 14:16
  • According to the Chinese wikipedia,stressed er is marked as /ɜ/ and not stressed as /ə/
    – zzzgoo
    Feb 18, 2017 at 6:16
  • @zzzgoo It's really more the case that both /ɜ/ and /ə/ are often represented by ER in the writing :) Feb 18, 2017 at 9:34

The word bird and wonderful both make use of centering vowels but the only difference is in the length of the two vowels.In comparison to 'wonderful', the word 'bird' had a long centering vowel.wonderful has a schwa in it

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