The 3 Uh Sounds

There are three uh sounds in American English. What is the difference between these three sounds? Let’s start with the ‘uh’ as in ‘butter’ [ʌ]. Uh. As you can see, there is some drop in the jaw. Uh. And the tongue is resting on the bottom of the mouth, resting just behind these teeth. Uh, uh. The schwa [ə] is similar: the tongue position is the same, resting on the bottom of the mouth, touching just there. However, there is not the drop in the jaw. Uh. The ‘uh’ as in ‘pull’ [ʊ]: this has some drop of the jaw, but the lips do something completely different: the come out a little bit because they purse in here at the corners. Pull. Now, there are how-to videos for each of these three sounds, but I wanted to bring them together so that we could compare. Let’s look at some photos.

All of the photos were taken as I said the word that contained the sound, not just the sound by itself. Here you see the ‘uh’ as in ‘butter’ and ‘uh’ as in ‘supply’ sounds compared.

On the left, the ‘uh’ as in ‘butter’, you can see that the jaw is dropping more. The teeth are further apart, and the chin is further down. Here is butter vs. pull. You can see the corners of the mouth in pull are coming together just a little bit. This brings the top and bottom lip away from the face. The top lip here is covering the front teeth, whereas with the ‘uh’ as in ‘butter’ sound, you can see just a bit of the top teeth. Here are all three. Again, you can see that the jaw is dropped more on ‘butter’, leaving more space between the top and bottom lips. Here are butter and pull in profile. It is difficult to see, but the corners of the mouth in pull have come in a little bit, and the mouth looks slightly less relaxed. You can see a change in the top lip as it has slightly pulled away from the face. Here are all three in profile.

Now let’s look at a few sample words. First the schwa, or ‘uh’ as in ‘supply’ sound: supply, sofa, condition. Condition has two schwas, in the first and last syllable, condition. Conduct, compose. The ‘uh’ as in ‘pull’ sound: pull, good, should, could. The ‘uh’ as in ‘butter’: butter, brother, mother, because. In because, it is the second syllable: because. One last note: the schwa sound only occurs in unaccented syllables. This means that the length will most likely be shorter than the other two sounds when they occur in accented syllables.

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