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Ə ə
Writing systemLatin script
Phonetic usage[æ]
Unicode codepointU+018F, U+0259
Time period~1922 to 1939, 1992 to present
Descendants • Ә
Writing directionLeft-to-right
This article contains phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA. For the distinction between [ ], / / and  , see IPA § Brackets and transcription delimiters.

Ə, or ə, also called schwa, is an additional letter of the Latin alphabet. In the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA), minuscule ə is used to represent the mid central vowel or a schwa.

It was invented by Johann Andreas Schmeller for the reduced vowel at the end of some German words and first used in his 1820s works on the Bavarian dialects.


It is or was used in several languages around the world, including the Azerbaijani, Gottscheerish, Karay·a and Adyghe languages, the Abenaki language of Quebec, and in the hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ dialect of Halkomelem. Both the majuscule and minuscule forms of this letter are based on the form of a turned e, while the Pan-Nigerian alphabet pairs the same lowercase letter with Ǝ.

A superscript minuscule (U+1D4A MODIFIER LETTER SMALL SCHWA) is used to modify the preceding consonant to have a mid central vowel release, though it is also commonly used to indicate possible syllabicity of the following sonorant, especially in transcriptions of English. The latter usage is non-standard.

In the Azerbaijani alphabet, ⟨Ə⟩ represents the near-open front unrounded vowel, /æ/, like the pronunciation of ⟨a⟩ in "cat". The letter was used in the 1992 Chechen Latin alphabet proposal where it represented the glottal stop, /ʔ/, like the pronunciation of ⟨tt⟩ in GA "button". It was also used in the Uniform Turkic Alphabet, for example in Janalif for the Tatar language in the 1920s–1930s. Also, in a romanization of Pashto, the letter ⟨Ə⟩ is used to represent [ə]. When some Roman orthographies in the Soviet Union were converted to use the Cyrillic script in the 1930s and 1940s, this letter has been adopted verbatim.

In the Karay·a alphabet, the letter represents /ə/.

In the Latin transliteration of Avestan, the corresponding long vowel is written as schwa-macron, ⟨Ə̄ ə̄⟩.

An R-colored vowel can be represented using ⟨ɚ⟩.

A schwa with a retroflex hook is used in phonetic transcription.[1]

For gender neutrality in Italian[edit]

In the 2020s, the schwa has seen some usage in the Italian language, replacing the gendered suffixes of the language, in order to keep words gender neutral.[2] For example, the use of the schwa in the word tuttə (all/everyone), as opposed to tutti (all/everyone, masculine plural).

This niche usage is controversial—as well as mainly limited to written language, as there is no real consensus on how the suffix should be pronounced—and has been criticized by the Accademia della Crusca. The president of the Accademia opposed its use,[3] and the Accademia replied unfavorably to an initiative by the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Supreme Court of Cassation for the introduction of the schwa in juridical language, stating that "juridical language is not the place to experiment with minority-led innovations that would lead to irregularity and idiolects".[4]

Unicode encodings[edit]

Character information
Preview Ə ə
Encodings decimal hex dec hex dec hex dec hex
Unicode 399 U+018F 601 U+0259 7498 U+1D4A 8340 U+2094
UTF-8 198 143 C6 8F 201 153 C9 99 225 181 138 E1 B5 8A 226 130 148 E2 82 94
Numeric character reference Ə Ə ə ə ᵊ ᵊ ₔ ₔ

Since the legacy fixed 8-bit ISO/IEC Turkish encoding contains neither Ə nor ə, Ä ä has sometimes been used for the Azerbaijani language instead, as in the Tatar and Turkmen languages.

In Windows, the characters can be generated by holding the ⎇ Alt key and pressing the respective decimal Unicode number, which can be found in the table (e.g. 399, 601), on the number pad preceded by a leading 0. With a Linux compose key, the lowercase letter is by default generated by Compose+e+e.


  1. ^ Constable, Peter (2004-04-19). "L2/04-132 Proposal to add additional phonetic characters to the UCS" (PDF).
  2. ^ "Italiano Inclusivo - Una lingua che non discrimina per genere" (in Italian). Retrieved 2022-04-16.
  3. ^ Squires, Nick (2022-02-10). "'Politically correct' gender-neutral symbols 'endangering' the Italian language". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 2022-04-16.
  4. ^ "Risposta al quesito sulla scrittura rispettosa della parità di genere negli atti giudiziari posto all'Accademia della Crusca dal Comitato Pari opportunità del Consiglio direttivo della Corte di Cassazione" (in Italian). Retrieved 2023-03-20.