pronunciation: 'ash' (flat /æ/) in unstressed positions

Hello everyone!
I was told to find 10 more words with sound ash (flat /æ/) in unstressed postions for my phonetics class. Although, I'm not sure which words include this unstressed version. I'll list some words that I think that might be correct. Could you, please, tell me, whether they are? If some are wrong, will you list a couple of words for me? I find this assignment pretty difficult.
Here's the list:
1. bat
2. sat
3. fact
4. actor
5. rat
6. flat
7. aspect
8. alcohol
9. acrobat
10. access
Also, could you explain how I am supposed to know when ash is unstressed?
I'd like to ask for a quick response, since I have time till Sunday.
Thanks in advance!
  • Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    I've found this difficult, too!

    As I understand it, you don't pronounce the letter 'A' as ash in really unstressed positions. You pronounce it as schwa /ə/. E.g "Jack had a bat" = /dʒæk hæd ə bæt/.

    But most syllables aren't as unstressed as that. The only good example in your list is acrobat, where both 'A's are pronounced as ash /'ækrəbæt/. How do you know when ash is unstressed? You learn each word. A hint: stress in English tends to fall on the antepenultimate syllable (the last but two). So make a list of three- or four-syllable words with a stressed 'A' near the beginning and another 'A' towards the end. A couple to start you off: aftermath, bath-mat...

    The monosyllables in your list (bat, sat, fact...) may be stressed in a given sentence, or not, depending on the meaning. E.g "The actor had a bat, not a ball." "That bat belongs to the actor, it's a fact."
    Thanks for the reply.
    It's so confusing! Are these correct: bagpack, kilogram, hijack, photograph, California, hatchback? That's what my teachers says but I really don't get why they are unstressed.
    It's impossible for me to check which guide my teacher's using. I need to send him the list till tomorrow and i don't have a good one - I still don't understand ANYTHING. I guess that the only thing I can do is just sending him wrong anwers which is probably better than doing nothing. Hope he won't grade that.

    Keith Bradford

    Senior Member
    English (Midlands UK)
    OK, here's an easy way out, that doesn't require you to know the words in advance.

    1. Write down ten words of two syllables or more, which have an 'A' in them.
    2. There's a fifty-fifty chance that the 'A' will be unstressed, since very very few words have two stressed syllables.
    3. Look the words up in a dictionary to see if the 'A' is unstressed. If not, cross it off your list.
    4. Is that letter pronounced as ash /æ/?
    5. If not, cross it off your list.
    6. Continue, adding new words until you have ten.

    You will probably find that the unstressed 'A's come towards the end of the word, for the reason I gave in post #2 above.


    Senior Member
    English - England
    You ask about 'hijack'. Here it is in the WR dictionary:

    hi•jack orhigh•jack highjack /ˈhaɪˌdʒæk/

    If you understand IPA you will see that the first syllable is stressed and that the second syllable contains /æ/.


    IPA - International Phonetic Alphabet
    Sorry, I just have plenty of homework. I don't usually ask for doing my work for me, I have put some effort to do this, so please - no accusation.
    Does this " ' " indicate accent? So if there is ash without ', it means it's a correct word?

    Giorgio Spizzi

    Senior Member
    Hullo, bacause.

    Yes, the presence of a small apostrophe in the phonemic transcription signals that the vowel in the following syllable is stressed.

    Good luck.

    GS :)