I know that we can find phonemes by looking for minimal pairs. However, I cannot find a minimal pair for the schwa, on the one hand, and the vowel that usually appears on British English vowel charts with this symbol /3:/ Presumably there must be a minimal pair, since we have two separate phonemes. Can someone give me an example? The only real difference seems to be be vowel length since they occupy almost the same position on the vowel chart.

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    You can create what would roughly constitute minimal pairs out of something like Dana’s /ˈdeɪnəs/ and day nurse /ˈdeɪˌnɜːs/, but actual single-lexemic minimal pairs are probably impossible for the reason Tristan points out. Commented Apr 21, 2021 at 13:49
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    I'm certain /3:/ is not a long schwa in British English. At least it's not in my native Australian English. Phonetics has always been my weak point but I feel /3:/ to be rounder and perhaps fronter too. Their vowel qualities are more distinct than in American English, where the rhoticity is the main difference. Commented Apr 23, 2021 at 3:13

2 Answers 2


Yes: forward /ˈfɔːwəd/ vs. foreword /ˈfɔːwɜːd/.


In addition to forward - foreword, there are:

  • Upton /ˈʌptən/ and upturn /ˈʌptɜːn/

As @Janus said in a comment, you could create minimal pairs, as in:

  • afterwards /ˈɑːftəwədz/ and after words /ɑːftəwɜːdz/

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