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Semivowel ‘ə’ and Words Without Vowels in Slovenian

A semivowel is a vowel which does not have a special letter. Phonetically it is written as ‘ə’, but we never write it. It is pronounced similar to French unstressed ‘e’.

A feature in Slovenian is that a semivowel ‘ə’ is pronounced each time when a letter ‘r’ stands between two consonants (trg) or before another consonant (rdeč); for example: [tərg], [ərdeč]. So, we have to pronounce it every time, at each ‘r’ which doesn’t stand beside a vowel. In some words a semivowel ‘ə’ replaces a letter ‘e’ in pronunciation, like in the words “pes” and “dež”. We pronounce them like [pəs] and [dəš]. Narrow and wide ‘e’ aren’t stressed when write in Slovenian, so you simply have to memorise how each word is pronounced.

In Slovenian plenty of words exist without vowels (mostly very short words). But instead of vowels we use a semivowel. The longest Slovenian words without vowels are “vzbrst” (adenoids), “čmrlj” (bumblebee), “zvrst” (genre) and “čvrst” (solid). The shortest words without vowels and with only two letters are “rt” (cape) and “rž” (rye).

This might be odd to foreigners, as for example in English, French and other languages words without vowels don’t exist. Sometimes foreigners in Slovenia think that words completely without vowels are acronyms for something. But no, we don’t spell them, we pronounce them fluently.

Some words in Slovenian completely without vowels

Slovenian Words Without Vowels English Translation
prst soil, finger
brž at once
grd ugly
prt tablecloth
vrt garden
grb coat-of-arms
črv worm
čvrst solid
trg square
rt cape
grm bush
vrv rope
vrč jug
trn thorn
skrb worry, care
vrh peak, top
krt mole
mrk eclipse

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