Syllables

A unit of sound that forms a meaningful word is called a syllable. Syllables usually contain a vowel and accompanying consonants.

What Are Syllables in English?

What Are Syllables?

As you know, words can be divided into parts, we call each of these parts syllables. In English, a syllable has one and only one vowel sound (remember, vowel sound and not letter) and one or more consonants. A particular word can have one, two, three, four, or more syllables, but it is not common to find words with more than four syllables.

Counting Syllables

A syllable cannot have more than one vowel sound, but it can have more than one vowel letter. In counting syllables, you do not count the consonants or vowel letters, we usually have as many syllables as the vowel sounds. Check out the examples:

Bus

The vowel sound in this word is represented by the letter 'u' which is pronounced as /ʌ/, so the word has one syllable.

hunter

We have two vowel sounds in this word. One is the sound /ʌ/ which is represented by the letter 'u' and the other is the sound /ə/ that is represented by the letter 'e'; so, we have two syllables.

When you count the syllables, you have to count all the vowel sounds in a word. Also, when two consonants are used beside each other and one part is pronounced separately, it means they are different syllables. Here are the examples:

Think

This word is only one syllable.

transport

This word is made of two syllables: one is /trans/ and the other one is /port/.

Vowel letters are (a, e, i, u, o). They are considered syllable markers unless they are not pronounced as vowels. For example:

Parent

Pa is one syllable and rent is another syllable.

union

'uni' is only one syllable because 'u' has the sound of /j/ and 'on' is the other syllable which starts with the vowel sound /ən/.

If the letter 'y' is used at the end of the word, it is usually pronounced as /i/ and is considered a vowel sound. Such as:

university

This word has four syllables: /uni/, /ver/, /si/, /ty/

If the word has a vowel letter that is not pronounced, it is not considered a syllable. For example:

trace

In this word, trace is only one syllable because the 'e' at the end of the word is not pronounced.

How to Divide Syllables

  • The basic rule, as mentioned earlier, is to count the vowel sounds. For example:

Cat

this word has one vowel sound; therefor, it's one syllable.

Made

There are two vowel letters here but only one vowel sound (letter e at the end is silent); therefore, it's one syllable.

  • In words with prefixes and suffixes, we can divide the syllables by separating them from the root word.

Singing → sing + ing(suffix)

two syllables

Rewrite → (prefix)re + write

Unfaithful → (prefix)un + faith + ful(suffix)

three syllables

  • When there are two or more consonants between the vowels, we divide the syllables according to them

Contest → con/test

Tablet → tab/let

Tip!

A word like 'mother' has two consonant letters too, but they are pronounced as a single sound. Therefore, they are treated as one consonant sound:
Mother → mo/ther
Father →Fa/ther

  • When there is one consonant between two vowel sounds, we should pay attention to whether the first vowel is a long vowel or a short vowel. If it's a long vowel, we separate the syllables from before the consonant. If it's a short vowel, we separate the syllables from after the consonant

Iron → I/ron

long vowel

Seaside → sea/side

long vowel

Value → val/ue

short vowel

River → Riv/er

short vowel

  • When the words end with –ckle, we split the syllables before –le

Tackle → Tack/le

Nickle → Nick/le

  • In words that end with a consonant +le, we divide the syllables from one letter before -le

Apple → ap/ple

Castle → cas/tle

'painful' has two syllables

Different Types of Syllables

There are two different types of syllables, as follows:

  1. open syllable
  2. closed syllable

What Is an Open Syllable?

When we only have one vowel letter with only one vowel sound, and it is used at the end of the word, it is called an open syllable. Check out the following examples:

so

go

saw

What Is a Closed Syllable?

A word that has one vowel letter and vowel sound but ends in a consonant sound is called a closed syllable. Here are a few examples:

task

truck

Monosyllabic Words

If a word has only one vowel sound, it is called a monosyllabic word. For example:

nice

man

Two Vowel Letters with One Vowel Sound

Some words have two vowel letters but the two letters are pronounced as one vowel sound. For example:

Three

pain

Polysyllabic Words

When a word has more than one vowel sound, or in other words, has more than one syllable, it is called a polysyllabic word. Here are a few examples:

painful

This word has two syllables /pain/ and /ful/.

happily

The word 'happily' has three syllables: /ha/, /ppi/, and /ly/.

Review

Syllables are counted based on the vowel sounds of the words. The number of syllables equals the number of vowel sounds in a word.

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