Syllables: An Introduction


What does syllable mean?
Syllables are the parts or segments of words. For example, the word “baby” is pronounced with 2 parts: [ ba ~ by ].

Some more examples:
“dog” has 1 syllable [ dog ]
“paper” has 2 syllables [ pa ~ per ]
“animal” has 3 syllables [ a ~ ni ~ mal ]
“communicate” has 4 syllables [ com ~ mu ~ ni ~ cate ]
“pronunciation” has 5 syllables [ pro ~ nun ~ ci ~ a ~ tion ]

SOME BASIC RULES FOR ENGLISH SYLLABLES:

1. The center or nucleus of each syllable is a vowel, and English syllables can have one or more consonants before or after the vowel nucleus.
Each of these words has one syllable: I / we / an / rap / trap / traps / straps

2. The number of syllables in a word is not related to the number of letters.

a. Some syllables are very small, and can be just a single vowel sound. For example, the word “idea” has 3 different syllables: [ i ~ de ~ a ].

b. Some syllables have rather large combinations of sounds. Each of these words has just ONE syllable: “sounds”, “strengths”, “solved”, “trapped”, “verbs”. All of the letters need to be articulated all together in one syllable. (Putting so many sounds together into the same syllable, is difficult for some students.)

3. The number of spoken syllables does not always match the written form of the word. Most words have the same number of syllables in speaking and writing, but a few are different.

Example 1: The word “prism” must be spoken by pronouncing two syllables, but some dictionaries may show only one syllable, because this word would never be separated into two parts in writing.

Example 2: A few words, such as “business” and “different”, have a missing vowel in the middle. These two words look like they have 3 syllables, but when spoken, we normally hear just 2. The vowel in the middle gets skipped.

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About Pronunciation Coach
I am a language teacher, with over 20 years of experience teaching ESL & Spanish.

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