English Grammar Basic Grammar and syntax

What is a syllable? (with examples)

What is a syllable? (with examples)

A syllable is a unit of sound. More specifically, it is a single segment of uninterrupted sound that is normally produced by a single pulse of air from the lungs.

Easy Examples of Syllables

Aquí hay una lista de palabras de una sílaba:
ace, big, black, blonde, blue, board, calm, clean, cool, cross, dark, dead, drab, drunk, dry, dumb, faint, fair, fat, few, fish, five, full, green, heart, high, huge, kind, loud, love, odd, one, plain, prime, quick, right, rogue, rough, weak, wise, wolf, world, wry
Estas palabras se describen como“monosyllabic“.

Aquí hay una lista de palabras de dos sílabas:
able, alive, apple, away, better, broken, city, country, daily, early, easy, even, evil, fifty, forward, freedom, future, happy, human, hungry, joyful, language, little, loving, lucky, many, music, nature, office, open, other, over, party, perfect, picture, public, pumpkin, safe, simple, solid, special, stupid, sugar, thirsty, ugly, welcome, woman

These words are described as“two syllables“o“two syllables“(avoid“bisyllables“).

Aquí hay una lista de palabras de tres sílabas:
abducting, accurate, adjective, animal, buffalo, cabinet, certainly, companion, conference, connection, considered, curious, customary, dangerous, different, difficult, dinosaur, electric, everything, exciting, exercise, family, feminine, general, glacier, healthy, horizon, illustrate, important, industry, innocent, instrument, internal, liberal, library, masculine, medical, musical, natural, opposite, period, personal, physical, positive, possible, separate, serious, sporadic, tropical, uniform

These words are described as“trisilábicas“.

Aquí hay una lista de palabras de cuatro sílabas:
admirable, adorable, aggravated, alligator, alternative, ambitious, derivative, annoying, anonymous, appreciate, automatic, avocado, barbarian, beautiful, belligerent, bullying, captivating, community, commutative, complicated, emotionless, eternity, everlasting, everyday, everything, forgiveness, historical, hyphenated, identical, independence, infinitive, information, intelligence, intermittent, invincible, irregular, legendary, literature, material, meticulous, necessary, ordinary, original, preposition, professional, reciprocal, relaxation, republican, responsible, secretary, spectacular, television, ubiquitous, undemanding, variable, vegetable, watermelon, worrying

These words are described as“quadrisyllables“.

More about Syllables

A syllable is made up of one or more letters with a vowel sound at its core. This does not necessarily mean that each syllable contains a vowel, but it will include a vowel sound when pronounced. For example,“rhythm“, which has two syllables, does not contain vowels, but is said with two vowel sounds. Therefore, spelling is not a good indicator of how many syllables a word has. The pronunciation of a word determines the number of syllables. Here are some examples that highlight this point:

  • screeched, scratched, scrunched, stretched, straights, strengths
    (Despite being nine letters long, these are all one-syllable words.)
  • shrugged
    (This one-syllable word contains the two-syllable word“rugged.“It’s a good reminder that the number of syllables is determined by pronunciation.)

Remember that each new syllable in a word creates a new vowel sound.

The 7 Syllable Types

A closed syllable has only one vowel and ends in a consonant. The vowel has a short sound.

at, bat, hen, plant, kitchen, napkin, puppet, rabbit, fantastic

In the following words, only the syllables in bold are closed syllables:
frozen, pilot, candy

(2) Open Syllables (Symbol: V)

An open syllable ends with a single vowel. The vowel has a long sound.
be, flu, go, hi, she, hero, potato

In the following words, only the syllables in bold are open syllables:
music, paper, tiger, bingo

(3) Magic“E“Syllables (Symbol: SCV)

The magic syllable“e“ends with a consonant and a“and. change“. It has a long vowel sound.
bake, bone, life, pine, lifetime
In the following words, only the syllables in bold are magic syllables with“e“:
valentine, baseball, explode

(4) Vowel Teams Syllables (Symbol: VV)

A vowel team syllable contains two vowels that make one vowel sound.
boat, cheek, eat, free, glue, green, pie, seed, team, tray
In the following words, only the syllables in bold are vowel-team syllables:
floating, rainfall, whitethroat

(5) Diphthong Syllables (Symbol: VV)

A diphthong syllable contains two vowels that make a special sound.
blue, boil, cloud, look, mood, scout
In the following words, only the syllables in bold are diphthong syllables:
audio, annoy, seatrout
Note: Some curricula classify diphthong syllables as vowel-team syllables. As a result, some schools work with 6 types of vowels and not 7.

(6) R-controlled Syllables (Symbol: VR)

A syllable controlled by r has a syllable followed by a single letter“r“. The sound is controlled by“r“.
bird, car, cart, corn, first, for, fur, her, star, yard
In the following words, only the syllables in bold are diphthong syllables:
farming,varnish, caterpillar

(7) Consonant LE Syllables (Symbol: CLE)

A consonant-LE syllable is a final unaccented syllable with a consonant followed by“the“.

bubble, candle, circle, uncle
(Only the bolded syllables are consonant-LE syllables.)

Books Written with Only Monosyllabic Words

Of interest, many well-known novels have been rewritten in texts of only monosyllabic words. The authors of these books claim to go through this process to create texts that young children can read. (Personally, I think they do it to show off their writing skills. Either way, it’s impressive.)

  • I was born at York on the first of March in the sixth year of the reign of King Charles the First. From the time when I was quite a young child, I had felt a great wish to spend my life at sea, and as I grew, so did this taste grow more and more strong; till at last I broke loose from my school and home, and found my way on foot to Hull, where I soon got a place on board a ship.
    (This is the opening paragraph of Mary Godolphin’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’ in words of one syllable. With the exception of boy Xury and man Friday, the whole book is written in words of one syllable.)

Why Should I Care about Syllables?

Aquí hay tres puntos notables relacionados con las sílabas.

(Point 1) Understanding the syllable types is essential to teach reading.

Knowing the 7 types of syllables is a fundamental skill for teaching reading and spelling.

(Point 2) The dissyllabic word“Learned“means well educated.

Not familiar with the term“syllable“it is unlikely to lead to errors in your writing or speech. That said, this is a situation to avoid:

  • Oh, Papa Homer, you are so learnéd.
    Learn’d, son. It’s pronounced learn’d.
    I love you, Papa Homer.
    I love you too, Pepsi.
    (This is an extract from“Brother from the Same Planet“(1993), Season 4 of The Simpsons.)

(Point 3) It’s all about the pronunciation.

Remember that the pronunciation of a word determines how many syllables it has. For example,“fuego“can be a monosyllabic or bisyllabic word depending on the regional dialect, and“jeweler“it can be bisyllabic or trisyllabic depending on the regional dialect.

Key Points

  • The spelling of a word is often a poor indicator of how many syllables it comprises. Only the pronunciation matters.
  • Learned (one syllable) is the past tense of learn. Learnéd (two syllables and stressed on the second) means well educated.

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