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Syllable in English Language

1. A syllable is a sound, or a group of sounds, produced by a single chest pulse and containing
a vowel. e.g. ne-ver-the-less. In other words it is a unit of human speech that is interpreted by the
listener as a single sound, although syllables usually consist of one or more sounds.
2. A unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants, forming
the whole or a part of a word; e.g., there are two syllables inwater and three in inferno.
3. A unit of spoken language larger than a phoneme.
Syllables are often considered the phonological "building blocks" of words. They can influence the
rhythm of a language, its prosody, its poetic meter and its stress patterns.

Syllabification is the term which refers to the division of a word into syllables. A word containing a
single syllable is called monosyllabic (cat), if it contains more than one, the
term polysyllabic (contain) is used.
It is not very difficult to identify the syllables in English words

Rat, / r t /, (1) (monosyllabic)

Redeem, / r - d : m /, (2) (disyllabic)
Humanist, / h j u: - m - n s t /, (3) (trisyllabic)
Degenerate, / d - d e - n - r e t /, (4)
Electricity, / - l e k - t r - s - t /, (5)
Characterization, / k - r k - t - r a - z e -

n /, (6)

Syllable Structure (Onset + Nucleus + Coda)

It will be clear from the words above that the number of syllables in each corresponds to the number of
vowel sounds it contains. This rough and ready rule of dividing words into syllables will apply to most
words in English.
Each syllable can have one or more consonants before the vowel and one or more after the vowel. In
an English syllable, maximum number of consonant cluster before a vowel (initial consonant
cluster) is three; while after a vowel (final consonant cluster) is four. Sometimes a syllable is
defined as a vowel preceded by from zero to three consonants, and followed by from zero to four
consonants. Sometimes a single vowel can serve as a syllable. e.g. a-gain / - g e n /
The vowel is essential to the structure of a syllable and is called the nucleus of the syllable. The
consonant, on the other hand, is optional.
Consonants before the vowel (nucleus) form the onset of the syllable (e.g. / m /, / s /, / pl / in me,
so, play); it may be simple onset containing one segment andcomplex onset containing more than
one segment. Consonants after the vowel form coda (e.g. / mp /, / nt / in jump and account).
We can analyze the structure of different kinds of syllable.

Courtesy of: Prof. Ali Raza Fahad Dept. of English Govt Postgraduate College, Gojra

CVC = can
CCCVC = stream
CCVCCC = stands

VC = an
CCV = play
CCCVCC = strange
CCVCC = spans

CV = no
CCCV = straw
CVCCC = texts
VCC = and, ask

Syllables can be of two types, open and closed. This classification is made on the basis of their
ending. Syllables ending in a vowel or diphthong are known as open such as do / d u: / with a CV
structure. Those that end in consonants are called closed orchecked syllables, such as 'sit' / s i t /
with a CVC structure.

Syllable Stress
In a word with two or more syllables, one syllable is stressed (meaning they have a stronger and
longer sound) and the other syllables are unstressed or weak (meaning they are not said or
pronounced as strong or as long as stressed syllables). Pronounce the words below and note the
stressed syllables. The stressed syllable is in bold.




An extra prominence is given to these bold syllables. In other words, stress is the degree of force that
is used to pronounce a syllable. Some languages like English are stress-timed. In such languages,
stress carries meaning. For example, in disyllabic(having two syllables) words like permit if we stress
the first syllable / 'pmit /, it is a noun and if we stress the second syllable / p'mit /, it becomes a

Courtesy of: Prof. Ali Raza Fahad Dept. of English Govt Postgraduate College, Gojra