Learn syllable rules and you'll find reading, spelling and speaking become so much easier. They help us to break words into small manageable chunks. That way we can work words out piece by piece, rather like doing a jigsaw puzzle.
The reason they work is that they help our brains to process the English language.
When people have lack syllable awareness and the rules around syllables they often struggle with literacy. I will explain just how and why towards the end of this article.
In the meantime here are 10 easy-to-understand syllable rules with examples.
But first ... a tip
Syllables can be made up of just one letter or several letters.
Example: the word a as in “a” book contains only one letter (which is a vowel ) and is made up of just one syllable
The word again is made up of two syllables
a ( 1 syllable) + gain ( 1 syllable) = 2 syllables
Most words have between 1 and 6 syllables in them. Few words have more than six syllables.
1 syllable words ….. dog, man, think, fall, door, north, bath
2 syllable words …. water, money, daughter, swimming, weather
3 syllable words …. hospital, signature, travelling, maximum
4 syllable words …. dedicated, manifested, information,
5 syllable word s …. predisposition, understandable, psychological
6 syllable words …. responsibility, predictability, inconsequential
Note: This is one of the easiest and most important syllable rules to learn.
Every syllable has at least one vowel... meaning there will be one or more of these letters …. a e i o u y in each syllable. ( Note the letter y is not strictly a vowel but behaves like one, so it is included here.)
Here are some examples of words broken into syllables. The vowels are marked in bold.
man(1 vowel/1 syllable)
progress (2 vowels) pro / gress (2 syllables)
bicycle (3 vowels) bi / cy / cle (3 syllables)
rhinoceros (4 vowels) rhi / noc / er / us (4 syllables)
When a word has just one vowel, it is not divided. It is a one syllable word.
Examples: egg, plant, flag, ball, sand, sky, stand, truck, sock
There are some circumstances when a vowel should not be counted when
you are calculating the number of syllables in a word.
A good way to check this is to place your hand under your chin. You will feel your jaw drop whenever you pronounce a vowel sound. Each time this happens count one syllable.
is not counted as a vowel in a syllable.
* the word came has a silent e at the end of it. Your jaw will not drop. The syllable rule is to ignore the e when counting the vowels in words like this. You, therefore, only need to count the a. In this case this makes the word came a one syllable word.
words like this include… save, bone, tube, late, fume
Count only one vowel in words where only one vowel sound can be heard.
In the word boat, count the o (that’s the sound you can hear) as one vowel and therefore one syllable. Ignore the silent a in the word.
Other words which have two vowels but make only one sound include…meat, suit, road, stream, through, night, clown, glue, roar, saw, door, earth
When a consonant is in the middle of a word, split the word in front of the consonant. The first vowel often says its name.
Examples: o/pen, ba/by, a/ble, pro/ject, pa/per, spi/der
A compound word is made up of two words which have been joined together. To break a compound word into syllables, just divide it again into two separate words.
basketball becomes basket / ball
sunflower becomes sun / flower
swordfish becomes sword / fish
meatball becomes meat / ball
When there are double consonants in a word, the syllable rule here is to split it between the consonants.
yellow becomes yel / ow
balloon becomes bal / oon
buffalo becomes buf / fa / lo
written becomes writ / ten
When a word has a prefix or a suffix, each is counted as one syllable. Prefixes are small groups of letters that are attached to some words to alter their meaning. Suffixes are groups of letters that are added to the end of a word.
(The prefix at the beginning of each word below is highlighted in bold.)
concealed becomes con / cealed
repeat becomes re / peat
prepare becomes pre / pare
unseen becomes un /seen
(The suffixes at the ends of the words below are highlighted in bold.)
Eg awaken becomes a / wak / en
stranger becomes strang / er
skated becomes skat /ed
walking becomes walk / ing
happiness becomes happ/ i /ness
playful becomes play / ful
When a word ends in le and it sounds like “el” , count back three letters and split it there. It will include the le and the consonant before that.
Eg ta / ble, crum / ble, cas / tle, wob / ble, wres / tle
I have taught many adults with literacy problems. When they speak I notice that they mispronounce longer words, omit groups of letters and sometimes slur words. When they read, they often sound out the first one or two letters of a longer word, then guess the rest. This means they have difficulty understanding what they read and other people find them hard to understand when they hear them speaking.
Many of these adults grew up not hearing words spoken clearly. And this in turn affected the way they pronounced words. By the time they reached school, reading and spelling became impossible for them and they lost confidence.
It would have helped enormously if they had learned just a few syllable rules. Even to learn that in most cases each syllable contains one vowel would be beneficial. That rule alone would have made them realise that if they did not include at least one vowel in every syllable, they had misspelled the word.
When I first met my adult student, Larry, he told me he hated having to read and spell big words. He told me...
"They feel like mountains I can't climb over. I get stuck and just have to give up. It drives me crazy."
One of the many words he struggled with was dangerous. Unaware of syllable rules, he had always pronounced and spelled it like this … dangris ... as if it was a two syllable word.
Once I taught Larry some syllable rules, his confidence soared. He read and spelled words with much greater accuracy. He also found he could pronounced multi-syllable words correctly once he knew how to break them up.
He said something that most of my adult students say when they learn syllable rules.
“ If only I had learned this 20 years ago!”
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