What Is a Syllable? (with Examples)

by Craig Shrives

Syllables

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

Easy Examples of Syllables

Here is a list of one-syllable words:
  • 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
These words are described as "monosyllabic."

Here is a list of two-syllable words:
  • 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 "disyllabic" or "dissyllabic" (avoid "bisyllabic").

Here is a list of three-syllable words:
  • 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 "trisyllabic."

Here is a list of four-syllable words:
  • 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 "quadrisyllabic."

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 every syllable contains a vowel, but it will include a vowel sound when pronounced. For example, "rhythm," which has two syllables, does not contain any vowels, but it is said with two vowel sounds. Therefore, spelling is not a good indication 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

There are 7 types of syllable. Every word can be broken down into these syllable types.

(1) Closed Syllables (Symbol: VC)

A closed syllable has a single vowel and ends with a consonant. The vowel has a short sound.

Examples:
  • at, bat, hen, plant, kitchen, napkin, puppet, rabbit, fantastic
In the following words, only the bolded syllables 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.

Examples:
  • be, flu, go, hi, she, hero, potato
In the following words, only the bolded syllables are open syllables:
  • music, paper, tiger, bingo

(3) Magic "E" Syllables (Symbol: VCE)

The magic "e" syllable ends with a consonant and a silent "e.". It has a long vowel sound.

Examples:
  • bake, bone, life, pine, lifetime
In the following words, only the bolded syllables are magic "e" syllables:
  • valentine, baseball, explode

(4) Vowel Teams Syllables (Symbol: VV)

A vowel team syllable contains two vowels that make one vowel sound.

Examples:
  • boat, cheek, eat, free, glue, green, pie, seed, team, tray
In the following words, only the bolded syllables are vowel team syllables:
  • floating, rainfall, whitethroat

(5) Diphthong Syllables (Symbol: VV)

A diphthong syllable contains two vowels that make a special sound.

Examples:
  • blue, boil, cloud, look, mood, scout
In the following words, only the bolded syllables are diphthong syllables:
  • audio, annoy, seatrout
Note: Some curriculums classify diphthong syllables as vowel-team syllables. As a result, some schools work with 6 vowel types not 7.

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

An r-controlled syllable has a syllable followed by a single letter "r." The sound is controlled by the "r."

Examples:
  • bird, car, cart, corn, first, for, fur, her, star, yard
In the following words, only the bolded syllables are diphthong syllables:
  • farming, varnish, caterpillar

(7) Consonant LE Syllables (Symbol: CLE)

A consonant-LE syllable is an unaccented final syllable with a consonant followed by "le."

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

Books Written with Only Monosyllabic Words

Of interest, lots of well-known novels have been rewritten into texts of just 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 showcase 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?

Here are three noteworthy points related to syllables.

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

Knowing the 7 types of syllable is an essential skill to teach reading and spelling.

Try our drag-and-drop test on syllables.

(Point 2) The dissyllabic word "Learnéd" means well educated.

Being unfamiliar with the term "syllable" 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.
    Pepi.
  • (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 a word's pronunciation determines how many syllables it has. For example, "fire" can be a monosyllabic or a disyllabic word depending on regional dialect, and "jeweller" can be disyllabic or trisyllabic depending on regional dialect.
Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

See Also

What are consonants? What are vowels? What is assonance? What is consonance? Glossary of grammatical terms