In the English language, spelling and pronunciation have a funny relationship. How we write a word and how we say it often do not agree. There always seem to be exceptions to the rule.
Today our question is related to pronunciation. It comes from our reader Mastaneh:
How can we recognize the syllables in a word? Would you mind explaining the rules? Thank you. – Mastaneh
Firstly, other readers may be wondering why they should learn about syllables. Understanding syllables helps a lot with pronunciation. As we speak, if we miss or add a syllable to a word, people may not be able to understand us.
When we say a word, the sounds we create naturally divide the word into parts. We call these parts “syllables.” For example, the word “machine” has two parts: ma-chine. The word “important” has three parts: im-por-tant.
The number of syllables in a word is decided by its number of vowel sounds. For example, in the word “machine,” there are two vowel sounds: (Ə) and (i).
The English language has up to 20 vowel sounds, so we will not talk about all of them today. But an easy way to identify vowels is that we make them with the letters a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y.
It is important to know that one syllable can have more than one vowel letter. For example, the word “room” has two vowel letters: o and o. But together, they make only one vowel sound: (u:). This explains why “room” has only one syllable. We decide syllables by sound, not spelling.
How to count
Ok, here are two easy methods for counting syllables.
One that I like is the chin method. Here is how to do it: Rest your hand under your chin and say a word slowly. How many times does your chin drop onto your hand? That is the number of syllables.
Another is the clap method. To use it, say the word and clap your hands together each time you hear a vowel sound. For example, take the word "autumn": au-tumn. That’s two vowel sounds, so it’s two syllables even though autumn has three vowel letters: a, u and u.
Now, let’s do something fun. Close your eyes and listen for the number of syllables in the following words. You can use the chin method, the clap method or just listen carefully:
How many syllables did you get for each word? You can tell us in the comments area.
And that’s Ask a Teacher.
I’m Alice Bryant.
Do you have a question for Ask a Teacher? Write to us in the comments area and be sure to tell us what country you are from.
Words in This Story
spelling – n. the act of forming words from letters
vowel – n. a letter (such as a, e, i, o, u, and sometimes y in English) that makes a specific sound
syllable – n. any one of the parts into which a word is naturally divided when it is pronounced
chin – n. the part of the face below the mouth and above the neck
clap – n. to hit the palms of your hands together usually more than once