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Having looked up banana in two separate online dictionaries, I see that depending on the dictionary, the syllables are:

  • ba-na-na
  • ba-nan-a

Although I imagine this only matters when deciding where to hyphenate, I want you to help settle the argument that this started — which is really correct?

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There is no "really correct". Syllables are not defined by spelling. There are three syllables in banana, and three open vowels at their centers. The open vowels are separated by two nasal resonants, which nasalize the first two vowels. The /n/s are both quite short. Prototypically, the transitions between syllables happen in the middles of the two /n/s. How you want to spell that is up to you and your editor; basically, it's about as important as the color of your shoelaces. –  John Lawler Jul 7 '13 at 22:55
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It would have been nice to include the two dictionaries where you found these. –  J.R. Jul 8 '13 at 1:29
    
It shouldn't matter so long as you know when to stop.:) –  Kris Jul 9 '13 at 5:39
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1 Answer

It depends on how you pronounce it. If you pronounce the middle vowel as in man, you should divide it ba-nan-a. If you pronounce the middle syllable as in spa, you should divide it ba-na-na. The first is the predominant American pronunciation. The second is the predominant British pronunciation. (And thus, the first hyphenation is the standard American one and the second is the standard British one.)

The reason the pronunciation makes a difference is the rule: never break a stressed syllable after a short vowel (i.e., /æ/, /ɛ/ /ɪ/, /ɒ/, /ʌ/, /ʊ/). There are, of course, exceptions to this rule if all the other hyphenations are worse (i.e., ra-tion).

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