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Does the word 'rhythm' have one or two syllables?

I'm wondering if there are any reasons for or against a sound-based argument vs a written-based argument.

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    Syllables are a vocal property of language. A dictionary will tell you the prevailing pronunciation has two syllables. There is nothing about the spelling that has to do with syllable count.
    – MetaEd
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 1:56
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    Related: english.stackexchange.com/questions/80224/… Odd how this question is on the verge of closure, but a related one asked last year has 27 upvotes and no close votes. I could understand close votes being cast because of duplication, but they are being cast as "off-topic". Say what?
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 10:01
  • @J.R. I think close-votes for duplication and off-topic would both be equally as likely for the simple fact that I had no idea how to articulate such a question (and thus couldn't search for it, or coerce it into a strong fit for stackexchange). That 'related' question is exactly what I was after, however. Thanks! Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 13:15
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    In retrospect, I regret my general reference close vote, because it's easy to draw incorrect conclusions about syllabification from a dictionary. Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 20:41
  • Following the chain of comments I'm marking this as a dupe instead.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 18:23

2 Answers 2

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It may appear from spelling that rhythm has only one syllable, because it has only one vowel. However, the M is a syllabic consonant which forms a syllable of its own. Sonorant consonants like L, M, N, and R can act as the nucleus of a syllable just as a vowel can (although English dictionaries often insert a schwa to represent the nucleus).

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  • This seems as a duplicate answer.
    – Tom
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 4:09
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    I'm puzzled as to how this seems like a duplicate of the other answer. We reached the same conclusion but otherwise posted entirely different information. My answer addresses why the word has two syllables despite a spelling that might suggest otherwise, with additional information about the nature of syllables themselves. Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 4:28
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    @Tom Just because there's already a correct answer doesn't mean there couldn't be a better one. I'm glad OP accepted the more informative answer, rather than just the answer with the most upvotes (aka. the first answer); it seems like most askers don't. Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 5:06
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    Do you have an example of a dictionary listing rhythm as a one-syllable word? Words like fire certainly can be pronounced with one syllable or two, depending on whether you merge the R into the coda or pronounce it syllabically, but I cannot imagine merging the M of rhythm into the coda of the first syllable. Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 10:05
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    Oh! I see now. Those "syllable" dots are for hyphenation, not for pronunciation. Rhythm can't be hyphenated because the second syllable is only one letter, and English conventions don't permit that. Note that the pronunciation includes a schwa before the syllabic M, which is how the dictionary indicates it's a separate syllable. Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 13:26
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It has two syllables. Syllables are entirely features of pronunciation, not of writing, so written-based arguments are irrelevant.

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    Indeed, "Worcestershire" looks like it has five syllables, based on orthography.
    – Kaz
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 5:30
  • Carrying an argument too far may not be advisable in most cases. See also: answer by Bradd Szonye
    – Kris
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 6:19
  • @Kaz - "Worcestershire" can look also like it has three, depending on where you look.
    – J.R.
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 10:07
  • @J.R. Sure, if you don't look at the two places where two syllables are hiding, then all you see is three. :)
    – Kaz
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 18:25
  • My favourite is the English name Cholmondley (pronounced Chumley).
    – Pitarou
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 8:11

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