It seems that there are two syllables in "liar" (li·ar) because it is made up of a stem "lie" plus the suffix "ar". But what about "prior" (pri·or)? Does it have something to do with the final "r" as opposed to "fire" which has only one syllable?

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    Many English speakers pronounce fire as two syllables. Or shift back and forth. It's easy to generate extra syllables with final resonants like nasals /m n ŋ/ and liquids /r l/. Resonants can be syllabic nuclei, and some people treat them as syllabic when they occur finally, especially after a semivowel /y w/ like the ones at the end of diphthongs (like the /ay/ in /fay(ə)r/ or /pray(ə)r/). In a word, number of syllables is a variable, not a constant; no matter what the dictionaries say. Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 17:06
  • By 'It seems that there are two syllables in "liar" because...' do you mean 'There are two syllables in "liar", and the reason for this appears to be...' or 'When I consider how I pronounce "liar", I would say that that there are two syllables'? Since "liar" is usually considered to be a homophone of "lyre", I don't think arguments about pronunciation based on possible morphology are totally convincing. Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 17:30
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    Words like liar, hour, queer, mayor, slower are triphthongs, in that they have (up to) three "vowel sounds". I agree with John it's not really meaningful to debate how many syllables they have. Commented Nov 16, 2013 at 18:44

2 Answers 2


"Liar, liar, pants on fire" is a common kid's taunt. Both words get two syllables, to make the line a trochee (long, short, long, short).

The American rock group has a well-known song,

"You know that it would be untrue You know that I would be a liar ..... Come on baby, light my fire"

When they sing it, they make it "fy-er".

Ordinarily, we give "fire" one syllable - or as close as we can.

But keep in mind that English spelling is only a suggestion for the way it sounds.

Like British English "Cholmondeley", pronounced "chum-lee", or "Grosvenor", "grov-ner".


Not sure about elsewhere, but here in South Africa, liar, fire, prior, as well as choir, dire, tyre, sire, via, buyer, hire, all more or less rhyme, and all have two syllables. My mother (a high school English teacher) always said "English is a silly woman that doesn't obey many rules"

  • Welcome to EL&U. We appreciate your input. :-) Commented Dec 30, 2013 at 15:44

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