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What are the syllabification rules for English?

I would like to know what tests are used for determining how many syllables are in a word. Well, there are no tests, then how would people work out the number of syllables in a word?

marked as duplicate by mgb, kiamlaluno, Daniel, FumbleFingers, Mitch Dec 20 '11 at 3:47

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    For many words, such as Wednesday and world, the number of syllables really depends on how you happen to pronounce it and/or what you think of diphthongs. Spelling variations aside, you can always and exactly count the number of letters in a word, but syllables are slippery things with vague margins. You certainly can't always count them by applying "rule-based analysis" to a written form. – FumbleFingers Dec 17 '11 at 17:19
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    ...how many syllables in Cholmondeley, for example? If you haven't heard it spoken, you've got little chance of guessing. – FumbleFingers Dec 17 '11 at 17:21

This simple guide may help:


  • I tried this site before but it was not that useful. I need an explanation on what the tests are. – rotten69 Dec 17 '11 at 12:35
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    @rotten69: There are no tests to divide a word into syllables, but rules. What exactly do you want to do with this information? – Irene Dec 17 '11 at 12:46
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    Orally, you can divide the words into syllables following the guide in the link of my answer. If you want to do this in writing, you need to open a dictionary and see how the word in question can be split. – Irene Dec 17 '11 at 12:53
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    You may want to see if this answers your question: english.stackexchange.com/questions/48493/… – Barrie England Dec 17 '11 at 13:05
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    There are rules, but they're rules developed for spoken English, not written English. And they don't say where to split words, but rather where the center of the syllable is. That's what you count. Six vowel pulses, six syllables. Where to hyphenate is strictly up to you. If you're a native English speaker, you can develop an instinct for not splitting clusters in hyphenation, though not everybody does. But there are no tests for written English syllables, because they're visual, not aural, and thus don't have vowel pulses. Plus English spelling sucks anyway. – John Lawler Dec 17 '11 at 15:03

Say the word out loud. You get one syllable for each of the basic English vowel/diphthong phonemes it contains (of which there are somewhere between 14 and 21, depending on which dialect you speak—here is a list for RP).

This means that some words have differing number of syllables. For example, military is pronounced /ˈmɪl.ɪˌter.i/ in the U.S. (four syllables) and /ˈmɪl.ɪˌtri/ in the U.K. (three syllables).

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    Shor: Better still, sing it! – Barrie England Dec 17 '11 at 20:39
  1. Place your hand underneath your chin.

  2. Pronounce the word or phrase for which you desire a syllable count.

  3. Count the number of times your chin moves down as you speak.

That count is the number of syllables in the word based on your pronunciation.

  • I doubt that. Looking around for examples..."number" or "basic" according to your procedure have 1 syllable , but they actually have 2. – Theta30 Dec 18 '11 at 7:23
  • Works for me for both 'basic' and 'number'. Are you saying your chin somehow doesn't descend once when you say "bay" and once for "sic", and likewise "num" and "ber"? As the answer notes, this count is based on pronunciation. – Keith Flower Jan 1 '12 at 18:40
  • Yes, it doesn't descend for "sic" and "ber". Do you have a source for this method or how did you find it? – Theta30 Jan 1 '12 at 21:16
  • If you are pronouncing "sic" and "ber" without somehow opening your mouth (and thus producing one syllable utterances that sound more like "basc" and "numbr") you will certainly obtain a different count in the same way (as noted above) that different pronunciations of "military" ("militry") yields counts of four or three syllables. Use Google terms 'syllable chin count pathology' for the "method" - it is widely used in education and speech and language pathology. – Keith Flower Jan 2 '12 at 0:37

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