Random Example:


The word Superman has 3 syllables. S, P and M are the first letter of each syllable. Is there a term for S, P and M?

If I were to describe I form an acronym S.P.M from the word Superman, the sentence below is the best I can manage.

S.P.M is formed by the first letter of each syllable of the word Superman?

I don't feel it sounds right. How could I better describe it?

  • 1
    Syllables have sounds, not letters.
    – tchrist
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 1:46
  • Thanks @tchrist! Is there a way/term to describe it? Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 1:49
  • Maybe ‘initial consonants’ ...
    – Jim
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 1:50
  • @tchrist, every dictionary I've ever used has shown how to break up each word into syllables, indicating which letters belong to each syllable. Are there any examples of English words where this isn't possible?
    – The Photon
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 5:22
  • @ThePhoton would you suggest, as the OP did, that SPM are the first three letters that make up the syllables of superman? Who does? I normally split syllables using a dot , e.g. su•per•man
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 10:22

2 Answers 2


I believe this is called the onset:

The nucleus is usually the vowel in the middle of a syllable. The onset is the sound or sounds occurring before the nucleus, and the coda (literally 'tail') is the sound or sounds that follow the nucleus.


  • I believe it is. Thanks @Laurel Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 8:50
  • 3
    A syllable's onset is all of its sounds before its nucleus, not just the first one. This relates to sounds, but the OP asks about letters. As tchrist said, syllables have sounds, not letters. How do you map a word's sounds to its letters? Which syllables do you put silent letters into? If (going by the maximum onset principle) you say that the second syllables of "calming" and "bombing" begin with /m/, do you say they both begin with "m" (which would put the L into the first but the silent B into the second) -- or what?
    – Rosie F
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 9:03
  • @RosieF And how to deal with clusters? For example, the word "street" has only 1 syllable, onset of which is /str/ (and "str"). But the OP probably want to abbreviate "street" as "S".
    – trolley813
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 10:49
  • @trolley813 Yup. If Street is the example, the letter I am referring to is S. Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 11:05
  • @trolley813 Clusters, good point. Toe-strap and toast-rack. (The point of that pair of words is to show that it could be argued that dividing a compound word into its elements overrides the maximum onset principle.)
    – Rosie F
    Commented Jan 13, 2020 at 16:52

Most of the comments here are totally correct, but perhaps may not be fully explaining the answer to the asker, which is asking for help because they are not native in English. Jalene, I am quite certain there is no term for this. It is just "the first letter of the syllable, as Leo indicates. "onset" is the closest thing ,but that really is a description of the sound, not the letter itself. As you know, one letter may have different sounds, and some sounds are made by combinations of letters.

While Tchrist is correct that a syllable has a sound, it doesn't really address the question, and syllables of course "have" letters, which are used to represent those sounds when written.

There is probably no word for this, because there is generally no need. An acronym uses the first letter of each word, generally https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/acronym no syllables. This is not a common think to do, to initialize syllables, and I struggle to think of a good usage for it.

  • Thanks! It took me a while to think of how to best explain what I am referring to. It was just a random example. :p Commented Jan 14, 2020 at 1:08

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