I'm trying to find a list of all syllables (ideally just syllables that appear at the start of words in english).

Any suggestions?

  • 7
    Find a downloadable dictionary with pronunciation, and write a program. – Peter Shor Apr 17 '12 at 3:10
  • Syllables at the start of words...like prefixes? There are lots of websites that list English prefixes. learnenglish.de/grammar/prefixtext.htm englishclub.com/vocabulary/prefixes.htm – JLG Apr 17 '12 at 3:35
  • No, not just prefixes. I'm considering a feature in our speech therapy software which provides a Cue for the user (to help them retrieve a word) of the audio of the first syllable and wanted to find out if there were a very large or small # of such syllables, so that perhaps we could just record that list rather than recording the first syllable of all 1,000 or so exercise words. – Clay Nichols Apr 17 '12 at 13:13
  • almost 16,000 syllables and no one has thought to use a database? (google has one im sure) I'm working on a hybrid english translator just for the value of humor (text-to-smurf) and it would be so cool if I could find that list, otherwise I will have to do as Peter suggests and write a program to data mine a dictionary. – user20956 May 7 '12 at 21:07
  • P.S. You could get an approximation to the answer by asking "how many one-syllable words are there in English?" This is an easier answer to approximate with a list of English words and a suitable regular expression. (I get in the order of 3,000 on an average-sized word list -- see my answer below.) – Neil Coffey May 8 '12 at 0:08
up vote 12 down vote accepted

A list is available here, which states:

There is a good chance that most, though probably not quite all, legitimate syllables are represented below.

The grand total: 15,831 syllable candidates. Far too many to make a syllabary worth the trouble.

  • 2
    Considering that this list syllabifies offshore as aw-fshaw, and wedgewise as we-jwize I wouldn't trust it completely. No English syllables should begin with fsh or jw. – Peter Shor Apr 17 '12 at 12:06
  • @PeterShor: Perhaps the person responsible for that's from Boston; those are certainly close to their pronunciation. – Adam Musch Apr 17 '12 at 13:33
  • 5
    I have no objection to the -shaw, since these are British pronunciations (Boston is similar). I'm objecting to the syllabification aw-fshaw rather than awf-shaw. – Peter Shor Apr 17 '12 at 13:42
  • I think, just out of the simplistic reasoning I give below, that the answer would still be thousands of combinations. But notice that the source you cite doesn't differentiate specifically between syllables that can start words, or between the stress status of syllables, and gives equal status to rare syllables as to common ones (how many words have the "gime" syllable of "régime"?). – Neil Coffey May 7 '12 at 23:44
  • There are errors: p r ih => UNREPUDIATED Where is the 'prih' sound? – slashdottir Oct 26 '17 at 15:10

A list of the 322 most common syllables in the 5,000 most frequent English words can be found at:


see page 35-36.

These are taken from prior research by Sakiey & Martin

Perhaps this will help.

We are developing a new note-taking/shorthand system called Dash (r) that incorporates special signs for common syllables. John Klein - jklein@jklein.com

  • 4
    That link is [now] invalid. – Clay Nichols May 5 '14 at 16:53

There's no precise number of syllables, because the exact segment inventory and exact details of where speakers place syllable boundaries varies slightly from speaker to speaker.

But it's easy to show that the overall number must be hugely higher than 1,000.

As a huge oversimplification, if English had 15 possible choices of syllable onset, 15 possible choices of syllable nucleus and 15 possible choices of syllable coda, then that would give you 3,375 different combinations. That's hugely simplistic, because both onset and coda can have more than one segment, and there are generally more than 15 choices per segment, plus the choices are interdependent. And this estimate doesn't deal with issues of stress, or with how closely coarticulated two segments have to be to be considered the "same syllable" (in "goodbye", do you say that the first syllable ends in a [d] or a [b]?). But you get the idea.

So on the surface, if you have 1,000 words, you may as well just record the words independently.

Now, not all syllables occur with equal frequency. So you could have a look at mapping of (first syllable, count) for your particular vocabulary and see if there are any common first syllables that make it worth recording these and using multiple times.

Note also that because of effects of coarticulation, the "same syllable" isn't actually pronounced identically in all cases. A simplistic example would be my case of the pronunciation of the "d" in "goodbye" vs "good night". A more complex case could be e.g. the interaction between the vowel height of the first syllable and the second. I appreciate you may choose to ignore this issue, but you shouldn't ignore it out of ignorance. (Interestingly, I seem to recall that some speech pathologies may actually involve impairment of coarticulation...)

  • P.S. as a rough guide, there are approx 2,600 distinct 1-syllable English words in the English definitions of my on-line French dictionary. So the 3,000 estimate may not be way out. – Neil Coffey May 8 '12 at 0:07

From my own research I have over 10,000 single syllable words in English. This includes common names and adopted foreign words (like Wayne, Wong and schnapps). Note that this count is based on the base word plus its variations (such as the plural, possessive, etc.).

I am representing them phonetically in RP and will eventually be able to determine how many distinct sounds there are. At present I have about 80 initial consonant clusters, 20 middle vowels and 70 final clusters.

Patrick Corliss

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