Does the word 'hour' have 1 or 2 syllables?

  • 2
    It has to have two: see my doggerel below for why.
    – tchrist
    Aug 31, 2012 at 16:45
  • 2
    @tchrist: not in all varieties of English.
    – Mitch
    Aug 31, 2012 at 16:51
  • 3
    See also: How many syllables in the word fire? For me: two syllables in hour by itself, two syllables total in hourly. Aug 31, 2012 at 17:13
  • 4
    About one and a half; diphthongs are hard. :-) Aug 31, 2012 at 18:25
  • 13
    Much as I hate to say something completely useless, the only correct answer is "it depends how you pronounce it".
    – user16269
    Aug 31, 2012 at 18:39

6 Answers 6


From what I understand, hour, fire, hire, layer, rhythm, etc., are all examples of words which are not easily classifiable. But, according to this linguist,

Hour and fire are generally considered to be monosyllabic words containing a triphthong.

Wikipedia further confirms this in a couple of its articles.

Triphthong (WP):

English in British Received Pronunciation (monosyllabic triphthongs with R are optionally distinguished from sequences with disyllabic realizations)

[aʊ̯ə̯] as in hour (compare with disyllabic "plougher" [aʊ̯.ə])

(British) Received Pronunciation:

RP also possesses the triphthongs /aɪə/ as in ire, /aʊə/ as in hour, /əʊə/ as in lower, /eɪə/ as in layer and /ɔɪə/ as in loyal. There are different possible realisations of these items: in slow, careful speech they may be pronounced as a two-syllable triphthong with three distinct vowel qualities in succession, or as a monosyllabic triphthong. In more casual speech the middle vowel may be considerably reduced, by a process known as smoothing, and in an extreme form of this process the triphthong may even be reduced to a single vowel, though this is rare, and almost never found in the case of /ɔɪə/[47] . In such a case the difference between /aʊə/, /aɪə/, and /ɑː/ may be neutralised with all three units realised as [ɑː] or [äː].

All that said, I suspect that the most accurate answer ultimately depends on how you pronounce it yourself. Nice question :)

  • 1
    Just because you have three vowels in a row does not mean you have a triphthong. Somehow the UK people count /ə/ as a glide, but it isn’t. Words like wow, yow, why, and yay are actual triphthongs, because you have a glide to either side of the principal/syllabic vowel.
    – tchrist
    Aug 31, 2012 at 17:51
  • 4
    @PeterShor In BrE (always depending on dialect and region), layer/player have two syllables with ay as a diphthong; and lair is a monosyllabic diphthong. [IPA is difficult on an iPad, sorry]
    – Andrew Leach
    Aug 31, 2012 at 17:59

Not that everything I learned in school was true, but I remember being taught that most dictionaries – at least print dictionaries – broke words into syllables, and this was one of those things that dictionaries were useful for.

So, one could always count the number of •'s, and add one, and get the number of syllables in a word:

enter image description here

One dictionary's own definition of syllable mentions there are three in inferno, and two in water; as could be expected, the entries for those words show them being broken up that way. By the same token, the word word has one:

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

However, this method for counting syllables creates a few anomalies, whereby some one- and two-syllable words are pronounced very much alike (in other words, hearing the two words would lead someone to think they have the same number of syllables, but the dictionary would indicate otherwise):

enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here enter image description here

(The oddest of all might be hire and higher, which I would pronounce as true heterographs, but the dictionary would break into one and two syllables, respectively.)

I found it interesting that the word syllabification was defined as the division of words into syllables, either in speech or in writing. That "either in speech or in writing" part made me wonder if one could accurately say that the word hour has one syllable in writing, and two in speech – that is, if hour was pronounced as rhyming with tower or power, and not as a heterograph with are, as some drawlers might be inclined to do.

In the end, I sup•pose it all de•pends on how you de•fine syl•la•ble, and how you de•cide to come up with an of•fi•cial an•swer in ca•ses where the ex•act num•ber of syl•la•bles is not im•me•di•ate•ly ev•i•dent or ap•par•ent.

  • 2
    It seems like dictionaries are using an orthographic syllabification, which is largely based on spelling and etymology rather than phonology. (For example, double consonant letters like in inner get split, and the dictionary syllabification avoids splitting up -tion even though under Wells's analysis the /ʃ/ should go with the preceding syllable.) Here fire is a unitary morpheme and dryer contains a morpheme boundary; hence the distinction given, despite there being no difference in pronunciation (at least in many AmE speakers). Dec 12, 2012 at 5:00
  • 1
    The dots show how to hyphenate, not how to pronounce the words. In some cases, syllables can't be separated with a hyphen (e.g., because they are too short to stand alone). Oct 3, 2013 at 20:38
  • 1
    @Bradd - True. Usually there is a strong correspondence between hyphenation marks and syllable counts, but there are some notable exceptions. I don't believe there's any schism in how we regard this matter.
    – J.R.
    Oct 3, 2013 at 21:43

IPA isn't that difficult to decipher, is it?

hour /ou(ə)r/ (one syllable)

hour /aʊər, ˈaʊər/ (one or two syllables, one being preferred)

  • 3
    But doesn't /ou(ə)r/ mean /our/ (one syllable) or /ouər/ (two syllables), since English does not have an /ouə/ triphthong (well ... I guess some dialects might, but I don't think the Oxford English dictionaries count /ouə/ as a triphthong in AmE). Aug 31, 2012 at 17:18
  • 3
    The Virtual Linguist speaks BrE. I was objecting to your decoding of the non-IPA pronunciation symbols used by the online Oxford Dictionaries for AmE. They don't always indicate syllables in their phonetic encoding; see catalyst, which is definitely three syllables, even though they only indicate two, and different, which can be either two or three. Aug 31, 2012 at 18:48
  • 1
    It can’t be a triphthong. They are somehow defining a triphthong as nothing other than three vowels sounds in a row, syllables notwithstanding. That isn’t right! A diphthong is a main syllabic vowel with a glide, either /w/ or /j/, attached to it on one side or the other. A triphthong has a non-syllabic glide on both sides of it. Schwa is not a glide: it creates a new syllable because it is in hiatus. Words like yay and wow are triphthongs, but words like Maya, power, and cayenne are not triphthongs. It has to all be in one syllable, and those vowels are not.
    – tchrist
    Aug 31, 2012 at 22:45
  • 2
    @tchrist John Wells would agree with you. I'm of two minds (if not two syllables) about it, since I pronounce it with 1 syllable, but have the aformentioned "Hour after hour" ditty in my head.
    – Gnawme
    Aug 31, 2012 at 23:24
  • 1
    I don't know the reasons behind the linguistic definition of triphthong is, but I would say that if a speaker perceives hour as one syllable, and pronounces all three vowel components aʊə, it's a pretty good argument for calling it a triphthong. Sep 3, 2012 at 19:54

People who are born to power
Lack the time to spare an hour
Smelling rose or other flower,
Be it sweet or be it sour.

Since those lines of trochaic tetrameter all rhyme with each other on the last foot, hour needs must contain two syllables. The stanza is 8/8/8/8 by syllables, with rhyme scheme AAAA.

Here is a different illustration of the same thing:

Tapered candles need no power,
‭    ‭    flicker though they may.
They will burn for just an hour,
‭    ‭    turning night to day.

That one has an 8/5/8/5 syllable pattern and an ABAB rhyme scheme. Unless power and hour rhyme, and are each two syllables, that doesn’t work.

  • 7
    Are you serious here? They also rhyme as if power, hour, flower and sour are all just one syllable. And if power and flower are two syllables, and hour and sour are one syllable, then you get an ABAB rhyme scheme. Aug 31, 2012 at 17:15
  • 4
    Counter-example: O thou, my lovely boy, who in thy pow’r / Dost hold time’s fickle glass his sickle hour, among many other examples. If both power and hour are the same length, there should be no need to shorten power to pow'r.
    – choster
    Aug 31, 2012 at 17:17
  • 2
    @PeterShor Yes, I’m serious: all lines have 8 syllables, and it is AAAA rhyme, not ABAB rhyme. Don’t let spelling confuse matters, because I could rearrange lines so that dissimilar spellings align, and it will still rhyme. Any child in the Midwest will tell you that hour and power rhyme.
    – tchrist
    Aug 31, 2012 at 17:54
  • 1
    Just to return to this briefly, if you think ‘hour’ has two syllables, you have to assume the consonant /w/ in the middle. So, something like /aʊwə(r)/. The answer may well be that it’s one syllable in British English and two in American English and perhaps other dialects. Sep 1, 2012 at 7:01
  • 8
    @choster puts his finger on it. English poets have always felt free to treat these words as either monosyllabic or disyllabic according to metrical exigencies. Shakespeare, for instance, in WT: of six uses in verse, two are monosyllabic, two disyllabic, and two ambiguous. Sep 1, 2012 at 13:16

I would pronounce this with two syllables:

Ow - Err



As long as "ou" is a diphthong, this word has one syllable.

  • 3
    More descriptive than helpful. If there's only one (dipthong) vowel, of course there's only one syllable. But is that always true? What about our? Aug 31, 2012 at 16:26
  • 2
    How can you make my doggerel scan if our has just one syllable?
    – tchrist
    Aug 31, 2012 at 16:42
  • @tchrist First, there's no reason for your doggerel to scan. How can your doggerel be proof? Second, it's easy to make your doggerel scan with "our" having just one syllable. Just pronounce "sour" as a one-syllable word, and you get an ABAB. Or pronounce all four final words as one-syllable words, and you get an AAAA again. All possiblities are valid. Just listen to the last stanza here (3:30).
    – user18036
    Sep 1, 2012 at 14:20
  • 1
    Not true. For me, yes, "ou" is a diphthong, but the /r/ is syllabic. Dec 12, 2012 at 5:00

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.