Syllables

English words are made up of syllables. Syllables are distinct sounds within a word. All syllables have a vowel sound in them, and usually have a consonant between it and the next syllable. A word may have one, two, three, four, or more syllables.

 

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   1 syllable

air

 

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   2 syllables

bub-ble

 

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   3 syllables

 con-tin-ue

 

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   4 syllables

dem-on-stra-tion

 

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  5 syllables

 ef-fer-ves-ent-ly

 

Syllable Stress

In a word with two or more syllables, one syllable is stressed (meaning they have a stronger and longer sound) and the other syllables are unstressed or weak (meaning they are not said or pronounced as strong or as long as stressed syllables). Listen to the below and note the stressed syllables. The stressed syllable is in bold.

 

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  pre-pare

 

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   sig-ni-fi-cance

 

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  com-pu-ter  

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   in-con-spic-u-ous

Recognizing Stress

Sometimes it is difficult to determine or hear where the stress is on some words. There are three things to keep in mind that may help you recognize which syllable is stressed.

 

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 ca-ban-a  1. The pitch (see below) of the syllable is higher than in other syllable in the word.
 ca-ban-a  2. the vowel sound in the syllable is said or pronounced longer than other syllables in the word.
 ca-ban-a  3. the syllable is pronounced as a full vowel(not reduced as in the Schwa sound.

 

 Syllable Pitch Patterns

Pitch is the highness or lowness of a sound. The pitch of a syllable can rise, fall, or remain the same. There are three pitch patterns in syllables.

1. If the word is one syllable, a glide-down pitch occurs, in which the pitch rises
and falls in that one syllable. The pitch rises on the first vowel sound and
falls on the consonant sound.  

 

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car   

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 bake 
            Listen to more glide down pitches in the words below, focus on the words in bold print.
 

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  An apple a day keeps the doctor away.
 

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 To be or not to be, that is the question.
 

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  Caves are dark and damp.
 

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 I went on a late date last night.
 

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 The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain.

 

 2. A glide-down pitch also occurs in two or more syllable words, if the stress is
on the last syllable. The rise in pitch begins on the vowel. Practice the
following sentences, focusing on the words in bold print. 

 

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ex-cite  

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to-night
            Listen to more glide down pitches in the words below, focus on the words in bold print.
 

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I need a taxi to get downtown. 
 

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She ate croissants alone in her room.  
 

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I believe he expects to be paid.
 

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Aeronautical engineers design and construct airplanes. 
 

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The demand for beepers has subsided.   

  3. In a two or more syllable word, where the stress is not on the last syllable, a
step down pitch occurs. The pitch rises at the beginning of the syllable and
stays up until the beginning of the following syllable, when the pitch falls.

 

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a-gree-ment  

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pro-nun-ci-a-tion
            Listen to more step down pitches in the words below, focus on the words in bold print.
 

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A husband and wife often quarrel. 
 

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Bob has a lot of ability on a computer.  
 

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Comfort and convenience is what I look for in a hotel.   
 

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A shady veranda can provide comfort on a hot day.  
 

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An idiom is just an English expression. 

 

 Ellipsis

Sometimes native English speakers will entirely drop the sound of an unstressed syllable altogether, and not just reduce the pronunciation to the schwa sound. This is called an ellipsis. This in effect reduces the number of syllables that a listener may hear. Both pronunciations are correct. Examples of two such words are probably and temperature. 

                  Note: Ellipsis’s are very common, but not all speakers will do this.

 

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 Some people will pronounce probably with three syllables (prob-a-bly), others will pronounce it with two syllables (prob-bly). 
 

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 Some people will pronounce temperature with four syllables (tem-per-a-ture), others will pronounce it with three syllables (tem-per-ture). 
             Listen to more ellipses in the words below.
 

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  general (gen-e-ral, gen-ral)     
 

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  business (bus-i-ness, bus-ness)
 

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  vegetable (veg-e-ta-ble, veg-ta-ble) 
 

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  margarine (mar-gar-ine, mar-grine)
 

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  evening (e-ven-ing, ev-ning) 

 

 An ellipsis can also occur (usually in very casual speak) when native speakers drop the beginning of a word that has a schwa sound in it. 

Listen to and repeat the following words and sentences, focusing on the words in bold. The first word in the parenthesis is the syllable separation for the word as found in a dictionary; the second word in the parenthesis is the syllable separation when pronounced with an ellipsis.  

 

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 (remember, ‘mem-ber)     Remember when we went to the beach last year?
 

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 (another, ‘nother)                   Another drink, Mr. Thompson?
 

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 (about, ’bout)                     How about going to the movies tonight?



Syllable stress and syllable pitch patterns – www.pronunciationtips.com