Syllables and Phonemes in English

Definition of Syllable

A syllable is a single unbroken sound of a spoken or written word.
It is one unit of sound in English. Syllables join consonants and vowels to form words. Sometimes syllables are referred to as the ‘beats’ of spoken language.

What is a Syllable?

A syllable is a unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound with or without surrounding consonants. It forms the whole word or a part of a word. The process of breaking a word into small parts is called syllabification.

A syllable is possible without consonant sound but it is not possible without a vowel sound. It is necessary to have at least one vowel sound to have one syllable.The number of times you hear a vowel sound in a world is equal to the number of syllables a word has.Syllables differ from a phoneme

What is Phoneme?

A phoneme is the smallest unit of sound. 
The number of syllables in a word is unrelated to the number of phonemes it contains.
For example the word cat is made up of three phonemes /k/ /a/ /t/ but it has only one syllable as it has only one vowel sound /a/ along with two consonants /k/ and /t/.
There are 44 basic sounds or phonemes but when we speak we don’t use isolated sounds like /p/ /t/ /k/.
In order to analyse speech we need a unit longer than a speech sound.
The syllable can be considered as a convenient unit by which the sounds can be organised in particular patterns. These patterns are formed on the basis of a particular structure which each syllable has.

The syllable is thus a very significant unit in the production of speech without which, we cannot analyse or describe it. To know about a syllable structure, click here.

Open Syllable:

An open syllable is that syllable which has only one vowel sound or which ends with a vowel sound.



Say /sei/

Closed Syllable :

A closed syllable ends with a consonant. It has only one vowel sound but it can have one or more consonant.






On the basis of possible combinations of sounds, a word is divided into syllables. number of syllables mark that word as monosyllabic ( having one syllable) or disyllabic (having two syllables) and so on.


Words with one syllable are called monosyllabic word.
For Example:


Boss /boss/

Cream /kri:m/

Dog /dog/


Words with two syllables are called disyllabic words.

Pencil /pen/ /cil/

Remark /re/ /mark/

Water /wa/ ter/


Words with three syllables are called trisyllabicwords.

Beautiful /beau/ti/ful/

Artistic /ar/tis/tic/


Application /app/li/ca/tion/Cultivation /cul/ti/va/tion/Mandatory /man/da/to/ry/


Personification: /Per/so/ni/fi/ca/tion/

Identification:    /i/den/ti/fi/ca/tion/

Unsophisticated: /un/so/phis/ti/ca/ted/

This was all about syllables in English which play a very significant role in the production of speech.

To understand about syllables and phonemes thoroughly for better understanding, click the video below.

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