Syllables: Breaking Words into Beats

Breaking words into beatsIn order to understand some more advanced concepts in English pronunciation, such as word stress and intonation, it’s important to first understand how we break words into parts.

Words are made up of syllables. If you were to speak to the beat of a drum, you could consider each syllable as one beat. I can still remember back in my early grammar school days when my teachers would clap along to words so that we could hear and count the syllables in each.

Here are some examples. Try to hear the beats in each of these words. The periods (full stops) mark syllable breaks. This is also how syllables are notated in dictionaries. (4 syllables) (4 syllables)

per.fect (2 syllables) (5 syllables)

can (1 syllable)

cal.en.dar (3 syllables)

Notice how each syllable contains one vowel sound (not one vowel, but one vowel sound). It is safe to assume that every vowel sound will have its own syllable. 

Syllables become important when we begin to discuss word stress. Since English is a stress language (and we’ll talk more about what that means later) the syllable that you choose to emphasize is extremely important for your meaning.

PRO.gress is different from pro.GRESS and REC.ord is different from re.CORD. We’ll go into these differences and the rules surrounding their usage in future posts.

For now, just begin taking note of how many syllables are in the words that you hear. In addition, can you hear any differences in how the syllables are spoken? Are some syllables louder, longer or higher in pitch than others? Let me know your findings in the comments below!

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  1. Agnes says:

    A lot to learn & very interesting , as well challenging for me.

  2. Chua Bee Leng says:

    it is very interesting. However, felt that the pronounce of the short vowels a bit fast pace to me.

  3. Mohammed Forhad says:

    ‘PROGRESS’ as a noun or verb, each has same pronunciation in US English.

  4. Carol says:

    You got great points there, that’s why I always love checking out your blog.

  5. Wiesia Nowacki says:

    Well, this another interesting part for me and quite different from my first language.

    For me, apart from many different sounds and stresses on the words’ syllables there is a problem to remember the exact spelling of the particular word. When I see the word how it is written I found it easier ( at least for known words) to pronounce. Sometimes I am lost whether the problem for me is the pronunciation alone or because I do not know how to spell, so I do not know how to say the word either ?.

    How can I improve my spelling?

    For example, the word : ‘realize’, even I do not have a problem to pronounce it, I am so frustrated when I need to spell it. I have checked it already hundred times. I know is : real, than I am not sure: whether is ‘ lise’, lease, or lize.

    Any tips to improve spelling and pronunciation ? Is this connected to syllables?

    Thank you for your great lessons and the blog


    Thank you

    thank you

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