How to divide English words into syllables

Written by lesley barker
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How to divide English words into syllables
(homework image by Stepanov from

Dividing English words into syllables is an important word attack skill for beginning readers and for people who are learning English as a foreign language. There are some easy rules that can help with most English words. After reading this short article, you'll be introduced to the most common syllabification strategies you'll need whenever you encounter an English word and need to read it or pronounce it correctly.

Skill level:

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  1. 1

    Say the word out loud that you want to divide into syllables. Words like "book," "ant," and "choice" sound like they have just one part. That is because they do. Each of these words is made up of just one syllable. Words like "chigger," "education," "pocket," and locomotive" have more than one syllable. Words can have many or just one syllable. If you could clap your hands more than once to match the rhythm you hear when you say a word, it has more than one syllable. Your ears are the first tools to use when you are dividing English words into syllables.

  2. 2

    Know that each syllable in English contains just one vowel sound no matter how many letters it takes to produce that sound. Look at the word when it is spelt correctly. Make sure that you can identify English consonants and vowels. (For a reminder, there are five vowels in English: "a", "e", "i", "o", "u". The letters "y" and "w" also sometimes act like vowels in English.) Often two vowels combine to form one sound, as in the word "choice." The "oi" makes a single sound as in "boy." When a word ends in the letter "e," it most often is not pronounced but it does give a signal to change the sound of the previous vowel. "Hat" becomes "hate" with the addition of a silent "e." An "e" can also tell you to pronounce a "c " or a "g" as though it was an "s" or a "j." Use your ears to hear the sounds. Then match the vowel sounds to the letters.

  3. 3

    See if there are two consonants next to each other that do not blend together like "th," "br" "kw" or other combination to make one sound. The word "chigger" had a double "g." The word "pocket" has a "c" followed by a "k." Say these words out loud. Notice that you need two claps to match the sound of each word rhythmically. Divide these words into two syllables at the place between the two consonants.

  4. 4

    Say the word "locomotive." This word takes four claps to match the rhythm. There is a slight pause when you pronounce the word after each "o." Each "o" has a long sound (long vowel sounds say the name of the letter.) Long vowels in the middle of words signal the ends of syllables.

  5. 5

    Say the word "education." Here there is a long "u" that stands alone as its own syllable. The first syllable, "ed," ends with the consonant. The third syllable, "ca," ends in a long vowel. "tion" is the last syllable that begins and ends with a consonant and includes just one vowel sound. This word contains most of the rules you need to divide English words into syllables. Listen. Clap. Divide the word whenever there is a short vowel followed by a consonant (the syllable may be like "cat" and begin and end with a consonant). Divide the word whenever there is a long vowel right after this vowel. Divide the word between two consonants unless they form a blend. (Usually a blend will be at the beginning of the word or syllable.)

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