How to Divide Syllables to Read Words

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How to Divide Syllables to Read Words
Understanding the sounds that make up words is important for building reading skills. (read forever... image by Saskia Massink from

Basic rules of the alphabet make it possible to break English words into syllables. When reading words in the English language, remember that the number of vowel sounds heard in a spoken word determines the total number of syllables in that word.

The English alphabet includes five exclusive vowel letters -- a, e, i, o and u -- and 21 consonants. The letter y sometimes sounds like a vowel, as in the word "baby," in which the y sounds like a long e. These 26 letters are the building blocks of the syllables that make up words.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • English reading material

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  1. 1

    Review the English alphabet. You hear short vowel sounds in words such as lamb and bug. Since these words have one vowel sound when spoken, they each have one syllable.

    Long vowel sounds mean you say the name of the vowel when stating the word, such as with "plate" and "tease." Even though more than one vowel is present, you only hear one long vowel sound when you say the word aloud.

  2. 2

    Notice any prefixes or suffixes that are part of the word, as these always form a separate syllable or syllables. "Untie" and "microwave," for example, divide as untie and micro*wave.

  3. 3

    Inspect the word for a vowel-consonant-vowel combination. Pronounce the first vowel long, and split the syllables before the consonant. The word "tunic" is split into the syllables tu*nic.

  4. 4

    Search for a consonant followed by the letters "le" at the end of the word. These words break into syllables just before the consonant with those letters. "Candle" becomes can*dle when broken apart in this manner.

  5. 5

    Look for two consonants appearing together in the middle of the word. Divide the word between the two consonants. The syllables in "children" and "hopper" are divided as children and hopper. In this case, the first syllable will have a short vowel sound.

  6. 6

    Check for a set of letters in the order vowel-consonant-consonant-vowel, such as in the word "blender." Blen*der is an example of how these syllables separate between the consonants.

  7. 7

    Listen for two vowels that are spoken separately, yet written together in the word. Syllables will break between the two vowel sounds, just as "chaos" is separated as cha*os.

  8. 8

    Hunt for vowels followed by the letter r, and divide the syllable after the r. The words "argue" and "order" are correctly divided as argue and order.

  9. 9

    Identify vowels that do not fit into one of the syllable sections you find in a word. Sometimes these vowels create their own syllables, as in "agitate," which is divided as agitate.

Tips and warnings

  • A quick way to figure out the number of syllables in a word is to start with a closed jaw, and then count the number of times your mouth opens and your chin drops down when you say the word aloud. Overemphasise each word part as you say it. Divide syllables for the word "discombobulate" as an example -- your chin should dip down and your mouth should open five times.
  • Because English incorporates words from other languages, many do not follow standard syllable division rules.

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