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The Six English Syllable Types

Six English Syllable Types

In English there are 15 vowel phones (sounds) but only 5 vowel letters. (Okay--7 if you count <y> and <w>). But how does that work-- with twice as many vowel sounds to represent as there are letters to represent them!?

For his 1806 dictionary, Daniel Webster figured it out (and changed the spelling of some words to make it work more consistently).  Basically, context predicts the vowel's letter-sound association.

The syllable type is largely determined by what comes after the vowel in the syllable.  In phonetically regular words, the sound of the vowel is predicted by its syllable type.  More than 90% of English words follow the six-syllable type sound-spelling pattern.

But note this important caveat:  The English language freely absorbs words from other languages, and words with origins other than English do not necessarily follow the syllable types patterns.  Even so, the majority of commonly-used English words follow this pattern,  so it is definitely worth learning the six syllable types.

While the fluent use of these patterns for reading and spelling will require an ongoing commitment to word study a habit of word analysis will pay enormous dividends in terms of improved spelling and reading and vocabulary growth!  

 

The Syllable Type

The Pattern

The Sounds

More Examples

closed

 

One or more consonants come after the vowel. (The consonant ‘closes’ the syllable.)

 

Closed syllables are usually taught first because they are the most frequent syllable type in English and also the most regular.

  ‘short’ or "lax" sound

a (as in “apple”)

e (as in “Ed”)

i (as in “itch”)

o (as in “odd”)

u (as in “up”) 

bat

sell

it

dock

stump

muffin   (muf /fin)
rabbit  (rab /bit)
fantastic (fan /tas/tic )

r-controlled

An <r> comes after the vowel, ‘controlling’ the sound of the vowel.

      -ar

      -or

      -er (spelled  ir, er or ur)

warm

sort

fir, pert, fur

open

The vowel ends the syllable. (i.e., It is ‘open.’)

 “long” or "tense" sound

a (as in “ta-ble” )

e (as in “he”)

i (as in “hi”)

o (as in “so”)

u (as in  u-nit”)

vi-o-let

ve-to

diet

zero

O-hi-o

silent -e

The syllable ends with an

<-e> as a signal that the main vowel is ‘long’.

 

This final <e> has no sound of its own

  “long” or "tense" sound

a (as in “made” )

i (as in “five”)

o (as in “hope”)

u (as in  “cute”)

lake

bone

vice

smile

grade

vowel team

The vowel sound is represented by two or more vowel letters.

 

Most, but not all, of these vowel sounds are “long” vowel sounds.  Because there are multiple spelling options symbol memory is important for the correct spelling of vowel teams.

Examples:

 “long” or "tense" sound

ai (as in “brain”)

ee (as in “beef”)

  ‘short’ or "lax"  sound

        ea (as in “wear”)

 ‘diphthong’ (a gliding vowel) 

         oy, oi / ow, ou

 

lay

clean

sweater

bread

boil, boy

cow, loud

consonant +le

This syllable pattern is a consonant followed by <le>.

It occurs only at the end of multisyllable words.

This syllable sounds like the consonant + ‘uh-l” (but the spelling looks like it should be “luh’).  The vowel sound in the {consonant +le} syllable is schwa: /ə/

little

terrible

cradle

© SBBlackley 

 

 The Six Syllable Types in Action

How would you respond if someone asked you this question:

The words <rabbit> and <little> follow the closed-syllable pattern (i.e., the first of the double consonants signals that the first syllable is a closed syllable, with a short vowel sound). But the the first syllables in the words <habit> and <cabin> also have short vowels, yet they are not spelled with double consonants.   WHY?

 

Answer:

The words  <rabbit> and <little> have double consonants because they both come from Anglo-Saxon (English and Flemish).

The words <habit> and <cabin> both have their origins in languages other than English:  <habit> comes from Latin (habitus) and <cabin> come from French (cabane).

Dictionary.com is a good source of information about word origins. 




The 6 syllable types in English.doc

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