Syllable Formation. Syllable division 

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Syllable Formation. Syllable division


1. A syllable is a sound or a sound sequence forming a single uninterrupted unit of utterance.

2. In English a syllable is formed by a vowel alone or in combination with consonants, and word final sonorants [l], [m], [n] preceded by a consonant.


e.g. are




In some syllables formed by the sonorants the vowel [q] may be pronounced, in this case the sonorants are non-syllabic.


e.g. level [ levl] or [ levәl]


3. In terms of phonetics the two basic types of syllable are the open syllable (ending in a vowel) and the closed syllable (ending in a consonant).


4. Correct syllable division is important from the point of view of pronunciation and understanding.


e.g. a nice house

an ice house


5. The basic syllable division rules are as follows:

a. the English long monophthongs, diphthongs and unstressed short vowels [i], [q], [u] always occur in a phonetically open syllable when they are separated from the next syllabic sound by only one consonant.


e.g about [ q - baut]

music [ mju: - zik]

Michael [ mai – kl]


b. A short stressed vowel followed by only one consonant always occurs in a phonetically closed syllable.


e.g. pity [ pit – i]

coffee [ k f – i]


c. Intervocalic combinations of consonants belong to the next syllable if such combinations are typical of English (i. e. they can be found at the beginning of words). Otherwise, the consonants must be divided between the two syllables.


e.g. naturally [ næ t∫ - rә – li]

(næ – and t∫rә – are impossible in English)



Divide the following words into syllables. Consult a dictionary if in doubt.


Employer, drizzle, listening, nature,, over, finish, without, colony, discover, follower, ready, early, nearer, position, sorrow, motivate, luggage, international, exotic, exposure, origin, originality, energy, language


Exercise 1


Think of the words which might answer the clues. Listen and check your answers. What’s the peculiarity of these words?


a. the opposite of ‘boring’

b. you can buy lunch or dinner here

c. the month after January

d. you use it to find the meanings of new words

e. brown and sweet

f. potatoes, carrots, peas

g. you use it to take photos

h. the day before Thursday

i. all, every

j. military man

k. not single – has a husband or wife


Practise saying the phrases below. Think of more phrases of your own (see the listof words for ideas)


My favourite chocolate

Every Wednesday evening

What an interesting camera!

Are you comfortable?

They aren’t married


For ideas: different, documentary, fashionable, raspberry, several, sociable, courageous, especially, extraordinary, miserable, reasonable, strawberry, temperature



1. Word stress is singling out one or two syllables in a word by giving them greater prominence.

2. Syllables may be stressed (primary stress), half stressed (secondary stress) or unstressed. Some words in English may have two primary stresses or a primary and a secondary stress.


e.g. re ′write, four ′teen

organi ′zation


Shift of stress may result in changing the actual meaning of a word.


e.g. ′object – ob′ ject

′ re ′cover – re ′cover

a ′ blackbird – a ′black ′bird


3. Word stress in English usually falls on the first root syllable.

4. In most disyllabic words stress is on the initial syllable; in words with a prefix that has lost its original meaning, the stress is on the second (root) syllable.


e.g. 'border, 'ready

be ′fore, a ′go


In most disyllabic verbs ending in -ate, -ise, -ize, -fy the stress is on the second syllable


e.g. di ′ctate, sur ′prise, de ′fy


In some words of French origin the stress is on the second syllable.


e.g. ma ′chine, po ′lice


4. In most three and four-syllable words the stress is on the third syllable from the end.


e.g. ′cinema, de ′mocracy, ′qualify, o ′riginate


6. The stress is on the final syllable in words with the suffixes -ee, -eer, -ier, -ade,



e.g. refu ′gee, engi ′neer, lemo′nade, pictu 'resque


The stress is on the second syllable from the end before the following suffixes: -ian,

-ience, -ient, - cient, -al, -ial, -ual, -eous, -ious, -iar


e.g. phy 'sician, ex ′perience, e 'fficient, pa 'rental, e 'ssential, ha 'bitual, cou 'rageous, de 'licious, fa 'miliar


7. Most words of four and more syllables have two stresses: primary and secondary. The primary stress falls either on the third or the fourth syllable from the beginning of a word, the secondary stress is on the syllable separated from the nuclear by one unstressed syllable.


e.g. ֽdeco 'ration, ֽpossi 'bility, re ֽsponsi 'bility


8. In many derivatives the secondary stress falls on the same syllable which has the primary stress in the original word.


e.g. pe 'culiar – pe ֽculi 'arity, a 'ppreciate – a ֽppreci 'ation


If the original word has both the primary and the secondary stress, the secondary stress is retained in the same place, but the main stress falls on the syllable immediately preceding the suffix.


e.g. ֽreco 'mmend – ֽrecommend 'dation


9. Words with two primary streses form several groups: words with a distinct meaning of their own (e.g. anti-, dis-, ex-,etc.), compound numerals, nouns, adjectives and verbs.


10. Word stress in compound nouns depends on the semantic value of the elements. Normally, the first element is stressed if it is semantically more important.


e.g. ' music hall, ' fountain pen


Most compound adjectives and some compound nouns have two primary stresses, as both elements are equally significant.


e.g. 'well- 'bred, 'first – 'class, 'ice- 'cream


Compound adjectives with only one stress on the first element occur when the second element is semantically weak.


e.g. 'childlike, 'oval-shaped


Compound verbs have stress on both elements.


e.g. 'give 'in, 'turn 'out


11. In connected speech words with two stresses often lose one of their stresses because of the rhythm.


e.g. 'Turn off the 'light. 'Turn it 'off.



Exercise 2

Put the words from each box into columns according to their stress patterns. Listen and check your answers, then listen again – make sure you stress them correctly!



champagne shampoo crosswords sardines cigars Japan paintings hotels matches toothpaste discos cassettes guitars cartoons records trumpets coffee apples Britain roulette



potatoes hamburgers sausages oranges tomatoes chewing gum pineapple margarine cigarettes spaghetti celery lemonade bananas magazines newspapers Brussels sprouts tobacco cucumber sultanas vinegar apricots



beautiful chandelier exciting expensive families generous government impolite incorrect marvelous polluted recently together untidy wonderful



absolutely advertisement authority babysitting calculator celebrating chiropodist communicate embarrassing environment exhibition fortunately independence information opposition photographic politician supermarket




Superman efficient unbearable habitat achiever happening Cinderella compulsive batteries certainly distracted energetic philosophy abilities efficiently occupation everything copyright demanding rehearsal management enjoyable creative excuses



Exercise 3



Listen and repeat the names of the countries below. Pay attention to stress. Write nationality words next to the name of each country. Listen and check your answers.


Nepal Poland Holland Italy Korea China Brazil France Malaysia Norway Turkey Switzerland   Canada Russia Japan Germany Belgium Greece Egypt Australia Hungary Spain England Portugal



The stress in the –ese nationality words changes when they are followed by a noun, or if two of them are contrasted with each other.


Listen to the following sentences and mark the stress in the nationality words.


a. Kamal, my guide, was Nepalese.

b. I wouldn’t like to meet a Nepalese tiger.

c. I think that bowl’s Japanese.

d. What a beautiful Japanese fan.

e. I’d like a Chinese takeaway.

f. Do you speak Chinese?

g. There’s a very good Portuguese restaurant round the corner.

h. Her boyfriend’s Portuguese.

i. That isn’t Chinese writing, it’s Japanese.

j. She isn’t Brazilian, she’s Portuguese.



Do the following exercises:


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