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What is a Syllable?

A syllable is a unit of spoken language that always contains a vowel sound (a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y). In fact, a syllable is a word or part of a word with a vowel sound. Breaking words into syllables is an important skill that assists when decoding unfamiliar words.

Syllable Types

There are six syllable types that form the pronounceable unit of a word.

  1. Open Syllable
  2. An open syllable occurs when a syllable ends with a vowel, which results in the long vowel sound, e.g. pa/per, e/ven, o/pen, go & we. Open syllable words are open because they are not closed by the consonant.

  3. Closed Syllable
  4. A closed syllable occurs when a syllable ends with one or more consonants, which results in a short vowel sound, e.g., can, spell, jump, got & wet. When a vowel is followed by a consonant, it closes the syllable.

  5. R-Controlled Vowel
  6. An r-controlled vowel (ar, er, ir, or & ur) contains both the letter “r” and a vowel, resulting in unique vowel sounds. The letter “r” controls the vowel sound when a vowel precedes it.

  7. Vowel Team Syllables
  8. As the name implies, a vowel team contains a combination of vowels and in some cases consonants. The vowel team syllables consists of (1) vowel teams (long vowel sound), (2) diphthongs (combination of two speech sounds) and (3) digraphs (combination of two letters that make one sound). The vowel team rule states when two vowels go walking the first does the talking, it says its name and the second vowel is silent. A diphthong is a combination vowel sound that glides from one sound to the next. They are similar to vowel teams except they do not make the long vowel sound but rather their own sound, e.g., out and boil. A digraph is a combination of two letters that make one sound, e.g., day, moon and haul.

  9. Magic E (Silent E)
  10. The magic E syllable pattern (VCe) contains a vowel, consonant and silent e. When the letter “e” sits at the end of the word, it is usually silent and the preceding vowel says its name or long sound. The magic e vowels are as follows: a_e, i_e, o_e and u_e.

  11. Consonant –le (C-le) Syllables
  12. This syllable type is found at the end of words. If a word ending in a consonant and -le contains an open syllable, there is no double consonant, e.g., ta/ble. If a word ending in a consonant and -le contains a closed syllable, there is a double consonant, e.g., lit/tle. The following C-le syllables are found at the end of a word: -ble, -cle, -dle, -fle, -gle, -kle, -ple, -tle and -zle.

Some educators feel this level of detail assists students when analyzing the structure of words and some feel providing too much detail only serves to confuse a child. Regardless of your approach, a child must possess phonemic awareness – the ability to focus on the individual components of a word (sounds). A child should be able to segment words into their sounds and blend them back. When my children were very young, we would clap the syllables in their names and familiar words.

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