I'd like to know whether there is a way to know how to divide a word into syllables, other than by practice, by seeing them divided once and again. None of my two dictionaries show these divisions, and in almost every book I read the text is justified in a way that avoids breaking words. So, if it depends on my seeing it, I will never learn how to do it.

I've found an old thread in these forums about this, and from the messages therein I've gathered that the syllable separation is more or less related to the pronunciation of the word. However, this is of no help for me, since as far as pronunciation is concerned, I'm at a loss (I can see the phonetic transcripcion of a word and know more or less how it should be pronounced, but most of the times I see a word in a text I don't know whether the vowels are short, long, etc.). So far the only "rule" I've been able to learn is that when you get two of the same consonant together, the word is broken between both of them (they also said it in the thread I've mentioned). Are there other rules like this?

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Hello, Colombo.

It seems that there are a number of references available which analyze English syllabification in terms of phonology and phonotactics, but nothing that I would recommend you try to read (since I am not about to attempt it either). When faced with a hyphenization problem, I inevitably go to the dictionary to check my own supposition.
Mister Micawber When faced with a hyphenization problem, I inevitably go to the dictionary to check my own supposition.

Excellent advice! While in written English we can often divide the word by its morphemic components, we have to realize that in spoken English, it isn't quite the same. "Summer" obviously has two syllables, and we would put the hyphen between the two m's (as per convention only) when writing the word. But in spoken English, the syllables are divided either before or after the double-m (probably before) because we certainly don't pronounce a double-m when saying the word in normal speech.
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Thank you very much for your advice. I thought there might be some "written rules", something taught at school, or the like (without going into the depths hinted at by Mister Micawber, God forbid!). But it seems that what I need is to buy a dictionary indicating the syllables of words (possibility that I had already been considering for some time). I had heard about the relationship between pronunciation and syllabication, and although I thought that it wouldn't work for me owing to my bad ear, now I see that it cannot be taken as a guide, from what Philip says.

Ugh! That was me, forgetting to sign in before posting! Sorry!
Hi Colombo

I have the same problem. I am from another country and I never learned any general rule in English for syllabification. However, after researching a little bit, I finally found something in the wikipedia which was very enlightening...

"English written syllabification therefore deals with a concept of "syllable" that doesn't correspond to the linguistic concept or a phonetic (as opposed to morphological) unit.

As a result, even most native English speakers are unable to syllabify words accurately without consulting a dictionary or using a word processor. The process is, in fact, so complicated that even schools usually do not provide much more advice on the topic than to consult a dictionary. In addition, there are differences between British and US syllabification and even between dictionaries of the same English variety."

It is so easy to separate syllables in Portuguese that I was at loss how to do that in English. And the reason is simple: it is *too* complicated: even the native speakers have to consult a dictionary. That makes me fee much better... Emotion: surprise)

Claudio Egalon
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Dear Colombo

Just found the following after my previous posting: try the web address


They have four rules for syllabification. I hope this is usefull for you.

Claudio Egalon


Thanks for answering after so long. Those few rules seem easy to recall. Since the time I first asked this question, I enrolled in a university degree in English and English literature, and last year I had a subject about phonetics. The textbook we used ("Gimson's Pronunciation of English") included some information about syllabification, but somehow it hasn't give me the definite answer (although, well, both Mister Micawber and Philip had already told me there's no such thing). Anyway, I carry on not breaking words at the end of lines!
Hi Colombo,

I see that the pattern of a stressed syllable is a consonant plus a long vowel like in TEA-cher. If the vowel is short, the following consonant is attracted to fill up the “box” like in JEOP-a-dize / ‘dʒep.ə.daɪz /. The secondary stressed syllable in words like dic-TION-ar-y, follows the same rule. Note that here, the R-Y is separated because Y pronounces /wai/ (W is a semivowel).

I guess the dots which separate the pronunciation symbols of the entries on http://dictionary.cambridge.org , indicates the syllable separation.
Anyway, I tried to get down to the nitty-gritty: Words like TEN-der, TEL-ler, etc, aren't motif for concern. Morover, they fit the cited rules.

I hope its helpful!
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