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Understanding and Counting Syllables

We continue this week's series on consonants, vowels, syllables, and schwa and how understanding them helps with reading and spelling. Today's topic: syllables!

What is a syllable?

A syllable is formed as the mouth opens to say vowels and closes to say consonants. This act of opening and closing creates the rhythm in words.

Every syllable must have a vowel, and every vowel makes a syllable. This means that the number of vowels in a word is equal to the number of syllables. It is the vowel that forms the syllable; syllables do not need to include a consonant. Syllables may, of course, include one or more consonants at the beginning or end, but a vowel can form a whole syllable on its own.

How to count syllables

Being able to recognize and count the number of syllables in a word is a foundational skill for success in reading and spelling. It enables students to chunk words accurately for decoding and segment words for spelling. Since the mouth opens to say the vowel sound, the easiest way to count the number of syllables in a spoken word is by placing your hand under your chin and feeling the number of times the mouth drops open to say a vowel.

Try it! Place your hand under you chin and say bookshelf. How many times did your mouth open? It should have been two.

Another way to count syllables is to hum the word. Since vowels are the sounds that can be sustained, they are the sounds that we sing or hum. Therefore, when we hum a word we are actually counting the number of vowel sounds - and thus the number of syllables!

Try to hum computer. How many “hums” did you hear? It should have been three.

Comprehending syllables first requires an accurate understanding of consonants and vowels. If you haven’t been following along on our blog this week, see our previous two posts to learn more: What is a Vowel? What is a Consonant?

Once students know how to recognize and define syllables, they can use this tool to guide them in spelling. The process of Spelling Dictation (or Spelling Analysis) used in Logic of English® and other Orton-Gillingham programs guides students to count the number of syllables in each word in preparation for segmenting the sounds, sounding out the word, and writing it. Understanding syllables also gives students the key they need to comprehend one of the most important and misunderstood concepts in written English: the schwa! Our next blog article introduces our new spelling rule about this concept, Spelling Rule 31.