Syllable is a unit of sound composed if a central peak of sonority (usually a vowel) and the consonants that cluster around this central peak.

A syllable is also that part of a word, which is said with one breath or pulse. It is the smallest unit of speech, which can be pronounced at once. It usually contains one vowel and some consonants e.g. in ‘baby’ there are two syllables, each containing a consonant and a vowel /beil/ and /bi/.

Words and syllables

Words may be classified in the bars of the number of syllables they have. It could be one syllable, two or more than two syllables. There are three (3) categories of syllables namely.


Monosyllable Words: words that are made up of one syllable. Every monosyllable word which makes makes its counterpart, i.e. structural words to be stressed is when they appear in isolation e.g.

Prepositions – on, in, of, etc

Conjunctions – and, but, etc

Pronouns – she, he, you etc

Other monosyllabic words – man, go, book etc


Disyllabic words: words which are made up of two syllables. One of the two syllables gets stressed which the second has its quality reduced.

Disyllabic words can receive the stress placement on the first or second syllable depending or the state and class of the word. Nouns usually receive their stress placement in the first syllable while verbs receive them on second syllable.


Word                                                     Noun                                     Verb

Export                                                   EXport                                  export

Desert                                                  DEsert                                   deSERT

Convict                                                 CONvict                                conVICT

Refuse                                                  REfuse                                  reFUSE


Also, adjectives are stressed on the first while verbs are stressed on the second syllable. E.g.

Word                                                     Adjective                             Verb

Frequent                                             FREquent                            freQUENT

Absent                                                 ABsent                                 abSENT

Polysyllabic Words: words with more than two syllables. Importantly the stress placement changes as the word class of the word changes e.g. examination, impossible, generation etc.


Activity: Write out five words each for the following types of syllable

  1. Monosyllabic words
  2. Disyllabic words
  3. Polysyllable words


See also






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