Syllables and their structure in English

Syllables and their structure in English

The syllable is traditionally defined as the smallest unit of expiratory and articulatory impulse into which real speech is divided.

The syllable forms the fundamental basic structure of the word. It is constituted by a nucleus or top (N) and syllabic margins: a previous one (MSa) and a later one (MSp). The anterior and posterior syllable margins are also called prenuclear and postnuclear, respectively

The syllable

In this sense, one can begin by saying that most sources choose to conceive the Syllable as a combination of letters, between two brief pauses , which come to represent each of the voice beats, produced by the speaker during pronunciation of the word. However, not all currents agree with this definition, an example of this is Linguistics, who considers it obsolete, inclining to define the Syllable as a phonetic unit, composed of a series of sounds, organized or grouped around to the one who has more intensity, and that always and in any case will be constituted by a vowel.

Consonant and vowels

Likewise, prior to continuing with the structure that forms the syllable, it will be pertinent to review the definition of each of the elements based on which the different syllables are constituted, regardless of their type:


In this way, the consonants will be understood as the different letters that fulfill the function of representing the consonant sounds of the Speech , that is, those that are produced by means of an Articulation Point (union between a mobile and a fixed articulating organ) and a specific Articulation Mode (mode in which the air column is modified by the Articulation Point). Within the syllable must always be accompanying a vowel.


On the other hand, the vowel is explained as the letters by means of which the vowel sounds of the Speech are represented, which are defined in turn as those phonemes produced by an air column that does not find any type of barrier or obstacle, in its transit through the oral cavity, since in its production there is no contact between articulating organs, so There is no talk of Point or Articulation Mode, but Linguistics chooses to point out as Localization modes of vowel sounds the Location (place where the language is found during the production of the phoneme) and the Opening (how open is the The speaker’s mouth during the pronunciation of the vowel phoneme Consequently, based on the Aperture, the Grammar establishes a classification in terms of the vocal letters, which differentiates between strong vowels (a, e, o) and weak vowels (i, u ).The vowel will also be considered the axis and point of greatest intensity of any syllable, and may even form one of these phonetic units alone.

Syllable structure

With these definitions in mind, it is likely that it will be a bit easier to understand the different parameters under which the syllable is considered formed. In this sense, Linguistics indicates that the syllable will basically be a phonetic unit constituted based on the combination of sounds, grouped around a vowel. However, one cannot speak of a single type of structure, since these combinations give rise to several possibilities.

However, before entering each of them, it will also be necessary to establish a nomenclature of the elements that make up the syllable, then choosing to represent the vowel with the letter “v” and the consonants with the letter “c”. Likewise, taking into account that the axis or center of the syllable is the vowel, consonants will be understood at all times as consonant margins, which may be found in anterior or posterior position in reference to the vowel. Likewise, in the case of vowel groups, we will also talk about syllabic margins, which will be represented with the letter “s”. In this way, the following syllable structures will exist:

  • A vowel: occurs when a strong vowel itself constitutes a syllable. In this case, the syllable structure will simply be “v”. 
  • A vowel and a consonant: it can also happen that the combination has the presence of a vowel sound and a subsequent consonant margin, then formed into a vc structure. 
  • A consonant and a vowel: on the contrary, there is also the structure where the consonant margin is arranged before the vowel sound, establishing a structure of type cv. 
  • A vowel and two consonants: likewise, within a syllable a vowel can be arranged, followed by two contiguous consonant margins. This structure will be represented as vcc. 
  • A vowel and three consonants: on the other hand, there will also be syllables that in its structure combine a vowel and three consonant sounds, which can be organized either by having an anterior consonant margin, a vowel and two subsequent consonant margins, creating the cvcc structure. 
  • One vowel and four consonants: it will also happen that the syllable has two previous and two subsequent consonant margins, with a ccvcc type structure. 
  • A vowel margin and a vowel: also, the syllable can be established with the presence of two vowels within it. In the event that one of these vowels is weak (i, u), the strong vowel will be taken as the nucleus of the syllable, the weak being understood then as a vowel margin. In this sense, there are two types of structures: that formed by the anterior vowel margin and the vowel, with structure sv.
  • A consonant, a vowel margin and a vowel: it is also possible that the syllable has all the types of elements between them. This can then correspond to a previous consonant margin, a vowel margin and a vowel, in structural csv. 
  • A consonant, two vowel margins and a vowel: there are also syllables where the combination is given by a consonant margin, a syllabic margin, a vowel and a syllable margin, which would then create a csvs type structure. 
  • Two consonants, a vowel margin and a vowel: another of the possibilities of syllable is that which then contains a previous consonant margin, a vowel margin, a vowel and a subsequent consonant margin, which would then be organized in the following way csvc. 
  • Two consonants, two vowel margins and one vowel: finally, among another of the combination possibilities found within the syllable, there will be one that combines an anterior consonant margin, an anterior vowel margin, a vowel, a posterior vowel margin, a subsequent consonant margin, which establish a structure of type csvsc.

Classification of the syllable by its termination

However, vowels and consonants will not only fulfill the role of combining, forming syllables, but will in many cases determine the type of syllable they make up. An example of this is the different types of syllables that can be found around its termination, criteria for which it will be taken into account if the syllable ends in a vowel, or on the contrary in a consonant, then having two possibilities:

  • Open syllables : will be those syllables that end in a vowel. It is said that they are open, since it is assumed that in their pronunciation, the speaker’s mouth – because it is a vowel sound – is much more open. Examples of this type of open syllable will be the following: can-to; palette; look.
  • Closed syllables: in contrast, those syllables ending in consonant will be considered closed syllables Likewise, they are named in this way, because it is assumed that since the consonant is the representative of a consonant sound, when it is pronounced then the speaker has a much more closed mouth than when he produces a vowel sound. Some examples of the closed syllables are: song , mouse, 


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