Definition of syllable in US English:



  • 1A unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants, forming the whole or a part of a word; e.g., there are two syllables in water and three in inferno.

    • ‘After blending consonants and vowels, syllables are blended into words and words are used in meaningful sentences.’
    • ‘Lexa tried to repeat the name and fumbled over the made-up syllables and vowel sounds thrown in at random.’
    • ‘He tried to focus on the sound, on the syllables and soft vibrations that were forming into words.’
    • ‘As children gain more experience with language and with manipulating sounds in words, they can identify the syllables, or the sound chunks, in words.’
    • ‘His discussion of iambic pentameter (five stresses to a line, with the stress on the second syllable of each unit) is thorough and contains extensive examples.’
    • ‘In some present-day music the individual syllables of words are used primarily for their sound quality and seem disconnected from the rest of the text.’
    • ‘For the stammerer there is a feeling of being out of control and an ensuing repetition of sounds, syllables, words or pauses.’
    • ‘The Elision subtest is a deletion task with the child required to restate a word with either syllables or single sounds omitted from the beginning, middle, or end of the word.’
    • ‘From a phonetic point of view, Casa is pronounced as the Spanish word ‘casa’, with the emphasis on the first syllable ‘ca’ and a soft and short sound for the second syllable.’
    • ‘Of course, children learning to read any of the alphabetic languages tend to sound out letters and syllables until they recognise first whole words and then groups of words.’
    • ‘The passage is a rather dense one, with 46 syllables, for an relatively high average (for English) of 1.78 syllables / word.’
    • ‘There is no news story that cannot be reduced to a word of three syllables, and whole sentences bore us.’
    • ‘This was observed in practice when both teachers, especially Ms. Hernández, prompted students to sound out and decode words by phonemes when syllables could not be quickly identified.’
    • ‘This is recommended viewing, even for those of you whose eyes glaze over by the second syllable of the word ‘documentary.’’
    • ‘In America, it's commonly said with an ‘o’ sound in the second syllable.’
    • ‘The Sumerians and Egyptians also used symbols to represent spoken sounds, such as syllables and words.’
    • ‘Articulation disorders include difficulties producing sounds in syllables or saying words incorrectly to the point that other people can't understand what's being said.’
    • ‘Unlike Italian, stress is not required for monosyllabic and bisyllabic words; and unlike Spanish, stress is always assigned on the penultimate syllable of multisyllabic words.’
    • ‘The vowels of the stressed syllables in such words as father and fodder are generally identical.’
    • ‘Students in the low-level group were not reading words but were learning letter names and sounds, and how to blend consonant and vowel sounds to make syllables.’
    1. 1.1 A character or characters representing a syllable.
      • ‘As its signs represent native syllables (such as sa and ke), TRANSLITERATION almost invariably produces phonetic change.’
      • ‘The system consisted mainly of symbols representing open syllables, i.e. consonant-vowel pairs.’
      • ‘The Su Tongpo poetry of the Kusoshi is printed in clear, blockish characters, while the waka verses appear in a mixture of cursive characters and kana syllables.’
      • ‘Buddhist temple coins here in Japan are inscribed with kana syllables, not kanji ideograms.’
    2. 1.2usually with negative The least amount of speech or writing; the least mention of something.
      ‘I'd never have breathed a syllable if he'd kept quiet’
      • ‘As the Neanderthal, sex-driven doc, he blazes brilliantly across every frame of the screen, evidently relishing every loaded syllable of Marber's screenplay.’
      • ‘The storytellers seem to cut loose, the organisers are relaxed and the audience wants to be sure it hears every syllable before the festival ends for another year.’
      • ‘And afterwards Gordon Brown came out and gave a little speech - in which he said not one syllable about the campaign.’
      • ‘And yet not one syllable has been offered as to what we are going to do to prevent this from happening again.’
      • ‘A skilled Dakota farmer (like a Murphy poem) therefore wastes no syllable, no bit of dirt.’
      • ‘All in all, she's no David Attenborough (who speaks at the perfect speed, whether you're taking notes or just absorbing every syllable of his beautifully written scripts).’
      • ‘They tell me that in spite of what happened, every syllable of my message came through.’
      • ‘To get inside Donelly's third solo album, you must surrender, slow down and examine every note and syllable.’
      • ‘It's a poem that's been subjected to much critical appraisal, analysed and pulled apart, and examined minutely to the very last syllable.’
      • ‘They conveniently turned the other cheek, when it was no season for weakness, and uttered no syllable under the UNIP government.’
      • ‘But just to witness the shocked disbelief on their anal retentive little faces when I do it will be worth every syllable.’
      • ‘Meanwhile, the Crown is held to account for every syllable uttered, all the while keeping an eye on the allocated budget, which tends to result in asinine decisions to only take to trial cases which are absolute slam dunks.’
      • ‘Word has reached my desk that this Talking Sport column is going down a treat in Germany, in Munich to be precise with one Roger Murphy scanning the web-site every week to devour every syllable falling from this table.’
      • ‘Perhaps it's just that the jurors are taking their mission very seriously and are reviewing every syllable of every bit of the testimony several times over.’
      • ‘Fully deserving of every syllable of praise it has received, this album should gain a very healthy cult following. - Mike Hogan’
      • ‘It is a tribute to the fierce talent of Diamond, and the skilful compiling of Dominic Lawson, that in every other syllable of this book the man feels most incredibly alive.’
      • ‘All of those can be rationalized or ignored by people who are now going over every syllable Cindy Sheehan utters.’


[with object]
  • Pronounce (a word or phrase) clearly, syllable by syllable.


Late Middle English: from an Anglo-Norman French alteration of Old French sillabe, via Latin from Greek sullabē, from sun- ‘together’ + lambanein ‘take’.