Syllabification and word stress

A syllable is a unit of sound. It can be a vowel, a diphthong, or one or more vowels combined with one or more consonants.

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Single-syllable words can be formed using one letter or many letters.

a
be
six
look
bought

In most English dictionaries, words that are more than one syllable are divided by a dot or space between the syllables.

Click on the example words to hear the difference between words with one, two, three, and four syllables.

1 2 3 4
through ex·it po·ta·to in·cred·i·ble

Syllable Stress

English words that are polysyllabic (have more than one syllable) always have one syllable that is stressed. In most English dictionaries, the stressed syllable is indicated by a stress mark, a symbol that resembles an apostrophe. The stress mark follows the syllable that is stressed.

For example, in the word incredible, the second syllable (-cred-) is stressed. Here are some examples.

2 3 4
exit oppo·site Febru·ar·y
humid ex·amine in·credi·ble
ma·chine em·ploy·ee psy·cholo·gy

In English, most two-syllable nouns are stressed on the first syllable.

April carrot honor father
Monday lemon evil Mary

Putting stress on the correct syllable is especially important for words that are both nouns and verbs. Usually, if the stress is placed on the first syllable it is a noun. If the stress is placed on the second syllable it is a verb.

noun verb
contest con·test
defect de·fect
insert in·sert
object ob·ject
present pre·sent
protest pro·test
recall re·call
record re·cord

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