Improve Your American English Pronunciation with Syllables

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If you want to get more fluent in English or improve your pronunciation and accent, then it's time to make sure you have your syllables in order. In this lesson, we cover what syllables are and how to count syllables, and we even included a syllable quiz for you to test your understanding of syllables!

If you want to improve your English pronunciation then you need to know about syllables.

If you’re ready, let’s hop into this lesson.


First of all, what are syllables? If someone asked you that right now, would you be able to explain it to them?

Even at the advanced level of knowing a language, we sometimes need to back track for a moment to make sure we’ve covered all the bases. And syllables are at the very core of our language.

So, what are syllables?

Syllables are the building blocks of words in the English languages. In any given word, each syllable has one vowel sound (like when you say ha!) or can have a combination of a vowel and one or more consonant sounds (like when you say hat).

You can think of a syllable as a beat. These beats are what give our language rhythm.

A syllable is the unbroken piece of speech that can be found in a single word, which consists of a vowel sound (but not always a vowel, like in the word psst), a diphthong, or a syllabic consonant.

Quick side note about “psst”. That’s the sound we make in a whispered tone when we want to alert the listener that we have some secret or confidential information that we only want to share with them. In other words, you could say “Psst, Fred, don’t tell anyone, but I’m going to leave this party early.."

Alright back to syllables.

Every syllable of each and every word has to have at least one vowel sound. A vowel can stand alone in a syllable, as in o•pen and an•i•mal. A syllable can also be surrounded by consonant sounds like pet, pic•nic and won•der•ful.

Words can have one, two, three or more syllables.

If a word has one syllable it’s called a monosyllable or a monosyllabic word

If a  word has more than two syllables it is called a polysyllable or a polysyllabic word.

The way you can count syllables in a word is by placing the top of your hand directly under your chin and count how many times your jaw hits the top of your hand. However many times your jaw hits your hand is the number of syllables there are in the word.

Let’s have a look at a few examples of syllables in various words.

We’ll practice together and then I’d like for you to test your knowledge as well with a little quiz.

But first, let’s practice together.

Tea - how many syllables ? How many times does the top of my hand hit my jaw? Once. So there is one syllable  

Quiet - how many syllables? Two.

Quietly - what’s the number of syllables here? Three.

When you’re doing this exercise of counting the number of syllables you’ll have to slow down your speech and exaggerate it just a bit. Obviously when we talk we don’t do it in this way, but it will help you sound out words when you’re reading English out loud and it’ll help you improve your accent, pronunciation, and intonation.

When you look up the word in a dictionary online or in an actual book, you’ll generally see dots or slashes. This shows the different syllables in the word. And the pronunciation of the word is seen between the slashes. For example in the word umbrella, we hear three spoken syllables. And in the word business, we hear two spoken syllables.

Ok now it’s your turn to practice.

This is the little quiz. I’ll give you the word and I’l like for you to try and figure out the number of syllables. I’ll give you a moment to think and then I’ll share the correct number of syllables so that you can check your answer.

Ready? Ok let’s go.

One syllable.

Two syllables.

Three syllables.

Three syllables.

Two syllables.

One syllable.

Two syllables.

Two syllables.

One syllable.

One syllable.

Two syllables.

Three syllables.

Alright, amazing work. That wasn’t easy if you’ve never counted syllables before.

In addition to using the top of your hand and counting the number of times your jaw hits the top of your hand, you can also write the word in phonetic transcription. Using IPA, the International Phonetic Alphabet you’ll be able to see the difference between a vowel and a consonant cluster. For example in the word advanced we have two vowels and a consonant cluster. We have the sound aah, then vaa, then nst. And in the word obsessed, we have uh, eh, and sst. So that’s another way you can discern the number of syllables in the word.

And I’d like to point out that understanding syllables will help you with comparatives and superlatives. For example, with noise, noisy, noisier, and noisiest you’ll be able to beat out the sounds in these words and pronounce them correctly.

As you can see, knowing how to count syllables will help you improve your pronunciation. You’ll be able to get the gist of the rhythm of the English language, which will also help your intonation, emphasis, and inflection patterns.

A great way to practice sounding out syllables is reading aloud. Read a passage of a book or read an article aloud to yourself. Count out the syllables and make a physical or mental note of it for the future. And the next time you encounter this word or want to use this word in your own conversation, you’ll be ready to pronounce it correctly.

As with anything, practice makes progress. So stay focused, continue practicing, and keep up the great work.


Alright Advanced English learners, thanks for joining me in this lesson. If you are watching this lesson on YouTube be sure to give the lesson a big thumbs up and subscribe to the channel. If you’re listening to the podcast version of this lesson and love our podcast, be sure to leave us a 5 star review, that really helps us out! And turn notifications on so you never miss a beat! The full transcript of this lesson can be found on our blog, so be sure to check out advanced english dot co forward slash blog. And while you’re there feel free to sign up for our free newsletter so you can get lessons delivered to your inbox each week! See you in the next Advanced English lesson where we’ll continue advancing your English together! Until then, keep up the awesome work.