Syllabication Rules

Syllables are the beats that compose a word when you speak it.

Decoding Tips for Parents (2) by Mrs. Araujo! ~ This site will break your word into syllables!



Syllabication Rules

WHY STUDY SYLLABLES?  The syllable type controls the vowel sound.  Since vowels can make different sounds, identifying the syllable usually identifies the right vowel sound.   Syllabication teaches students to read unknown words, increases their sight-word vocabulary, and aids in learning how to spell words (Torgesen, 2004; Moats, 2001; Curtis & Longo, 1999). Instruction in syllable skills helps to remediate and increase achievement in word attack, word identification, reading comprehension, and increases fluency at a faster rate (Diliberto, Beattie, Flowers, & Algozzine, 2009). 

WHY DOES THE DICTIONARY HAVE DIFFERENT SYLLABLE RULES?  The difference is that the dictionary divides by morphemes, not phonemes.  In decoding, we have students divide words by syllable division rules as in bi/king.  The dictionary divides by morphemes bīk-ing because they are focusing on the word meaning.  The dictionary puts a macron over the i to tell you the vowel sound is long.

When students are working on decoding, we use syllabication rules.  When they have moved from decoding on to word analysis and morphology, we teach root words and affixes.  The dictionary always uses the latter.

When you are reading, and you are stuck on a word, follow these syllable types to decode the word!


1.   In  CLOSED (VC) syllables there is only one vowel, the vowel is usually short, and there is at least one consonant at the end. 

sad           rab/bit (~ 2 closed syllables)   

This pattern is the most common.  There are 12 variations:  CVC (cup), CVCC (hand), CCVCC (fresh), CCVC (trip), CVCCC (match), CVCCe (judge), CCVCCC (crutch), CCVCCe (grudge), CCCVCC (script), VCC (add), VC (in), VCCC (inch)

Exceptions to closed syllables are the glued/welded sounds:  ang, ank, old, ild, ind, olt, ost as in bang, bank, sold, wild, find, bolt, most

2.  The SILENT E (VCe) syllable is when there is one vowel followed by a consonant and a final e.  The vowel is long and the e is silent.

bone         in/sane 

This is the 3rd most common pattern.  There are 4 variations:  CVCe (race), CCVCe (shave), CCCVCe (strike), VCe (ate).

EXCEPTIONS:  English words never end in v alone, so an e is there.  The vowels are all short as in have, olive, give.

3.  The OPEN syllable (CV) is when the syllable ends with one vowel which will be long.

go            re/fer

This is the 4th most common pattern.  There are 2 variations:  CCV (she), CV (we).

EXCEPTIONS:  The vowels a and i in an unstressed syllable as in Tampa, Alaska, complicated, indicate.

4.  The R CONTROLLED syllable (Vr) is when the vowel sound is changed when followed by r ~ ar, or, and these 3, which sound exactly the same:  er, ir, ur.  Remember:  Her turn first.  Her bird burps.

farm/er    corn         

EXCEPTIONS: When the r is followed by another r, as in carry, berry, hurry, the preceding vowel is often short.

5.  The DIPHTHONG syllable (VV) has a combination of 2 vowels standing together that have one sound.

join          main/stay 

This is the 2nd most common pattern.  There are 12 variations:  CVVC (heat), CCVVC (treat), CVVCC (reach), CVV (pay), CCVV (play), CVVCe (leave), CCVVCC (bleach), CCVVCe (freeze), CCCVVC (sprain), VVC (oat), VVCC (each), CCCVV (three).

Vowel Teams 

Definition: two vowels that say one sound (vowel digraph)

ā ~ ai ay ea ey ei eigh

ē ~ ee ey ea ie/ei y

ī ~ ie igh y

ō ~ oa oe ow

ū ~ ue eu ew 

ǖ ~ ue ou eu ew oe ui oo

other ~ oo aw au oi oy

6.  The CONSONANT LE syllable (Cle) is when a consonant is followed by le to form the syllable.  

bub/ble       ri/fle

EXCEPTION:  When a word ends in -stle, the t is silent as in castle, whistle.

Dividing Words into Syllables

  1. Separate the prefix and suffix
  2. Label the vowels and consonants in the word. (ALWAYS start labeling with the 1st vowel.)
  3. Look for patterns.
  • VC/CV
  • V/CV or VC/V
  • VC/CCV or VCC/CV
  • VV
  • V/V
  • /cle
  • Prefix/
  • /Suffix


  • When dividing “liquid” into syllables – remember that qu has 2 phonemes – /k/ /w/ – that’s where we divide it in speech (lik-wid).  It gets tricky when one phonogram has 2 sounds.
  • Remember that sight words do not necessarily follow the syllabication rules, for example have has a silent e, but a is the short sound.  This is because English words never end in v alone so the e is there.
  • Every syllable has one vowel sound.
  • The number of vowel sounds in a word equals the number of syllables.  home     sub/ject     pub/lish/ing
  • A one syllable word is never divided.   stop   feet   bell
  • Consonant blends and digraphs are NEVER separated.  rest/ing bush/el          reach/ing  Keep this in mind when you have 4 medial consonants.
  • When there are 3 medial consonants, usually the first consonant goes with the first vowel, and the second two go with the second vowel.  This is considered the 1st division rule.  ~ VC/CCV as in con/tract
  • When a word has a ck or x in it, the word is usually divided after the ck or x.  nick/el    tax/i
  • When two or more consonants come between two vowels in a word, it is usually divided BETWEEN the two consonants.  sis/ter  but/ter  hun/gry
  • When a SINGLE consonant comes between two vowels in a word, it is divided AFTER the consonant if the vowel is SHORT.  This is considered the 3rd division rule.  lev/er    cab/in    hab/it
  • . . .but if this doesn’t sound right, divide BEFORE the consonant, to make the vowel long!  ba/sin          fe/ver          ma/jor
  • When 2 vowels come together in a word, sometimes they are sounded separately.  Divide the word between the 2 vowels.  di/et  po/em  ge/ode
  • A compound word is divided BETWEEN the two words that make the compound word.  in/side          foot/ball          tooth/brush
  • tion and ture at the end of a word makes their own syllable.  lo/tion   pos/ture
  • When a syllable or word ends in al or el, these are usually the last syllable.  lev/el   u/su/al
  • The past tense ed at the end of a word forms its own syllable only  when preceded by d or t.  want/ed  fund/ed
  • Prefixes and suffixes makes their own syllables.  un/kind    kind/ness   thank/ful    stuff/ing   dis/like


  • little:   lit tle  (-Cle)
  • petal:   pet al (because pe/tal isn’t a word)
  • turtle:   tur tle  (-Cle)
  • ankle:   an kle (-Cle)
  • riddle:   rid dle (-Cle)
  • arrow:   ar row (Bossy r and Vowel Team ~ ow)
  • nickle:   nick le (ck is a digraph ~ don’t divide digraphs or blends)
  • cotton:   cot ton (2 Closed syllables)
  • student:   stu dent (Open and Closed)
  • teacher:   teach er (Vowel Team and Bossy R)
  • children:   chil dren (2 Closed)
  • pottery:   pot ter y (Closed, Bossy R, Open)
  • learning:   learn ing (Vowel Team, Suffix)
  • textbook:   text book (Closed, Vowel Team)
  • watching:   watch ing (Closed, Suffix)
  • screaming:   scream ing (Vowel Team, Suffix)
  • misbehaving:   mis be hav ing  (Prefix, Open, Closed, Suffix)
Notice how many of the rules overlap, like the Cle (consonant le) staying together….
Identify and Remove Affixes Divide Between the Consonants Closed 1st Syllable (short sound)VC/V Open 1st Syllable (long sound)V/CV 
act/or  hel/met  civ/il  clo/ver
loud/er  af/ter  plan/et  do/nate
pay/ment  en/joy  prof/it  rea/son
play/ful  pup/py  chap/el  o/val
pre/view  fan/cy  riv/er  ca/ble
sad/ly  den/tist  ol/ive  ba/con
sleep/y  gen/tle  sher/iff  ba/by




Araujo, Judith E., M. Ed. CAGS. “Syllabication Rules.” Mrs. Judy Araujo, Reading Specialist. N.p., 14 Nov. 2012. Web. <>.

Credit to Mary Briggs for teaching these rules at the Orton Gilliingham course at the Commonwealth Learning Center, Newton, MA, 2010.

Graphics from Google Images.  Right click on them.


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