Lost Syllables

Pronunciation | Speaking | Listenings


No matter how good your English grammar and vocabulary may be, if your pronunciation is so bad that nobody can understand a word you say, then your English won't be much good as a means of communication. You might be good at grammar, have a broad vocabulary, and be able to explain all the aspects and tenses of English, but it's not much good if you can't be understood when you speak. I have designed these Activities to help you to improve your pronunciation, as well as other areas of your English.


It's not easy to teaching speaking skills remotely through a website, however good the site is. To really practice your speaking skills, you need someone to speak to who can correct your mistakes as you go. The Activities here will go some way to helping you to improve your speaking skills by helping you to mirror the speech you hear in the lesson. In this way, you can notice how your speech differs from that in the Activities and, by recording your own speech, you can adjust your pronunciation to more accurately match that in the Activities.


Reading is the easiest way to take in English. Listening is a much harder skill and one that has to be developed as you study the language. There are lots of speech features that arise when native English speakers speak English. These speech features, such as elision, simplification, intonation, stress, and rhythm, and the way in which speakers may miss out sounds or whole words, are important to understand if you are to be able to listen to and fully understand spoken English. These Britlish Library Activities will help you to develop you listening skills.  

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Lost or dropped syllables are an important feature of British English pronunciation. Every word has at least one syllable, and many have more. Some words lose a syllable when speaking in order to make it easier to keep the underlying rhythm of English. This lesson explains in detail what syllables are and shows you which words lose syllables when speaking. The exercises in the interactive quiz give you some practice in hearing the dropped syllables and will help you to practice dropping the syllables yourself to sound more natural and fluent.


Lost Syllables Sounds British Syllables are Important Every word has at least one syllable. Many words have two or more syllables. Identifying the number of syllables in an English word is an important skill. It is important because the timing of English pronunciation is based on word stress. Word stress depends on syllables. What is a Syllable? A syllable is a unit in a sequence of sounds made when speaking. For example, in the word dog we have one syllable, dog. Dog is a monosyllable. It is a monosyllabic word. Other words with two syllables are disyllabic like the word English. En.glish / ˈɪŋ.ɡlɪʃ /  Trisyllabic words have three syllables. Syllable is a trisyllabic word. Sy.lla.ble / ˈsɪl.əb.l̩ /    Polysyllabic Words  Polysyllabic words have more than three syllables. Polysyllabic can also refer to any word with more than one syllable. Polysyllabic is a polysyllabic word. It has five syllables. / ˌpɒ.lɪ.sɪ.ˈlæ.bɪk /  Onset You can see that all syllables contain a vowel sound supported by consonants. Most syllables have an onset which consists of one or more consonants. English allows some multi-consonant onsets. Your language may not.   Nucleus The onset is followed by the nucleus. The nucleus is normally made up of the vowel, and the nucleus forms the peak of the syllable. The smallest possible syllable consists only of the nucleus. The monosyllabic words eye and ear both have only a nucleus. eye / aɪ / ear / ɪə / Coda The nucleus can be followed by a coda – this literally means tail. A nucleus that is not followed by a coda is called an open or free syllable. A nucleus that is followed by a coda is called a closed or checked syllable. English allows both closed and open syllables. Vowels Though most syllables contain a vowel as their nucleus, the vowel may be a pure vowel or a gliding vowel. Remember that the pure vowels are found in the top left part of the chart. The gliding vowels are found in the top right part of the chart.   Pure Vowel Nucleus The word bed is monosyllabic because it contains just one syllable. It also has an onset, a nucleus and a coda. The onset is the consonant sound / b /. The nucleus is the pure vowel / e /. The coda is the consonant sound / d /. bed / bed / Gliding Vowel Nucleus The word bike is monosyllabic because it contains only one syllable. It has an onset, a nucleus and a coda. The onset is the consonant sound / b /. The nucleus is the gliding vowel / aɪ /. The coda is the consonant sound / k /. bike / baɪk / No Coda The word boy is monosyllabic because it contains only one syllable. It has an onset and a nucleus, but it does not have a coda. The onset is the consonant sound / b /. The nucleus is the gliding vowel / ɔɪ /. There is no coda. boy / bɔɪ /  Syllabic Consonants In some words, the peak of the syllable is formed by a consonant not a vowel. We call this a syllabic consonant. Such words include: cotton / ˈkɒt.n̩ /  cattle / ˈkæt.l̩ /  listen / ˈlɪs.n̩ /  drizzle / ˈdrɪz.l̩ / Stress Markers The stress markers are the little apostrophe-like and the little comma-like marks that you find within the pronunciation symbols in a good dictionary. The word about is written phonetically as / ə.ˈbaʊt /. The / ˈ / stress marker shows that the stress is on the syllable following it. This is the main stress in a word. Every English word has a main stress.  Secondary Stress Some words have secondary stresses, too, and these are shown by the / ˌ / marker. Mountaineer has a main stress and a secondary stress / ˌmaʊn.tɪ.ˈnɪə /. The secondary stress is on the first syllable, while the main stress is on the third syllable. The second syllable is unstressed.  Confusing Words Sometimes words have fewer syllables than you might expect. Take the word chocolate, for instance. Many students naturally try to put three syllables in the word chocolate, but it has only two. / ˈtʃɒ.klət / Likewise, comfortable has 3 not 4 syllables. / ˈkʌmf.təb.l̩ / There are a lot of English words like this. Dropping Syllables What’s your favourite chocolate? Notice the word favourite. Do you hear three or two syllables? The dictionary shows it with 3 syllables: / ˈfeɪ.və.rɪt /  You can say it with 3 syllables, but it’s easier to lose a syllable. A two-syllable favourite makes it easier to keep the rhythm of English. / ˈwɒts jə ˈfeɪv.rɪt ˈtʃɒ.klət / Missing Syllables Many 3 or more syllable words lose a syllable in normal speech. Practice Lets do some practice at dropping syllables in normal spoken English. I’ll say some sentences and you decide if a syllable has been dropped. Repeat the sentence dropping the syllables as I do. Record yourself if possible to check your pronunciation. By learning to mispronounce words properly, you will start to sound more English.   

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