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Are there some guiding principles on how to divide words into syllables (for spelling/pronunciation) especially in relation to when the division occurs between two vowels?

For example why does 'brief' consist of one syllable and 'client' consist of two syllables. And why words like 'actual' have three syllables and not two. What are the other cases where syllable division between vowels occurs?

Also a direct to any comprehensive source on the above would be much appreciated.

  • Also can someone tell me whether 'dual' in NAmE has two syllables or one? – Mrpeech Sep 11 '17 at 9:50
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    You’ll find English to be a mess in this regard. One extreme example is the word resume, which might have two syllables or three, depending on if you are referring to a verb that means “continue,” or that piece of paper you use when applying for a job (unless you include the accent marks and spell it résumé – but those are often omitted.) – J.R. Sep 11 '17 at 9:51
  • Also, Collins lists four possible American pronunciations for dual, two with one syllable, and two with two syllables. shrugs – J.R. Sep 11 '17 at 9:55
  • user178049, a unit of a word that has a definable vowel sound and not counted as part of another unit with a vowel sound. Could you elaborate what you mean by how you define syllable? – Mrpeech Sep 11 '17 at 9:55
  • Isn't resume from the french, the accent has been dropped over time (though still exists) over the 'e'? – Mrpeech Sep 11 '17 at 9:57
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Well, my friend. There isn't a certain pattern of learning all the new word pronunciations. However, what I can really suggest is the conventioal way of learning new words.

Once you confront a new word,

1- First, you should read or listen to the pronunciation of the word in your lexicon. Personally, I even try to seek alternative pronunciations in several countries or pronunciations in dialect.

2- Then, it's time to read the difinition and examples.

3- You should make your own examples.

4- You should try to reuse the word after a few days so as to elevate it into the range of your active words rather than passive ones.

As you see, looking up the pronunciation is the first and initial step of looking up the meaning of a new word. However, I beleive once someone has got engaged with English for certain years (10 years+), they can guess the correct pronunciation of new words most of the time, especially when in comes to intonation and stress. (It's not only a matter of syllabels).

  • Thanks, that approach is ok for someone with a Romance background where there are many cognates between languages but isn't so useful to someone whose alphabet/script is entirely different ie Arabic, Chinese etc. These speakers can grasp that a word can be broken down into syllables when there is a clear consonant/vowel relationship eg. BAS-KET-BALL. But struggle (understandably) when diphthongs in one word eg. - 'flea' are broken into separate syllables in another - 'area'. The problem is not about the division between vowels per se rather the ability to break words down into syllables. – Mrpeech Sep 11 '17 at 14:56
  • @Mrpeech - If you don't know how to pronounce the word you're reading, you might not be able to tell just by looking at it. Your example of flea and area is a good one. Native speakers guess how to do this based on experience. – J.R. Sep 11 '17 at 17:30

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