I am learning at English Pronunciation in Use - Advanced. I seen

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Why /ˈlem.ən/ (Cambridge dictionary - UK voice) but read like /ˈlemən/ (Oxford dictionary - UK voice)?

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I feel dot . in /ˈlem.ən/ was wrong. Please exlain for me!

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  • 3
    Cambridge's pronunciation guide says that the dot shows how the word is divided into syllables. It doesn't change the pronunciation. Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 8:38
  • 1
    I use English as a foreign language. Please help me understand, why a syllable is not equal a sound in case of lemon word? Why not /ˈle.mən/?
    – Vy Do
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 9:48
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    I don't know why Cambridge divides the word up that way. According to this website, when there is one consonant between two vowels, the break should be after the first vowel! Anyway, as I said, it doesn't affect the pronunciation. Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 10:02

1 Answer 1


Syllables are hard. An English syllable can generally be understood to have a nucleus that is a vowel or dipthong, a initial sound that is a consonant or blend of consonants and a coda that is also a blend of consonants. So "lem" clearly has an initial "l" and a coda that is "m", whereas "mon" has an initial "m".

But when sounds occur between two nuclei, how is one to decide if they are the coda of the first syllable, or the initial sound in the second? Some doubt that there is actually any rational way to do this. That is, "le-mon" and "lem-on" would sound identical if spoken at normal pace. You would only hear a difference if you were speaking with an unnatural pause between the syllables.

If there is no real difference in pronunciation, is there a rule that can be consistently applied? A rule is the "maximal initial" rule. That is put as many consonant sounds in the initial part of the syllable. Applying this rule yields "le-mon". But for example in "abdicate", the consonant cluster "bd" doesn't occur as an initial blend, so "b" must be part of the coda and "d" must be part of the initial sound of the second syllable: "ab-di-cate"

This then gets muddled up with hyphenation, since sometimes the natural place to put a hyphen doesn't fit the syllables defined as above. "Lemon", for example is probably too short to hyphenate at all.

  • 1
    Part of the reason for the syllabification is that lemon can be pronounced with a syllabic /n/ in the second syllable, which would mean it would have to be divided /lem.n/ because /mn/ isn't a valid syllable. I think it's something that would vary between speakers, and isn't necessarily as clear and obvious as a learner might hope for.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Sep 2, 2023 at 11:03

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