Open and closed syllables

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The first syllables in words like “atom”, “centre”, “filter”, “shopping”, “rubbish” and “pullet” contain a “short” vowel, which must be followed by a consonant in English. These are sometimes called “closed” syllables.

The first syllables in words like “paper”, “being” “final”, “hoping”, “brutal” and “future” end with a “long” vowel, and are sometimes called “open” syllables.

Tackling one syllable at a time

When learners start reading and spelling multi-syllable words, it’s useful to get them to practice reading and writing words which contrast “closed” and “open” syllables.

In my Workbook 7 and Workbook 8, I break multisyllable words up using little dots, so that learners get to practice writing lots of different syllable types in multisyllable words before they have to figure out where the syllable boundaries are for themselves.

open syllables

However, most of the students I work with are being encouraged to tackle long words at school well before they get up to my Workbook 7, so I’ve started introducing some input on tackling long words earlier, when they are studying vowel spellings in Workbooks 4 and 5.

Breaking up long words

We start off with compound words made out of words they can already spell, like “catfish”, “suntan”, “dishcloth”, “himself” and “uphill”.

This gets learners in the habit of stopping at the end of each syllable to blend, before proceeding on to the next syllable, and then  putting the two syllables together. In compound words, both syllables are usually stressed and said as they are written – there are no complications from unstressed vowels/weak syllables.

Next, I ask learners to break up words that look similar, but some have a “closed” first syllable, and others have an “open first syllable e.g. “never” (nev-er) and “fever” (fe-ver).

The first step is to say each word one syllable at a time.

Many kids start clapping as soon as you mention the word “syllable”, and this can sometimes be helpful, but sometimes takes their attention away from what’s happening in their mouths. Anyway we together decide what each spoken syllable is, and if there is an unstressed vowel in the word (like the “er” in “butter” or the “ar” in “dollar”) I ask learners to pronounce it as it is spelt.

Sometimes it’s useful to give learners each word written on a little slip of paper, and ask them to cut it in half between the syllables, then copy the two syllables with a space between them.

This helps learners to eyeball each syllable in turn, and say it very crisply, eliminating the blurriness that too often seems to happen in word middles.

Alternatively, I ask learners to assemble each word in two chunks using my movable alphabet (I provide the necessary spellings), then copy it, then write it themselves, saying each syllable as they write.

In general terms, this is how multi-syllable words are tackled in the excellent Sounds Write program, but I use my movable alphabet instead of a post-it note for each grapheme, for what could variously be called recycling or stinginess reasons. I just use a post-it note when I need a spelling that’s not in my alphabet, like the ‘”ti” in “motion” or the “sc” in “science”.

Open and closed first syllable wordlist

Here’s a list of words which contrast initial open and closed syllables.

Sometimes there are a couple of ways a word can be segmented. I know there aren’t really two “n” sounds in “dinner” but when spelling it, I like to break up the doubled “n” and get learners to say “n” twice, to help them to remember to write both letters.

letter “closed” first syllable “open” first syllable
a admit (ad-mit)

atom (at-om)

backing (back-ing)

bassoon (bass-oon or bas-soon)

cabin (cab-in)

canal (can-al)

dragon (drag-on)

fatwa (fat-wa)

habit (hab-it)

laptop (lap-top)

navman (nav-man)

radish (rad-ish)

salad (sal-ad)

salon (sal-on)

travel (trav-el)

April (A-pril)

apron (a-pron)

bacon (ba-con)

basin (ba-sin)

capers (ca-pers)

canine (ca-nine)

draping (dra-ping)

fatal (fa-tal)

halo (ha-lo)

label (la-bel)

navel (na-vel)

radar (ra-dar)

saline (sa-line)

stapler (sta-pler)

tracing (tra-cing)

e denim (den-im)

despot (des-pot)

fencing (fen-cing)

fester (fes-ter)

lemon (lem-on)

level (lev-el)

metal (met-al)

never (nev-er)

pedal (ped-al)

seven (sev-en)

remnant (rem-nant)

render (ren-der)


demon (de-mon)

detail (de-tail)

female (fe-male)

fever (fe-ver)

lemur (le-mur)

lever (le-ver)

meter (me-ter)

neon (ne-on)

penal (pe-nal)

secret (se-cret)

remote (re-mote)

renew (re-new)

Venus (Ve-nus)

i bistro (bis-tro or bist-ro)

clinic (clin-ic)

dinner (din-ner or dinn-er)

driven (driv-en)

given (giv-en)

liver (liv-er)

into (in-to)

lintel (lin-tel)


tidbit (tid-bit)

visit (vis-it)


bison (bi-son)

climax (cli-max)

dilute (di-lute)

driver (dri-ver)

giant (gi-ant)

lifer (li-fer)

idol (i-dol)

liner (li-ner)

pilot (pi-lot)

tidal (ti-dal)

vital (vi-tal)

wider (wi-der)

o boxer (box-er)

colic (col-ic)

comet (com-et)

comic (com-ic)

doctor (doc-tor)

locker (lock-er)

locket (lock-et)

mobbing (mob-bing or mobb-ing)

robin (rob-in)

solid (sol-id)

topic (top-ic)

toxic (tox-ic)

bogan (bo-gan)

colon (co-lon)

cohort (co-hort)

coma (co-ma)

donor (do-nor)

locate (lo-cate)

locust (lo-cust)

mobile (mo-bile)

robot (ro-bot)

solar (so-lar)

topaz (to-paz)

toner (to-ner)

u cupful (cup-ful)

crusher (crush-er)

punish (pun-ish)

rubbish (rub-bish or rubb-ish)

stubborn (stub-born or stubb-orn)

subtract (sub-tract)

tumbler (tum-bler)

tunnel (tun-nel or tunn-el)

thunder (thun-der)

unfit (un-fit)

cubic (cu-bic)

crusade (cru-sade)

pupil (pu-pil)

ruler (ru-ler)

stupid (stu-pid)

super (su-per)

tulip (tu-lip)

tuner (tu-ner)

tutor (tu-tor)

unit (u-nit)

Of course I vary the wordlist depending on the age and likely vocabulary of the learner. I wouldn’t use a word like “fatwa” with a young child, or a word like “navman” with a learner who knew nothing about in-car GPS systems.

I hope you’ll find this list useful in teaching learners how to break words up into syllables, and would welcome any feedback on it.


84 thoughts on “Open and closed syllables

      1. Dorte Gørtz

        Interesting… I’d say great is neither open nor closed, but a double vowel or vowel team syllable.
        I am not native but teach English, and distinguish closed syllable from open by having just one vowel, followed by at least one consonant, since an open syllable has just one final vowel. I work with 6 syllables in the following order: closed, open, magic e, -le, r-inflicted and double vowel. This seems to work with my dyslexic students from Denmark when working with a quite rigid multisensory phonics system.

        1. alison Post author

          The “six syllable types” are used in a lot of programs from the US, and reflect a rhotic accent, in which words like “saw” and “for” have different vowel sounds, and a final “r” is a consonant not part of a vowel spelling. In non-rhotic accents like Australian English, “saw” and “for” have the same vowel sound. The six syllable types approach is I think helpful as a teaching tool, but in linguistics we have many more syllable types: V, VC, CVC, CCVC, CVCC, etc right up to CCCVCCC and even CVCCCC (as in texts), and that’s just for monosyllables. Also, in your classification, the words “red” and “read” (as in I have read a book) are different syllable types, yet they are homophones, so really the six syllable types are relevant to orthography, but not phonology, and I prefer to work in a way that focusses learners’ attention on phonology, since their underlying problem is not a visual one, it’s a phonemic awareness one. I’m interested in word stress and wondering whether exploring the way poets think about word stress – with words that are iambs, trochees, spondees, anapests and dactyls – might be helpful in understanding spelling better. But right now I don’t have much time to explore this, maybe in our next long school holidays.

          1. Lisa

            But if you are doing great by sound and calling it closed, it doesn’t follow that the vowel sound is long???
            I agree with teaching it as a different syllable type – vowel pair or team.

          2. alison Post author

            If your classification system is a phonemic one, the sound “ay” in “great” is the sound “ay” whether it has a consonant after it or not. You can’t call it a “long” vowel in the word “grate” but not a “long” vowel when it’s in the word “great”. But I think your classification system is one based on letters not sounds, and I wouldn’t recommend that. The only way to make sense of our spelling system is to pivot it on the point where the phoneme meets the grapheme, and not get too hung up on the appearance of the letters.

        1. alison Post author

          Hi Virginia, my understanding is that an open syllable is a syllable that ends in a vowel, but in the Six Syllable Types teaching system from the US (which has a rhotic accent), “vowel” seems to mean single vowel letter, not vowel sound.

          Syllables that end in vowels can be spelt with one letter (as in Pa, hi, me, no and flu) or with more than one letter (as in weigh, sea, high, toe and chew). Same goes for syllables that end in a consonant. I’m a speech pathologist so I use a linguistic phonics system that works from the speech sounds to their spelling patterns. The six syllable types classification system works more from the spelling patterns to the sounds, and I don’t find it has the explanatory power of systems like Sounds-Write or Phonographix which work from sound to symbol not the other way around. However it’s a lot better than what is currently going on in schools and if it works for you and your students, all good.

          1. alison Post author

            Hi Angela, Sounds~Write is probably the program I draw on most, though I have a whole lot of other programs and use them if they target a student’s needs well.

        1. alison Post author

          In the ‘six syllable types’ way of thinking, true. But in some definitions, a closed syllable is just one that ends with a consonant, and an open syllable is one that ends with a vowel.

          1. Louise P. Doud

            An Open syllable is one vowel at the end, making a long sound. Vowel Team (vowel pair, vowel digraph) sounds are varied – rarely they sound “short” (bread), more frequently they sound “long” (piece, lie, boat, neutral, play) and sometimes they make completely new sounds (boil, toy, found, cow, cook). These are different categories for Speech and Language pathologists and linguists, but in teaching phonetic decoding they can be grouped as Vowel Teams, and understood by being taught one at a time, often matching the sounds with the language of origin. For instance, the sound in “soup” and “coupon” define those words as coming from French into English, different from “out” and “found”. This kind of information can help a student decide which way to spell the vowel sounds in words. As an O-G instructor, I don’t mention “long” or “short” when teaching Vowel Teams, but name them as unique sounds – A Vowel Team is two vowels together that make one unique sound.

      2. lou

        I am a Literacy Leader in elementary school in the United States. I teach reading using explicit phonics instruction using the 6 syllable types. The word great is a vowel team. ea is an unpredictable vowel team and can make 3 different sounds; long e is most common at 51% of the time, short e is next at 26% of the time, and long a is 24% of the time. The word great would never be closed due to the fact that a closed syllable has only 1 vowel letter followed by 1 or more consonant letters, ie cat, cats.

        1. alison Post author

          Thanks, Lou, that’s I think the OG approach definition, but linguistics dictionaries focus on speech not print, and they seem to agree that a closed syllable is a syllable which ends with a consonant irrespective of vowel spelling.

          1. alison Post author

            In US English, yes, but not in UK English, Queen Elizabeth (who some might say is completely proper) spells it “organise”. This is an Australian website, and we generally prefer UK to US spellings, so for example we write ‘arse’ not ‘ass’. To us an ass is a donkey. We write ‘apologise’, ‘organise’, ‘authorise’ and so on, where you write ‘ize’, see You can thank Noah Webster for this, he was trying to make spelling easier but in fact he made it harder for the majority of the world by creating two ways to spell many words, since a billion people use English as their lingua franca now.

    1. Kylie Brennan

      It’s a vowel team. There are 6 syllable types. Open, Closed, bossy e, vowel teams, r controlled vowels and consonant le.

  1. Wen


    I’m not a native speaker of English, and I have some questions about the rules mentioned above.

    How can learners predict if a syllable is closed or open without knowing the pronunciation of the word in advance? For example, if learners don’t know the pronunciation of “metal”, how could they know the syllables should be marked as “” but not “me.tal”. Sharing similar ending, however, “fatal” is marked as “fa.tal” but not “”.

    Besides, for some syllable markings, they don’t look like how they are actually pronounced, such as “”, “top.ic”, “”. As far as I know, I usually hear them pronounced “a.tom”, “to.pic”, li.ver”.

    I know the rules that long vowels usually appear in open syllables and short vowels in closed syllables, but it’s hard for me to distinguish the type if I don’t know the pronunciation of the word.

    1. alison Post author

      Hi, I think you can’t predict, you just have to try different pronunciations and see if one of them maps onto a spoken word you’ve heard of. That’s what set for variability is about, you know what the options are for breaking a word up (e.g. or me.tal but not meta.l) and then you try the most plausible phonemes for each grapheme, and think about what sounds like a word you’ve heard before (whether you know the meaning or not). I’m not sure that I can explain about the sounds properly in printed form, maybe I should make a video about open and closed syllables. It’s hard for everyone to work out the type without knowing the pronunciation of the word, it’s not just you. We all just try plausible ways of pronouncing it and see if one of them matches a word we’ve heard.

  2. Emily

    It isn’t open or closed, “great” is a vowel team syllable. The E and the A are working together to make the long A sound. In a closed syllable the vowel will always make it’s short sound, and in an open syllable the vowel will always make it’s long sound. A vowel team syllable occurs every time there are two vowels next to each other that are only making one sound. EX. oil, green, spray, boat, main, etc.

  3. Emily

    It isn’t open or closed, “great” is a vowel team syllable. The E and the A are working together to make the long A sound. In a closed syllable the vowel will always make its short sound, and in an open syllable the vowel will always make its long sound. A vowel team syllable occurs every time there are two vowels next to each other that are only making one sound. EX. oil, green, spray, boat, main, etc.

  4. Karen

    Do the words remind and before begin with an open syllable? I know that an open syllable ends with a vowel that has a long vowel sound. The first syllable in both words end with a vowel. However, both vowels have the short i sound according the the pronunciation key in the dictionary. Please clarify whether or not a syllable ending with a vowel can be an open syllable even if the vowel has the short sound.

    1. alison Post author

      In ordinary pronunciation the first syllable in these words is unstressed, so the vowel is the neutral schwa vowel not a stressed vowel, but when teaching kids to spell these words I teach be/fore and re/mind with “be” and “re” as the first syllables, yes. The unstressed vowel is no help to anyone in spelling, you can spell it with any vowel spelling, so it’s best to “upgrade” it to a stressed vowel when spelling. Are you reading the International Phonetic Alphabet transcription of the word or something else. Maybe an American dictionary? I’m pretty sure that in my Australian dictionaries these words have a schwa for the first vowel (but I don’t have them here to check).

      1. Karen

        I was looking at the American Heritage dictionary. In the American Heritage dictionary the “e” in “be” and “re” had the schwa sound. I am writing a lesson on open and closed syllables. I wantrd to make sure I had the correct information for the students.

        1. alison Post author

          An open syllable is just a syllable that ends with a vowel, so I think it’s fine to include these, they are open syllables even though they’re unstressed.

  5. Angela

    What about words/syllables that end in a consonant, but have the sound of a vowel, are they open or closed? For example: Now (open?), Have (closed?)

    1. alison Post author

      Oh dear, I probably should always say “vowel sound” and “consonant sound” shouldn’t I? So many letters can be used to represent both vowel and consonant sounds, even the letter g is part of a vowel spelling in “night” and “thought”. So I generally say “vowel letter” or “consonant letter” when talking about letters specifically, otherwise I’m talking about sounds. To me, the word “now” is an open syllable because the last sound is a vowel, and the word “have” is a closed syllable because the last sound is a consonant.

  6. Fatih


    Sorry, i know some english. Could you help me?

    Mod-el(close) and mo-tel(open) why? i didn’t understand these words

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Fatih, English has a lot of different syllable types, and for native speakers learning to decode words it’s often a case of having the words in your spoken vocabulary. In the case of motel, this is a word made by combining two words (a portmanteau) – “motor” and “hotel” – because as the car became more popular, people were looking for a different kind of hotel, one which offered parking for their car. So it was a “motor hotel” and that became shortened to “motel”. The vowel in the first syllable is the same as in the original word. Sorry it’s tricky, it wasn’t my idea. Alison

    1. alison Post author

      Do you think? I chunk angry as an/gry, where the ‘n’ represents /ng/ as in think, which is only ever post-vocalic in English, i.e. it does not occur in syllable-initial position (though it does in other languages, such as Vietnamese). The /u/ in ‘ugly’ is a checked/short vowel and these do not occur in open syllables in English. I think the only way to chunk ‘ugly’ is ug/ly.

      1. Cheryl

        Alison is correct. In angry, the “ng” is a digraph and digraphs always stay together. In ugly, “gl” is a digraph and it would also stay together.

  7. Dale Glasshess

    Would you please comment on your understanding of syllables that end with “i” (in other words, they appear to be an open syllable), but the “i” has either s short i sound or schwa. This particular configuration is not rare, but happens time and time again. How do you teach it?

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Dale, yes, I have a big list of words like this here: It’s a spelling alternative for the sound “ee” in open syllables. It only appears in one monosyllable (ski) so I just teach it as a spelling alternative for “ee” after I’ve taught the spellings that appear mostly in one-syllable words.

      I start off by working on the comparative and superlative e.g. “here’s silly, now let’s make it into sillier and silliest, see how the y changes to an i? Let’s do some more, funny-funnier-funniest, happy-happier-happiest” and then we go on to observe that this spelling appears in some other words like taxi, alien, India etc. Hope that helps, Alison.

      1. Dale Glasshess

        Allison, thanks for your reply. But it doesn’t really get at what I’m asking. Consider examples like irritate (ir-ri-tate), activity (ac-tiv-i-ty), identify (i-den-ti-fy) . I could produce a nearly endless list. But as you can see, each of these contain an open syllable ending in /i/ that most native speakers pronounce as either a schwa or a short /i/. Are these to be considered open syllables even though the sound produced by the “/i/ is not long? Thanks.

        1. alison Post author

          I don’t know why this matters. I just teach students to break words into syllables and say each syllable as it is spelt, using their “spelling voice”, so they can remember how to spell the unstressed vowels. I don’t know of any evidence that it matters too much whether you chunk the word “activity” as ac-tiv-i-ty or ac-ti-vi-ty or ac-tiv-it-y, as long as you’re pulling the word apart, examining and thinking about its entrails and then putting it back together. In fact, different experts chunk words into syllables different ways. The Phonic Books people break words up along strictly phonemic lines (e.g. they break “cannot” up as “cann-ot”) but others including myself would be more inclined to break this word up on morphemic lines (“can-not”), even though there aren’t really two “n” sounds in “cannot”.

  8. Dale Glasshess

    Would you please explain what is going on when an open syllable ends with a short “i”? My understanding is that open syllables are supposed to end with a long vowel sound. But more often than not, a syllable will end with a short i or schwa i. How is this explained by the six syllable types? Or is there another rule about which I am not aware?

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Dale, I think you’ve accidentally posted your question twice and I’ve just answered most of it below, but I should just add that I am not a fan of the “six syllable types”, I think that this is an idea that comes from print-to-sound thinking not sound-to-print thinking. There are many more than six syllable types in English, and the “consonant + le” syllable isn’t actually a syllable type, it’s a word type. I’ve tried to understand what they are talking about but my training is in linguistics and it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

  9. Huma Quadri

    So for example of if the word is
    sun shine

    will it be closed or open
    cause the first syllable ends with closed and next syllable with an e

    1. alison Post author

      You’re thinking about letters and I’m thinking about sounds, I think that’s the confusion. To my way of thinking, a closed syllable ends with a consonant sound, and an open syllable ends with a vowel sound. So choc-o-late is closed-open-closed, and sun-shine is closed-closed. But I know that people who say there are six syllable types would say that I’m not including all the possible types. But I say the six syllable types are based more on what syllables look like than what they sound like.

      1. Natalie

        We are working on open/closed syllables. The word el/e/ment has 3 syllables and the first and last one are closed, but what is the middle one… or closed? and why? The other example word is trop/i/cal. It has 3 syllables and the first and last one are closed, but what is the middle one.

        1. alison Post author

          I would break element up as el-em-ent and trop-ic-al, so i would say both middle syllables are closed syllables with “short” vowels (though of course in ordinary speech we just say these vowels as schwa). the “al” at the end of “tropical” is an adjectival suffix so I’m not sure why you would say the last syllable is “cal”, when you could use the opportunity to teach a bit of morphemic awareness. All the best, Alison

  10. Mary

    Hi, Alison. Can I ask about a word like “difficult”. Syllable wise, I assume it’s:


    I’m sure you see the problem. The middle syllable is open, yet it pronounced with a short i.

    Is there another rule that explains why the i isn’t long?

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Mary, I’m not sure there is a single, correct way to chunk words like this, I would be inclined to break it up as diff-i-cult (if sticking to one grapheme for each phoneme) or dif-fi-cult (if teaching kids to split up doubled consonants, so taking more of a traditional spelling approach) because the middle syllable is actually just a schwa in my accent, though I would say that syllable in my spelling voice as /i/ as in “pin”. There are lots of words with schwa spelt “i” as a middle syllable, like family, Africa, animal, feminine, holiday and Jupiter, and I’d do much the same for them. I hope that makes sense. Alison

      1. Meena

        I’m sorry I didn’t explain it properly but in one of my assignments there is a question that I’m struggling on I’m not sure what I should be looking at and how to answer. It mentions the piece of text which is

        ‘Although we usually take language for granted, a moment’s reflection will show how important it is in our lives. I some form or another it so dominated our social and cognitive activity that it would be difficult to imagine what life would be like without it. Indeed, most of us consider language to be an essential part of what it means to be human, and it is largely what sets is apart from other animals.’

        The question is ‘would you be able to find a syllable in the text which is both closed and light?’ And then asks me to explain

        I just was wondering if you could help because I’m not sure where to start.

        Many thanks


        1. alison Post author

          Hi Meena, if you’ve been to all the lectures and done all the required reading for your course, and this information was not included, then I suggest you talk to your lecturer or course administrator because they should not be asking you assessment questions about things that they have not taught you, and if you don’t even know where to start, that’s a real worry. All the best, Alison

  11. Lorena Silva

    Are lump, mend, meat, mush, boat, grip, and snip closed syllable words? I am asking because as far as I understand the long vowel sound makes it an open syllable and the vowel has to be at the end, but yet the vowel is in the middle. Which is why I am confused. I would appreciate the explanation. Thank you

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Lorena, as far as I’m concerned a closed syllable has a consonant at the end, and an open syllable has a vowel (so your mouth is more open). Some vowels only occur in closed syllables in English (the “short” vowels, a as in cat, e as in red, i as in hit, o as in got, u as in run, u as in put) but “long” vowels can exist in either closed or open syllables. I hope that’s helpful, though I try to avoid using these kind of metalinguistic terms with my clients, and just to show them the patterns and practice them to mastery without having to talk about short/long vowels and open/closed syllables. Many of my clients have language difficulties and this kind of metalanguage is not really what they need, they are having a hard time learning even more basic language. All the best, Alison

      1. Lorena Silva

        Hi Alison, I understand all you explained and already knew that. My confusion is that there are words like meat and boat that don’t end in a vowel letter but yet are open syllables. Words like love and give that do end in a vowel letter, but are closed syllables. I’m sorry hope you understand where my confusion comes from and what I wished clarified. I did search in Google what closed and open syllables are which is why I’m asking these questions because in Google it said it how I explained in my previous comment. Thank you for your time and response. I just want to better understand to be able to explain/help my daughter. Good day, Alison

        1. alison Post author

          I am not sure what classification system you’re using, but “meat”, “boat”, “love” and “give aren’t open syllables, they all end in a consonant sound. Syllables are mouthfuls of sound, they aren’t about letters. All the best, Alison

  12. Masashi Ng

    There’s something fishy going on. There are occasional words that the single vowel makes their long sounds in a closed syllable.
    Spelling Changes Examples:

    1. alison Post author

      Maybe in your accent that’s true. I speak with a General Australian accent and all the spelling lists on this site are based on the pronunciations given in IPA transcription in my copy of the Macquarie Dictionary (which is a few years old now, I went right through it over a decade ago).

  13. britney p

    Are any of these a closed syllable. timber admit fossil concrete insect kettle traffic funny drizzle doctor kitten setting
    napkin getting better cupful victim hubcap chapter nibble kingdom beggar custom picnic subject hammer dolphin fender batting upset goblet matter hectic nostril batter hopping album collect bitter attic index sentence zipper letter tablet puzzle husband cutting basket hidden

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Britney, this looks like an assignment or test question, so I’ll just answer you in general terms and then you can work it out. Open syllables end with a vowel. Closed syllables end with a consonant. Where the syllable break falls in a two-syllable word depends on how you divide a word into syllables when you’re speaking, and your dialect. You’re commenting on a very old blog post, and these days I don’t really find the distinction between open and closed syllables terribly useful. All the best, Alison

  14. B.J.

    I don`t see any difference between an Open and a Closed Syllable word , Both follow the same pattern

    EG: DUTY open syllable U- followed by Consonant T Closed Syllable STUFF vowel U- followed by Consonant F Also in both the Open and Closes syllables i also see the same C V C structure

    Perhaps you could explain please i see no difference ??

    1. alison Post author

      Open and closed syllables are (I think. I don’t really use this terminology much) are really meant to help kids work out whether to say a “short” or “long” vowel when breaking up multisyllable words. I’d break “duty” into syllables as DU-TY not “DUT-Y” because in the latter, the first syllable rhymes with “cut”. “Stuff” is a one-syllable word so there’s no need to break it into syllables. Hope that makes sense. Alison

  15. Sue

    I have been teaching the syllabication rules as well as spelling patterns to a student and we came up with a couple of patterns that have stumped me –
    1. brightness – how would you mark bright in a 2 syllable word? It is a long vowel but not open.
    2. dangerous – how would you mark the first syllable? It is “welded” and a long vowel sound but not open.

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Sue, I don’t teach formal rules for breaking words into syllables and I think the research suggests that it’s better to start from the pronunciation of a word and get students to say each syllable as they write it, and there isn’t one fixed way to divide up the consonants between vowels in many cases, though in the case of “brightness” that’s a base word with a suffix so I’d just break it up bright-ness. We don’t have the consonant blend tn at either end of a word/syllable in English.

      Rather than chopping words up into syllables, I like to circle them, and then you can have some overlap that shows the reality of coarticulation and the influence of some letters on more than one syllable, so I’d probably have the g in dangerous in both the first and second circle, and the r in the second and third syllable (so circle something like dange er rous) as that’s how I say it. There are some interesting discussions about this on the Spelltalk list serve right now, and how a speech-to-print approach starts with how the person says the word, and as long as there is a vowel in each syllable and English phonotactics are observed, there isn’t really a single, correct way to divide many consonant sequences.

  16. Alex Sam

    i have clear all my doubts related to syllables after reading this wonderfull article thnks for providing a simple understanding article…

  17. Sarah

    Hi Alison,
    Are your workbooks still available? When I click the links, the pages are unfounded. I am wondering if they have moved to another place on your website or if you have discontinued them.

    A marvellous read by the way!

      1. Sarah

        Thanks, Alison! I am looking for Workbooks 7 and 8 as you have cited in this post, but I can only find them up to workbook 5.

          1. Sarah

            Hi Alison,
            That’s quite alright! I completely empathize. Thank you for the link- I’m sure the version 2 workbooks are excellent despite not being updated the way you would like them too!

  18. Louise

    Oh my goodness, reading through this thread has taught me two things – you have the patience of a saint, and this is waaay more complex than I first thought. So my question is, as a tutor of struggling spellers using a Sounds Write approach, how important is it to teach children about open and closed syllables? I thought it might be a way to cue them into more likely sound spellings when encoding, but I am now totally bamboozled myself (EC teaching background so a lot of this is new to me) Is it advisable to teach them this, and why / under what circumstances would it be helpful?

    1. alison Post author

      Hi Louise, I wouldn’t bother telling kids about closed and open syllables, the Sounds-Write approach doesn’t require all that extra verbiage, and still manages to show kids how sounds and syllables work. Sorry to bamboozle you! Alison

  19. Maddy

    Can someone explain to me the rules for navigate


    Would the i be an open syllable? and if yes why do we pronounce the short vowel sound?

    1. alison Post author

      I don’t think there are set rules for syllable division, you can chunk this word as nav-i-gate or nav-ig-ate, either way that medial unstressed vowel would probably be pronounced as in ‘pig’ (‘short vowel”) when you’re saying the word slowly and stressing every syllable. I don’t think teaching about open and closed syllables is terribly helpful for this or lots of other words, sorry. It’s an extra layer of jargon we can all probably do without.

    1. alison Post author

      Struggling to segment ‘especially’? I think I’d focus more on morphemes, rather than syllables, when teaching it. It’s e + special + ly, see I’d first teach words like music-musician, magic-magician, politic-politician, noting that the /sh/ sound is sometimes represented by ‘ci’ in words with Latin suffixes, and then apply this to words with ‘al’ suffixes like official, social, facial, racial, artificial, and special. Then build ‘especially’ from that. Hope that makes sense. Alison


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