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SYLLABLE. The smallest unit of SPEECH that normally occurs in isolation, consisting of either a vowel alone (as in the pronunciation of ah) or a combination of vowel and consonant(s) (as in the pronunciation of no, on, and non). Some consonants can be pronounced alone (mmm, zzz), and may or may not be regarded as syllables, but they normally accompany vowels, which tend to occupy the central position in a syllable (the syllabic position), as in pap, pep, pip, pop, pup. Consonants occupy the margins of the syllable, as with p in the examples just given. A vowel in the syllable margin is often referred to as a glide, as in ebb and bay. Syllabic consonants occur in the second syllables of words like middle and midden, replacing a sequence of schwa plus consonant; here, the time needed to pronounce the SCHWA is transferred to the following consonant: for example, in the pronunciation /ˈmidḷ/ for middle and /ˈmidṇ/ for midden. As the examples show, a syllabic consonant is marked phonetically with a subscript vertical dash (ˌ). See L, M, N, R.

A syllable standing alone is a monosyllable, and may be a word in its own right, as with a, an, big, cat, no, the, yes. A word containing many syllables is a polysyllable or polysyllabic word, such as selectivity and utilitarianism. A disyllable or disyllabic word has two syllables, a trisyllable or trisyllabic word has three. See BREVE, HYPHEN, MACRON, RHYTHM, ROOTWORD, TONE.

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syl·la·ble / ˈsiləbəl/ • n. a unit of pronunciation having one vowel sound, with or without surrounding consonants, forming the whole or a part of a word; e.g., there are two syllables in water and three in inferno. ∎  a character or characters representing a syllable. ∎  the least amount of speech or writing; the least mention of something: I'd never have breathed a syllable if he'd kept quiet. • v. [tr.] pronounce (a word or phrase) clearly, syllable by syllable. DERIVATIVES: syl·la·bled adj. [usu. in comb.] poems of few-syllabled lines.

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syllable XIV. — AN. sillable, alt. of OF. sillabe (mod. syllabe) — L. syllaba — Gr. sullabḗ, f. sullambánein take, put, or bring together, f. SYL- + lambánein take.
So syllabary set or table of syllables. XVI. — n. sg. of late L. syllabārius. syllabic XVII. — medL. syllabicus — Gr. sullabikós. syllabication XVII. — medL. syllabification XIX. — medL. syllabize divide into syllables. XVII. — medL. — Gr.