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Learning how to spell English words involves knowing how the parts of words are built, spoken, and spelled. In this lesson, learn the English rules of syllabication and the open syllable rule with examples.

What Is an Open Syllable?

Years ago, a mark called a macron or a breve was placed above vowels to symbolize long and short sounds. Today those instructions have changed.

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A vowel is now sounded depending on where it sits in a syllable or where it is placed in a word. Abbreviations like VCV, VVCV, CVC, etc. (with V representing a vowel and C representing a consonant) are used to show the patterns that dictate whether a vowel is long, short, soft, or silent.One of the six kinds of English syllables is called an open syllable. It is written with either a single vowel standing by itself, or with a single vowel at the end of a syllable.

  • I
  • a
  • he
  • the
  • my
  • acorn
  • even
  • final

are all examples of open syllables.In an open syllable the vowel sound is usually long, said like the names of the letters themselves: a, e, i, o, and u; and the syllable is spelled with a single vowel at its end.

This is the case with acorn, even, and final.In order to explain the relationship between sound, syllable, and rules for spelling, let’s back up to review some essential knowledge about the English alphabet.

The English Sound Syllable System

The English alphabet has twenty-six symbols, called letters.

These letters are divided into two groups. One group is comprised of twenty-one letters or consonants. The other five letters are vowels.

Together this collection of consonants and vowels form the English language sound system.This sound system builds letter patterns, which build words. At the same time, the letter patterns convey rules for how each symbol or letter is spelled and pronounced, specifically whether vowels are short, long, soft, or silent. For example:Height has six letters, but only three sounds: a consonant (C), a vowel (V), and a consonant (C). At the same time, the Consonant-Vowel-Vowel-Consonant-Consonant (CVVCC) pattern conveys a rule for the vowel combination ei.

It shows the first vowel, e, is unspoken or silent, so the second vowel, i, is long. Each consonant is a single sound.The dictionary will illustrate this rule like this:/hit/ with a macron, dash over the ‘i’ to represent the long iBut a formula for this example looks like this:h + long i + t = heightUnderstand that syllabication is the term used to identify the division between the sound-symbol patterns and the spelling rules. But, syllabication cannot occur without a vowel; the simple rule to remember is that all syllables must have a vowel. Since height has only one vowel sounded (the long i), the word has only one syllable.

For reading, a consonant-vowel or vowel-consonant pattern (CV or VC) alerts the reader to an open syllable and prompts them to say or write a long vowel. The syllabication rules are written to disclose the rules of vowel pronunciations and to spell syllables easily and accurately.

Examples

In the word acorn, the a (V) stands alone because it is followed by a consonant (C), c, and the consonant, c is followed by a vowel (V) controlled r.

Since the consonant r cannot be separated from the a, that vowel-consonant combination is called a consonant (C) sound. Therefore, the vowel pattern for acorn is VCVCC. At the same time, the initial a is isolated, so it is long and illustrates an open syllable.The word final also has an open syllable.

There is a consonant, f (C), before the single end vowel i, followed by a consonant, n (C), then a single vowel a (V), and a single consonant, l (C). This is a CV pattern followed by a CVC pattern, revealing an open syllable but also a closed syllable. The first syllable ends with a vowel and that vowel is long, so the syllable is open. In the closed syllable, the a is surrounded by two consonants, so that vowel is short–contrasting the open syllable in the beginning of the word. Knowing the syllabication rule for open syllables makes it easier to recognize the closed syllable and pronounce and spell the word.

Lesson Summary

Let’s review. Learning open syllables according to the position of the vowels in a word allows readers to learn the anatomy of words. When a student understands that the English sound system is made of consonants and vowels and that those symbols are spelled according to how they sound, syllabication makes sense. Furthermore, a student can differentiate between syllables, determine where they begin and end, then spell them correctly. The open syllable is a rule that is easy to remember, hear, see, and spell.

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