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ANSWERED on Sun 24 Jun 2007 - 3:49 pm UTC by Patricia

Question: What do you call one and a half syllables

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 24 Jun 2007 12:20 UTCSun 24 Jun 2007 - 12:20 pm UTC 

Some words seem to be more than one syllable, but not quite two.  All the 'ile' words for instance:  mile, smile, style.  Pronouncing these words as a single syllable seems forced, and pronouncing them as two syllables seems exaggerated.

Is there a term for these type of 1.5 syllable words?  Are they conventionally considered as one syllable words, two syllable words, or just a special case that doesn't fit?

Thanks guys.




 24 Jun 2007 15:49 UTCSun 24 Jun 2007 - 3:49 pm UTC 

Hi Needhelp,

Thank you for the interesting question and bringing something to our attention that is one of those things that we all do but never think about: 'demi-syllables'.  So, using your example, the word 'mile' is actually made up of two demi-syllables which equal one syllable (not one and a half syllables).

Applied Speech Technology
By Ann K. Syrdal
"...there are over 10,000 different syllables in English...". "The demi-syllable is half a syllable; that is, either a syllable-initial consonant or consonant cluster plus the first half of the vowel..."

An Introduction to Multi-Lingual Speech Recognition
"These consist of half a syllable, from the beginning of the syllable to the middle of the vowel, or from the middle of the vowel to the end of the syllable. Syllables are thus split at the point of maximum intensity. In English, the total number of demisyllables is around 2000. This number can be reduced further by recognising that consonant clusters in syllables are often preceded or followed by affixes, such as when /s/ is added to form the plural of a noun. If such affixes are removed from the consonant clusters used, we end up with around 1600 demisyllables. This is very close to the number of demisyllables in German, which was found to be around 1630."

Recognizing Fast Talkers

Lyric Hyphenator

Finally, you may be interested in taking this quiz!

What American accent do you have?

By the way, thank you for asking about screen capture freeware.  Thanks to Pink's answer, I now have Snippy installed and just love it, it's really neat.

Thanks again,




 24 Jun 2007 16:26 UTCSun 24 Jun 2007 - 4:26 pm UTC 


Thanks a lot for some interesting material.  But I'm not sure that demisyllables are really the answer here.

From what I can make out from the links you gave, any one syllable word can be divided into demisyllables.  It's something linguists made up for who-knows-what reason.  So the word 'but' is two demisyllables, 'buh' and 'uht', but put together, they make a clear-cut on syllable word.  Note that no one gives any examples of what I called one and half syllable words.

I was asking about words that don't seem to fit neatly into the one syllable or two syllable category.  "Mile' for instance, is *almost* two syllables:  my-el.  But not really.  'Styled' is even a better example.  One syllable, or two?

In truth, I thought this would be a straightforward piece of research that I was too lazy to do on my own. But perhaps I was wrong there.

This is only a $5 question. so clearly, it doesn't warrant a lot of effort on your part.  But if you can scratch around a bit more and let me know if anything shows up, I would appreciate it a lot.

Thank you.  Also, thanks for reminding me about that screen capture question.  Yeah, it's a cool program.


Roger Browne 


 24 Jun 2007 16:28 UTCSun 24 Jun 2007 - 4:28 pm UTC 

I wonder at what point two demisyllables becomes two syllables.

My kids pronounce "mile" as "my-yul" and I think anyone listening to them would count it as two syllables.

And I once lived in a part of Melbourne where "film" was "fillum", also unambiguously two syllables.




 24 Jun 2007 18:40 UTCSun 24 Jun 2007 - 6:40 pm UTC 

Hi. Just a note to let you know that I've read your message and will get back to you as soon as possible (something has come up that I must attend to). I understand your question and I agree, it would be nice to find a good example.

Till later,




 24 Jun 2007 19:22 UTCSun 24 Jun 2007 - 7:22 pm UTC 

No rush.  Take your time.  Like I said, it's a cheapskate's question, so anything you can provide beyond what you've already done is just icing on the cake.




 24 Jun 2007 22:56 UTCSun 24 Jun 2007 - 10:56 pm UTC 

They're kind of the opposite of diphthongs, aren't they?  I think the degree of partitioning into two syllables (or at least more than one) is a regionalism.  Where I come from, "mine" is typically pronounced, "my-inn," very nonstandard and very regional, and I took pains to unlearn it when I left the area.

But the -ile sounds are a little different.  It is hard for native English speakers to pronounce "mile" with one single clear, pure vowel sound.  Speakers of many other languages, however, such as German and Japanese, keep those vowels clean and don't shade the i into a second (half) syllable.  When they do this, we hear them speaking with an "accent."

The positioning of the tongue in pronouncing the l may make a difference.  I don't know the linguistic term for it, but we say the l much further back on the tongue than you hear it in European languages (I am hearing Ingrid Bergman's voice as an example).  It is easier to keep the vowel clean when the l is at the tip of the tongue than when you half swallow it.





 25 Jun 2007 00:46 UTCMon 25 Jun 2007 - 12:46 am UTC 

Hi Needhelp,

I'm going to stick with my original answer of the term demi-syllable, it is the only description that I've come across and it makes sense as described. Many websites confirm, more or less, that the words are monosyllabic, but I've not been able to find a term for them other than that they contain two demi-syllables.

Fred Cummins, Department of Linguistics, Northwestern University
"With others, such as hour or fire, there may be no good answer to the question of how many syllables there are. So although syllabification is easy most of the time, it sometimes just isn't clear."

How Many Vowel Sounds Are There in English?
by David Deterding, National Institute of Education
"The third issue is the most complex. It rests on a judgement about how many syllables there are in hire and hour. If the answer is one, then triphthongs must exist as single vowels, as each syllable can only have one vowel. But if hire and hour are judged to be bisyllabic, then we can say the first syllable has a diphthong and the second syllable has /ə/, and in this case there is no need to include triphthongs as single vowels. To make things worse, many people consider hire to be mono- syllabic but higher to be bisyllabic, even though they are pronounced in exactly the same way.
Roach (2000:24) lists five potential triphthongs, the vowels in liar, hour, layer, loyal and lower, but he leaves it open whether they should be regarded as separate vowels or not..."

Basic Syllable Rules
"1. To find the number of syllables:
---count the vowels in the word,
---subtract any silent vowels, (like the silent "e" at the end of a word or the second vowel when two vowels a together in a syllable)
---subtract one vowel from every dipthong, (diphthongs only count as one vowel sound.)
---the number of vowels sounds left is the same as the number of syllables.
The number of syllables that you hear when you pronounce a word is the same as the number of vowels sounds heard. For example:
The word "came" has 2 vowels, but the "e" is silent, leaving one vowel sound andone syllable.
The word "outside" has 4 vowels, but the "e" is silent and the "ou" is a diphthong which counts as only one sound, so this word has only two vowels sounds and therefore, two syllables."

And last but not least, a questioner on our dearly departed GA tackled the question of "Counting syllables in 'fire' and other words".

Counting syllables in "fire" and other words

I hope I've been able to help at least a little!




 25 Jun 2007 01:35 UTCMon 25 Jun 2007 - 1:35 am UTC 

The information in the clarification was terrific, and really led to some good write-ups on the very topic, especially the old GA question on pronouncing hire or hour or whatever it was (I'm suffering syllable overload at the moment).  Thanks to all who contributed their thoughts and such.




 25 Jun 2007 11:14 UTCMon 25 Jun 2007 - 11:14 am UTC 

And then there is "prism".  :-)

Great answer, clarifications and comments.

A quick search for "demi-syllable" makes me think that the term is something thought up by linguists involved in speech identification, perhaps specifically related to electronic speech identification.
The expression may be useful and meaningful in that context, but the grammatical definition of a syllable sticks to the written word, ignoring regional and general difficulties with pronouncing some pairs of adjacent consonants without introducing a "schwa" (inverted e  - I learned something - and assume it is not pronounced "squaw") or tendencies to use a diphthong ("my-ull").




 26 Jun 2007 09:19 UTCTue 26 Jun 2007 - 9:19 am UTC 

..."many people consider hire to be mono- syllabic but higher to
be bisyllabic, even though they are pronounced in exactly the same way."...

Well, I'm English by birth and education and I don't pronounce "hire" and "higher" in the same way. "Hire" is quick, light and with almost no "r" - almost like "high"; "higher" is pitched lower, with two clear syllables "Hy-uh".

It's a question of regional accent as much as anything. The phonetic alphabet (which includes the useful schwa) is really useful for transcribing pronunciation differences.




 26 Oct 2016 21:02 UTCWed 26 Oct 2016 - 9:02 pm UTC 

I agree with syllabification based on pronunciation.  However, consider my situation where a simple word like "car" is pronounced locally with two, clear syllables sounding like "cow" "er."  It's a mad, mad linguistic world . . .




 11 Nov 2016 15:42 UTCFri 11 Nov 2016 - 3:42 pm UTC 

I will take advantage of this thread resurrection to quote Blackadder on syllables.

Yes, another great Christmas tradition: explaining the rules eight times to the Thicky Twins. The round hasn’t in fact started yet. It’s got to be a specific book. For instance, if it was The Bible, I would go like that [holding up two fingers] to indicate that there are two syllables in it…

Two what?

Two syllables.

Two silly bulls? I don’t think so, Blackadder — not in The Bible. I can remember a fatted calf, but, as I recall, that was quite a sensible animal. Oh, ah! It’s it, um, er, Noah’s Ark, with the, er, two pigs, two ants, and two silly bulls? Is that it?

Two syllables.


Look, we’re getting confused; let’s start again, shall we?

No, let’s not, Blackadder. I think the whole game’s getting a bit sylla, to be honest. How about a nice Christmas story instead?


David Sarokin 


 11 Nov 2016 15:52 UTCFri 11 Nov 2016 - 3:52 pm UTC 

Good one!


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