Sorting Through the Syllable Types

Syllables are the very building blocks of words, and they come in many different types. There are actually six syllable types in the English language, and each one has an exception to its rule. Thus, there are twelve different syllable patterns that make up approximately 75% of the words in our language.

Few adults know that words can be classified into these various syllable types. Many English language speakers, however, intuitively become familiar with the syllable types by the salient features in words. For instance, the vowel -consonant-e syllable type has a vowel, a consonant, and a silent e at the end, as in the word 'c ake'. This syllable type is known as the "VCE syllable type", or the "Silent E syllable type", or the "Magic E syllable type".  This word pattern is taught as a spelling rule in first grade. Through conventional spelling instruction, children become familiar with the spelling patterns that represent some of these syllable types.

The English language was regulated by Noah Webster in his 1806 edition of The Webster Dictionary.  Mr. Webster took on the task of trying to regulate the spelling patterns in American English, by altering some spellings to make English more consistent and phonetic in nature. He devised six syllable types within which 75% of our language could be classified. He then created 12 syllable division rules around the six syllable types, so his readers could understand the pronunciations of the words in the dictionary. Mr. Webster made a great contribution to our language system.

Learning the syllable types helps readers with the decoding process by setting guidelines for sounding out words. For instance, the vowel is always long in a vowel-consonant-e syllable type (except for words which contain the letter 'v', such as the word 'give' - hence the exception to the rule).

Knowledge of the syllable types also assists with the spelling process, by again setting guidelines for encoding purposes. When teaching encoding and decoding, it is prudent to progress through instruction of the syllable types, teaching one at a time, to the point of mastery, before proceeding to the next.

Teaching the Syllable Types

Syllable types can be taught based on the rules that each possess. After two syllable types have been taught, children can perform word sorts by sorting word cards by syllable type. As new syllable types are taught, children can write words in separate columns, based on syllable type, in a dictation exercise. The Teacher can also make a Jeopardy Game that asks questions based on the syllable type rules. Children can additionally keep a notebook which lists the syllable types and their rules, and examples of each type.

Prefixes and suffixes can be added to English base words, and they change the meaning of the base word. Slowly introduce prefixes and suffixes after the closed syllable type has been taught. Teach the meaning of each prefix, and demonstrate how suffixes can change the tense of the word.

Wondering What the Syllable Types Are?

Here is a list of the types, the rules, and an example of each one:

  1. The Closed Syllable:
    1. Has only one vowel
    2. The vowel is short
    3. The vowel is closed in at the end by one or more consonants
    4. Example: 'cat'
    5. The Closed Syllable Exception - the vowel is long but still closed in by one or more consonants at the end (Ex: gold)
  2. The Vowel-Consonant-E (VCE) Syllable:
    1. The vowel is long
    2. The word ends in a silent e
    3. Example: 'cake'
    4. The VCE Exception - the vowel is short and the word has the letter 'v' in it (EX: give)
  3. The R Controlled Syllable:
    1. The vowel is controlled by the letter 'r'
    2. The vowel is not long or short
    3. Example: 'car'
    4. The R-Controlled Exception: the letter 'r' is doubled in a word, such as 'carrot', so the first vowel is short
  4. The Consonant-L-E Syllable (CLE):
    1. The second syllable consists of a consonant, and an 'le' pattern
    2. The first syllable is long
    3. Example: 'table'
    4. Exception: the first syllable is short and a silent 't' is added as a place holder (Ex: castle)
  5. The Open Syllable:
    1. The vowel is long
    2. The vowel is not closed in by a consonant at the end
    3. Example: 'hi'
    4. Exception: The vowel in an open position says a different sound (a schwa) such as in the word 'a/round'
  6. The Vowel Team Syllable:
    1. Two or more vowels make one sound
    2. Example: 'boat'
    3. Exception: the vowel diphthong: two vowels next to one another make two separate sounds (Ex: poem)

It is unfortunate that most schools do not teach the syllable types. Our English language is based around the construction of the syllable types. Many student need to be explicitly taught the 6 syllable types and their exceptions, as well as the 12 syllable division rules. Many students do not intuitively learn these rules, and thus, have difficulty learning the regularities of encoding and decoding. The majority of students in our classrooms today would benefit tremendously from this direct instruction. The syllable type denotes the sound that the vowel will make.

The Orton Gillingham Approach to reading instruction is based around the teaching of the syllable types and the syllable division rules. The Lil' Reading Scientists TM curriculum is an Orton-Gillingham based curriculum which includes syllable instruction through a color-coded alphabetic system. The use of color coding helps students to see the various syllable types and word patterns in a visually explicit manner. This photo demonstrates the Closed Syllable pattern, represented by our Color Coded Sound Blocks, with red consonants and a blue medial vowel. Our alphabet letters are also color coded.

Students progress through the Lil' Reading Scientists TM curriculum and master each level of skill before moving on to the next. Learning the syllable types provides students with new insight into the structure of the English language.

What the Research Says.....


"Understanding word structure for reading, vocabulary, and spelling necessitates knowledge of syllable patterns and morphology. Good readers will learn to break longer words into segments if necessary, supply accent, and relate familiar word parts to meaning when possible".  Louisa C. Moats, Ed.D., Speech to Print

"Six basic syllable configurations can be indetified in English spelling; Noah Webster regulated these to justify his 1806 dictionary's revision of syllables. The syllable types are useful to know and teach because they encourage students to notice similar chunks of print when they are developing automatic word recognition and spelling skills".  Louisa C. Moats, Ed.D., Speech to Print

"Our print system does not represent separate syllables directly; it represents phonemes and morphemes. The syllable 'chunks' that students can be taught to identify are a contrivance of scholars, a tool for attacking longer unknown words. The six syllable types are organized around the vowel in the nucleus of the syllable. The closed syllable is the most common spelling unit in English".  Louise C. Moats, Ed. D., Speech to Print

"The many factors that determine predictability in spelling include sound-symbol correspondences, syllable patterns, orthographic rules, word meaning, word derivations, and word origin".  Louisa C. Moats, Ed. D., Speech to Print

"...spelling often preserves and visually represents meaningful word parts and meaningful relationships between words and often reflects the language from which a word originated". Louise C. Moats, Ed.D., Speech to Print

Jenelle Erickson Boyd, M.Ed., CDP, Author of this Blog, is a Certified Reading Specialist and Certified Dyslexia Practitioner. She is an avid advocate for children with reading issues, a conference speaker, a school consultant, and is the creator of the Lil' Reading Scientists Literacy Solutions TM curriculum. Jenelle can be reached at

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