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From Middle English syllable, sillable, syllabylle, sylabul, from Anglo-Norman sillable, from Old French sillebe, from Latin syllaba, from Ancient Greek συλλαβή (sullabḗ), from συλλαμβάνω (sullambánō, I gather together), from συν- (sun-, together) + λαμβάνω (lambánō, I take).


  • (Received Pronunciation, US) IPA(key): /ˈsɪl.ə.bəl/, [ˈsɪl.ə.bɫ̩]
  • (file)
  • Hyphenation: sy‧lla‧ble


syllable (plural syllables)

  1. (linguistics) A unit of human speech that is interpreted by the listener as a single sound, although syllables usually consist of one or more vowel sounds, either alone or combined with the sound of one or more consonants; a word consists of one or more syllables.
    Meronyms: onset, nucleus, coda, rime
    • 2007, Don DeLillo, Underworld: A Novel, New York, N.Y.: Scribner Classics, →ISBN, page 543:
      I wanted to look up velleity and quotidian and memorize the fuckers for all time, spell them, learn them, pronounce them syllable by syllable—vocalize, phonate, utter the sounds, say the words for all they're worth.
  2. The written representation of a given pronounced syllable.
  3. A small part of a sentence or discourse; anything concise or short; a particle.
    • 1622, Richard Hooker, Of the Lawes of Ecclesiastical Politie, 60:
      Then let them cast backe their eies unto former generations of men, and marke what was done in the prime of the World, Seth, Enoch, Noah, Sem, Abraham, Job, and the rest that lived before any syllable of the Law of God was written, did they not sinne as much as we doe in every action not commanded?
    • 1613, William Shakespeare; [John Fletcher], “The Famous History of the Life of King Henry the Eight”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies [] (First Folio), London: [] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act V, scene i]:
      Is the King's hand and tongue; and The Archbishop
      Is the King's hand and tongue; and who dare speak
      One syllable against him?

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Related terms[edit]



syllable (third-person singular simple present syllables, present participle syllabling, simple past and past participle syllabled)

  1. (transitive, poetic) To utter in syllables.
    • 1645, John Milton, “A Mask Presented At Ludlow-Castle, 1634. etc.” [Comus] in Poems, 84:
      Begin to throng A thousand fantasies
      Begin to throng into my memory
      Of calling shapes, and beckning shadows dire,
      And airy tongues, that syllable mens names
      On Sands, and Shoars, and desert Wildernesses.


Further reading[edit]