Things You Learned in School – Syllables

Remember back in school, when you learned all of those things you thought you’d never need?…

If you’re a writer, you’re gonna need to pick a bunch of them up again.

This blog is here to help.

Let’s start with syllables…

Per the American Heritage Dictionary, a syllable is “a unit of spoken language consisting of a vowel or diphthong alone, of a syllabic consonant alone, or of either with one or more consonants.”


To put it another way, every word is made up of one or more little pieces. If you think of a word as music, each syllable is a beat in that word’s song.

Why do syllables matter to the writer? There’s a bunch of reasons.

  • Certain types of poetry, such as sonnets or haiku, require the use of specific numbers of syllables.
  • When writing lyrics, the number of syllables must fit with the music, or the song becomes un-singable.
  • Using words with different numbers of syllables/lengths creates pattern, texture and flow in your writing, and  chosing different combinations of long and short words can create different effects.
  • Varying the length of words throughout your piece  makes it more interesting.
  • Going from an assortment of word lengths to a series of short, one syllable words builds tension.
  • Long words, especially those of three syllables or more, are great; but too many of them in one piece can make it hard to read/comprehend. Longer words are better used sparingly, to emphasize a message as opposed to obscure it.
  • Even though most people read silently, the sound of words still registers in their heads. A disjointed or choppy rhythm will create one effect; a harmonious or smooth rhythm, a different one.

The words you chose tell your story – but the syllables set the underlying music that effect how that story is heard by the reader. When you’re looking for “just the right word” for a piece, the number of syllables is one of the biggest reasons for whether a word is the right one or not.

So, when you write, give some thoughts to syllables. You’ll make beautiful music together…

Catherine Kane


This entry was posted in Poetry, Prose, Songs, Terms and Definitions, The Process of Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Things You Learned in School – Syllables

  1. Pingback: Things You Learn in School – Sonnets and Rhyme Schemes | catherinekanewrites

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