A syllable is a unit of speech which in English consists of a vowel sound or of a vowel sound and one or more consonants. A syllable can be divided into three parts: onset, nucleus and coda/final. Word stress operates on the different syllables in a word. In terms of pronunciation, syllables can be stressed, weakly stressed or unstressed. A stressed syllable carries the main or secondary stress in a word and is pronounced with greater loudness and length and higher pitch. A weakly stressed syllable has little sound prominence and an unstressed syllable receives no prominence. The amount of stress given to a word and the syllables within it depends on how important it is in conveying essential information.
Here are some words showing typical English syllable patterns:
a (indefinite article) – a syllable consisting just of a vowel sound
am – a syllable consisting of a vowel + a consonant sound
jam – a syllable consisting of consonant + vowel + consonant sounds
tram – a syllable consisting of consonant + consonant + vowel + consonant sounds
And here are some words showing different degrees of stress on different syllables:
|on|ly – main stress on ‘on’ and weak stress on ‘ly’
|phone – one main stress
|station – main stress on ‘sta’ with weak or no stress on ‘tion’
|Un|nec|es|sari|ly – main stress on 'sar', weak stress on 'un', 'nec', 'ess', 'ly'; weak or no stress on 'ri'
Richards, J. and Schmidt, R. (2010). Longman Dictionary of Language Teaching and Applied Linguistics, 4th edition. Harlow: Pearson.
Stirling, J. (2011). Teaching Spelling to English Language Learners. Lulu.com
Thornbury, S. (2006). An A-Z of ELT. Oxford: Macmillan.