Linguistics defines syllables as units of word, which are uninterrupted sounds, composed of consonants, vowels, and a combination of both. Syllables play an important role in understanding speech in any language, especially Hebrew.
Hebrew words are divided into syllables. Hebrew has two basic rules in dividing words into syllables:
Rule A. – The number of syllables equals the number of vowels
Excluding minor exceptions, Hebrew syllables begin with a consonant and end with a vowel or a consonant. Given that every syllable has one vowel, you can conclude that the number of syllables in a word equals the number of vowels.
Rule B. – Syllables are "Open" or "Closed"
Closed syllables end with consonants. Open syllables end in vowels or half-vowels. Open syllables do not end with a stopping sound. For example "ca" is an open syllable, while "cat" is a closed syllable.
How to Analyze Hebrew words and syllables:
Example 1: שֶ| מֵן since there are two vowels, we can conclude that there are two syllables.
The first syllable is a SHIN with a SEGOL. The first syllable is an open syllable since it ends with a vowel. It's translated an "SHE". The Second syllable is a MEM with a TZERE with a nun following it; hence we know that it is a short syllable – it is translated as "MEN". The word is pronounced – "SHEMEN".
Example 2:שו| מֵר this word is comprised of two syllables as well. The first syllable is a SHIN with a VAV and a CHOLAM. This syllable is an open one since it ends with an opened sound. The first syllable is pronounced as "SHO". The second syllable is a MEM with a TZERE ending with a RESH. This is a closed syllable. This syllable is pronounced – "MER". Pronunciation of the full word is "SHOMER".
there are two main kinds of pronunciation of words in Hebrew: Words which the last syllable is stressed (in Hebrew – "MILERA") and word where the syllable which precedes the last is stressed (in Hebrew – "MIL'EL"). In formal Hebrew, the first form is more frequent. However in everyday speech one can find many words of both kinds. Differentiating between the two kinds of word have to do with distinguishing between long and short vowels.
Although in the beginning of your Hebrew studies, you won't necessarily be an expert in differentiating syllables in a word by means of grammatical rules. With the help of the examples and rules given in this lesson you'll be able to divide words into syllables and make it easier to speak and read Hebrew. In Israel, dividing words in to syllables, constitutes as a substantial part of early elementary studies, learning to pronounce words phonetically.
Differentiating and understanding Hebrew syllables can help you read and pronounce Hebrew words and texts correctly and thus, make understanding and advancing in Hebrew much easier. We invite you to continue on to the next lesson and step ahead in our user friendly Hebrew tutorial site.