A “dropped” syllable is a syllable in the middle of a word that is not pronounced. The unpronounced syllable can even be a single vowel sound in the middle of a word, for example pronouncing “every” as “EV-ree”. The technical term for this phenomenon is “syncope”.
When are syllables not pronounced in words? The short answer is that it is an irregular occurrence, and each word has to be memorized. Due to the irregular nature of dropped syllables, there are no strict rules for whether a syllable will be dropped. Nevertheless, there exist certain patterns.
Where do dropped syllables occur? They occur in words with 3 or more syllables, and the dropped syllable is usually unstressed. Also, words that end with “-ally” frequently have that second-to-last syllable dropped, so that the ending is instead pronounced simply as “ly”. For example: accident
ally, actu ally, basic ally, practic ally, virtu ally (the striked-out letters are not pronounced).
Here are some common examples of words where a syllable in the middle is in the spelling, but not the pronunciation. The stressed syllable is in capital letters:
These are how words are pronounced in everyday, conversational speech, and these pronunciations sound the most natural and native-like. Having said that, if you are emphasizing a word or specifically trying to avoid being misunderstood at that moment (for example, if you are speaking on the phone or with a person standing far away from you), you can generally pronounce them with their “full” number of syllables. For example, you may pronounce “every” as “EH-ver-ee”.
Practice these words at home with this audio file of the word list above! Simply listen and repeat while reading along.
Note that this dropped syllable list is for American English only, not British English. Dropped syllables work differently in British English and their list of words with dropped syllables would look quite different from the list above. If you’re not sure of a pronunciation, Merriam Webster Dictionary is a good resource for American English, plus its website includes audio pronunciation of words.
Happy syllable dropping!