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: accidentally, actually, basically, practically, virtually (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:

"Veggie table"

This is a table full of vegetables, nicknamed “veggies”. Therefore, it’s ok to call this a “veggie table”.

broccoli vegetable

On the other hand, this is a vegetable, pronounced “VEJ-tuh-bul”… so be careful not to pronounce it “veggie table”!

accidentally aks-ih-DENT-lee
actually AK-shul-ee
aspirin ASS-prin
average AV-rej
Barbara BAR-bruh
basically BASE-ik-ly
beverage BEV-rej
broccoli BROK-lee
business BIZ-nuss
camera KAM-ruh
Catholic KATH-lik
chocolate CHOK-let
comfortable KOMF-ter-bul
deliberately duh-LIB-rut-lee
desperate DESS-pret
diamond DIE-mund
diaper DIE-per
difference DIF-rence
different DIF-rent
discovery dis-KUV-ree
elementary el-uh-MEN-tree
evening EEV-ning
every EHV-ree
extraordinary ex-TROR-din-ary
family FAM-lee
favorite FAV-rit
federal FED-rul
general JEN-ruhl
generally JEN-ruh-lee
interest IN-trest
interesting IN-trest-ing
ivory IVE-ree
jewel JOOL
jewelry JOOL-ree
laboratory LAB-ruh-tory
Margaret MAR-gret
miniature MIN-uh-cher
miserable MIZ-ruh-bul
mystery MIST-ree
opera AHP-ruh
practically PRAK-tik-lee
preference PREF-rence
respiratory RES-pri-tor-ee
reverence REV-rence
separate SEP-ret
separately SEP-ret-lee
several SEV-rul
sophomore SAWF-more
temperature TEMP-ruh-tcher
theory THEE-ree
torward TORD
traveling TRAV-ling
vegetable VEJ-tuh-bul
veterinarian vet-ru-NAR-ee-un
virtually VER-chuh-lee
Wednesday WENS-day

 

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!

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