Silent Syllables

Some words in English pronunciation can lose a syllable when they are said quickly. Listen to the word SPECIALIST said twice:

1. /ˈspɛʃəlɪst/
2. /ˈspɛʃlɪst/

The schwa sound /ə/ is optional, so you might say SPE-CIA-LIST, or you might say SPEC-LIST. The word can be two or three syllables in length.

When can silent syllables occur?

Silent syllables are common in words of three or more syllables where there is a weak vowel sound followed by one of /l/, /r/ or /n/. Both pronunciations of these words are correct, though in connected speech, the silent syllable is more likely in most cases.

Some common examples are:

chocolate /ˈtʃɒk(ə)lət/
misery /ˈmɪz(ə)ri/
temperature /ˈtɛmp(ə)rətʃə/
bakery /ˈbeɪk(ə)ri/
family /ˈfam(ə)li/
average /ˈav(ə)rɪdʒ/
restaurant /ˈrɛst(ə)rɔːnt/
delivery /dɪˈlɪv(ə)ri/
gardener /ˈɡɑːd(ə)nə/
especially /ɪsˈpɛʃ(ə)li/

The weak vowel sound that will be silent if a silent syllable appears, is in brackets in the IPA transcriptions: (ə). 

Learn English IPA (44 sounds)

Use the interactive IPA chart and practice activities to master the sounds of English.