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BS''D
3.2  Syllable Classification

Hebrew Syllables -

Basic Syllable Classification

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Hebrew syllables can be classified as either:

  1. Open or Closed
  2. Long or Short (or Reduced)
     

Open or Closed
A syllable is called “open” when it does not end with a “stopping” sound; otherwise it is “closed” (thus “ma” is an open syllable but “mat” is a closed syllable). We will indicate the status of open syllables with an (O) and a closed syllables with a (C).


Long or Short (or Reduced)
Hebrew vowels can be either long, short, or reduced. (Some grammars divide between “unchangeably long” vowels (full vowels) and regular long vowels. Thus Cholem Vav would be an unchangeably long vowel whereas a Cholem would be called a regular long vowel.)  Reduced vowels are really a type of sheva, and may be considered as either part of the following syllable or as a syllable on their own. In some cases it is perhaps easier to divide the word’s syllables with the vocal sheva as its own syllable - though in actual practice you should consider the sheva (and its chateph cousins) as part of the following syllable).


Divide and Conquer
Here are a few examples of how you might analyse a
Hebrew word and classify its syllables.

Example 1
Here we know there are two syllables, since there are two vowels. The first syllable is Lamed with Segol. We know Segol is a short vowel. The first syllable is an open syllable since it does not end with a consonant. We transliterate the syllable as “le-”.

The second syllable is Chet with a Segol ending with a final Mem. Thus we know that this is a short, closed syllable. We transliterate it as “chem”.

Together, the word is transliterated “le-chem” or “lechem.”

Lechem

Example 2
Here again we know there are two syllables, since there are two vowels. The first syllable is Nun with Cholem Vav - a long vowel. The first syllable is an open syllable since it does not end with a consonant. We transliterate the syllable as “no-”.

The second syllable is Tav with a Tsere ending with a final Nun. Thus we know that this is a long, closed  syllable. We transliterate it as “ten”.

Together, the word is transliterated “no-ten” or “noten.”

Noten

Example 3
In this word we know there are three syllables, since we count three vowels. The first syllable is Aleph with Chateph Segol - a reduced (short) vowel. The first syllable is an open syllable since it does not end with a consonant. We transliterate the syllable as “e-”.

The second syllable is Lamed with a Cholem. Thus we know that this is a long, open syllable. We transliterate it as “lo”.

The third syllable is Hey with Chireq Yod ending with Mem sofit, so we know it’s a closed long syllable. We transliterate it as “him”.

Together, the word is transliterated “e-lo-him” or “elohim.”

Elohim

Example 4
In this word we again detect there are three syllables, since we count three vowels. The first syllable is Ayin with Tsere Yod - a long vowel. The first syllable is an open syllable since it does not end with a consonant. We transliterate the syllable as “ei-”.

The second syllable is Nun with a Tsere Yod. Thus we know that this is a long, open syllable. We transliterate it as “nei”.

The third syllable is Khaf with Segol ending with Mem sofit, so we know it’s a closed short syllable. We transliterate it as “khem”.

Together, the word is transliterated “ei-nei-khem” or “eineikhem.”



Return to Unit Three

Eineikhem

 

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