Reading Multisyllabic Words: Strategies & Examples

Instructor: Kaitlin Oglesby
Multisyllabic words are nothing to be afraid of. By following a few basic tips, anyone will be able to easily read words like antidisestablishmentarianism.

Big Words, No Worries

Everyone has encountered a word that simply looks too big to be true. After all, the majority of words that are used in everyday English are only two or three syllables long. So then why is it that words like antidisestablishmentarianism even exist?

For better or worse, our language has a number of words that do have multiple syllables. However, that does not mean that they are much harder to read. Instead, bigger words can often be broken down into much more readable chunks by examining where the syllables are, using prior knowledge, or falling back on knowledge of the word roots.

Identifying a Syllable

First things first, let's make sure we are clear on what a syllable is. A syllable is the complete sound made to say a word. There are a number of different types of syllables, but the most common are open, meaning that they end in a vowel, or closed, meaning that they end in a consonant.

Take the word 'book', for example. It is a single closed syllable, since it ends in a consonant. Computer, on the other hand, has three syllables - com, pu, and ter. The first and the third syllables are closed, while the second one is open.

So how does that help in pronouncing polysyllabic words? By breaking words down into syllables, the reader can simply 'sound it out' and often come close to being correct.

Using Prior Knowledge

Of course, there are shortcuts to help readers decipher words quicker. Identifying syllables can often be difficult. Instead, readers should try to identify any word that they already know within the greater word. These parts of a word are called orthographic chunks.

Let's go back to that word antidisestablishmentarianism. If you look close, you'll notice three chunks that you probably already know - anti, dis, and establishment. 'Anti' means being against something, 'dis' means undoing something, and 'establishment' means an existing norm. Therefore, whatever this is we can guess that it has something to do with being against disestablishing some institution.

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