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Dear Vocal Judges/Fellow Poets …

A question on syllable counting

By Harmony KentPublished about a year ago 2 min read
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Dear Vocal Judges/Fellow Poets …
Photo by Carl Jorgensen on Unsplash

Thanks for stopping by! This is a question I dearly hope has an easy answer …

Having entered three Haiku challenges on Vocal recently, which stipulate a set syllable count on the entry requirements, it occurred to me that I—and probably other budding poets—might not all be on the same page when it comes to counting syllables.

By Alex Gorin on Unsplash

I looked online for a definitive ‘how to’ …

What Google Said:

The number of times you hear a vowel (a, e, i , o, u) in a word is equal to the number of syllables a word has. […] The number of syllables in a word is decided by its number of vowel sounds. […] An easy way to identify vowels is that we make them with the letters a, e, i, o, u and sometimes y.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work in every instance. So, as well as counting the syllables by sound, I use online syllable counters to check my accuracy. Some words cause problems due to variations in pronunciation, especially between US English and British English, but also simple regional variations in accents.

For example, ‘fire’ seems to cause controversy. I pronounce it as two sounds (syllables) … as in ‘higher’. However, some of my fellow poets pronounce ‘fire’ more like ‘far’, which gives it one syllable.

Perplexed as to which is accurate, I’ve now tried five different online syllable counters. Three counted fire as 2 syllables, and two counted fire as just 1 syllable.

By Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

In previous blog challenges in which I’ve participated, the host has often instructed us to use the same syllable counting tool for consistency and fairness.

For accuracy, the free tool Soda Coffee Syllable Counter is my favourite—https://www.traveldailylife.com/syllables

All of this led me to wonder how the Vocal challenge judges—and other poets—decide the syllable count for such troublesome words. Do they sound it out or use a counting tool?

Are there any recommendations for folks such as myself, still learning and honing their craft?

If you’re able to clarify this, I’d be most grateful. And if you’ve had similar issues, please let me know. Either way, I would love to chat with you via the comments below.

By Towfiqu barbhuiya on Unsplash

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About the Creator

Harmony Kent

The multi-genre author who gets write into your head

I began writing at 40 after a life-changing injury. An avid reader & writer, I love to review & support my fellow authors.

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Comments (3)

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  • Brent Tharp4 months ago

    The Google definition is a good start but has too many exceptions to be useful. Using a standard reference or a standard syllable-counting tool, as you've suggested, seems like the easiest and fairest approach. That's exactly why publishers use house style guides to govern questions of style (which this one is).

  • Vocal Curation Teamabout a year ago

    Harmony, we really appreciate your thoughtful story on this topic. Please see our response here: https://vocal.media/resources/so-how-do-we-count-syllables. We hope it adds a bit of clarity to the delicate debate on syllable counting.

  • Staci Troiloabout a year ago

    I can't speak for the judges, and I know syllables are important for specific forms, but to my way of thinking, the art needs to come before the rules. If a particular word is what's needed, I'd rather read it and have a syllable count off than read a substandard replacement just so the poem conforms to a prescribed set of standards. Songs do this a lot. Words are mushed together or elongated to fit the rhythm. That never bothers me. (And for the record, I pronounce fire with two syllables. But if you'd needed it to be only one, I would have recognized that and not quibbled.)

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