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As a native speaker it's natural for me to know how a word is separated in its constituent syllables. But I want to know if there are any established rules to know how a word is separated into its syllables.

For example:

camión = ca-mión

sol = sol

cielo = cie-lo

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A really nice question! I've always thought that this syllabic separation matter is one of the most counter-intuitive facts in any language. –  Gonzalo Medina Dec 7 '11 at 17:15
In my experience those languages which have academies or some other kind of standardizing bodies, always have very specific set out rules for syllabification. –  hippietrail Dec 8 '11 at 15:53
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1 Answer

up vote 9 down vote accepted

There is an interesting guide I found on Spanishdict.com. I'll try to sum up the content here for easy reference:

  1. Diphthongs are considered as a single syllable. They are formed by joining a closed vowel (i, u) with an open vowel (a, e, o). «The possible combinations are ai, ei, oi, au, eu, ou, ia, ie, io, ua, ue, uo, iu and ui.»; the h makes no difference.

  2. Hiatus is considered as two syllables (two vowels). Two open vowels together are called hiatus. An open vowel and a closed vowel make a hiatus, if the closed vowel has a tilde. «(e.g. ía, eí)»; the h makes no difference.

  3. A triphthong is a single syllable with 3 vowels. The middle one must always be an open vowel, and the other two must be unstressed closed vowels «(otherwise, it will be a vowel plus a diphthong)».

  4. The "U" in "qu" and "gu" before -i and -e are not considered vowels. If you want the u to be pronounced, you must use the dieresis: "Guerra" vs "Lingüística". Note: the dieresis can only appear in the "gu" syllable, not in the "qu" one.

  5. The letter "H" is completely ignored when counting syllables*.

  6. The digraphs ch, ll, rr, qu and gu (before e and i) form a single syllable. However, the rr is split if it is clear from its etymology, as in inter-relacionado.

  7. Consonants between vowels always belong to the second one.

  8. The consonants (b, c, d, f, g, k, p, t) followed by R or L are not divisible. Plus «The exceptions to this rule are words with prefixes, such as At-lán-ti-co, sub-li-mi-nal, which are also pronounced separately. Also, the sequences tl and dl are separated or not depending on the country, but they are generally split».

  9. «Any other two consecutive consonants not mentioned so far, will belong to two different syllables (e.g. ac-ción), unless they are at the beginning of a word (e.g. psi-có-lo-go)».

  10. «When three consonants appear together, the last one will belong to a different syllable, unless it is an r or an s (e.g. ins-truir)».

Note: the parts between « » (parts in point 1, 2, 3, 8 and points 9, and 10 are directly quoted from the site, i.e. copy-pasted.)

By the way, I found this "Silabeitor". Enter the word with correct tilde and it will divide it.

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Following the rules for hyphenation... I'm not sure you wanted them. If you do, I'll include them. –  Alenanno Dec 7 '11 at 18:09
In #1, you left 'o' out of your categorization of 'closed' or 'open' vowels. –  Flimzy Dec 7 '11 at 19:47
@Flimzy Thank you! If you see other "misses" or mistakes, let me know. :) By the way, you can do it too! Remember that this site is open to edits :) –  Alenanno Dec 7 '11 at 20:33
I know I could edit it myself, but then I'd have to look up the rule to see where that vowel belongs :) –  Flimzy Dec 7 '11 at 20:36
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