How to split a multi-syllable word

There are a number of ways to split a multi-syllabic word. It really depends on your approach. There are no hard and fast rules. Here are a number of ways to go about it:

The way we say it – approach
One approach is splitting a word according to how we say it.
Take the word ‘wagon’. When we say the word, we say ‘wa- gon’. When readers split it this way they are likely to recognise it as it is similar to the way they say it. This is a linguistic approach to splitting syllables.

Open/closed syllable approach
Some teachers teach pupils ‘closed syllables’ that have a short vowel in them and ‘open syllables’ that have a long vowel in them. They would split the word ‘wagon’: ‘wag – on’.

Root word and morphemes approach
It is quite useful to teach children about root words and the grammatical function of morphemes like ‘ing’, ‘ed’, prefixes and suffixes as this helps children with comprehension and spelling. So the word ‘running’ would be split ‘runn – ing’. This is more of a spelling and word meaning route to splitting syllables.

The spelling rules approach
Another route that some teachers would take is to split ‘running’ like this: ‘run-ning’. This is a rules based approach as the pupil will also learn the ‘doubling’ rule (double the ‘n’ when you add -ing) at the same time.

The mixed bag approach
We feel that is does not really matter how a reader splits a word up as long as he/she can decode it and derive meaning from it. The only conflict between the different approaches is when there are double consonants in a word.
The ‘Spelling Rules’ approach is not compatible with a Synthetic Phonics approach. In the word ‘running’ the ‘nn’ is seen as a consonant digraph for the phoneme ‘n’ and spells just one sound. As we do not split other consonant digraphs like ‘ck or ‘ch’ we should not split the ‘nn’ into ‘run – ning’. As one of the basic principles in Synthetic Phonics is that 2 letters can represent one sound, we feel one should be consistent and stick to that principle.


  1. We love the phonic books at school and they are helping so many of our pupils , especially the Totem and Tallisman series. I would love more parallel series to build the confidence. You have pitched these readers perfectly.
    Also – any chance of publishing the hanwriting book in cursive script please? We use cursive script to support spelling but can find very little published material to support us …

    1. Hello S. Gillies,
      I will look into publishing a cursive script handwriting book. I have been meaning to do this for some time. Your post has spurred me on. I introduced cursive script to my Reception class, with much worry from the rest of the school. Apparently the difference of writing output in year 2 was amazing as they no longer had to re-learn how to write with joined-up writing, and were able to concentrate on written content. European countries introduce cursive script from the beginning. I wonder what happened to make our children have to re-learn usually in Year 2?

    1. Hi Carl.
      We are aware that chunking the word ‘running’ by splitting the double consonants e.g. ‘run-ning’ is the way used to teach syllable splits in programmes such as Alpha to Omega. This method is based on teaching spelling rules: that you double the consonant when adding ‘ing’.

      Our approach is phonic: if you are teaching the pupil to listen to the sounds in the word when he/she splits the word, then he or she should split the word as it sounds (not as it is spelled). You are asking them to say two separate consonants that are actually a digraph (2 letters : 1 sound – ‘n’). As we do not split ‘sh’ or ‘th’ we shouldn’t split double consonants as they represent one sound in the word, not two.


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