Heavy syllable

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A heavy syllable is a syllable whose weight is more than one mora. A heavy syllable contains either a long vowel or a coda consonant. (The latter case is called a closed syllable.) The English words eye [aɪ] and cat [kat] exemplify the two types of heavy syllable. A syllable shorter than a heavy syllable is called a light syllable.

Sometimes a syllable which is longer than two moras is called a superheavy syllable. Such a syllable contains either a long vowel and a coda consonant, or a short vowel and two coda consonants.

In some languages (e.g., in English), word-final consonants do not contribute to syllable weight. The last syllable of the verb develop behaves as if light (although it is a closed syllable). This phenomenon is standardly explained by claiming that the word-final consonant is extrametrical.

In some languages (e.g., in Ancient Greek, Khalkha Mongolian), only syllables with a long vowel are heavy, closed syllables with a short vowel are not. There even are a few languages (Lithuanian and Kwakwala), where syllables with a long vowel are heavy, but of closed syllables only those with a sonorant consonant in coda position count as heavy, those with an obstruent coda are light.


  • Boas, Franz (1947) Kwakiutl grammar with a glossary of the suffixes, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. New Series, Vol. 37, Part 3.
  • Zec, Draga (1995) Sonority constraints on syllable structure, Phonology 12:85–129.

Other languages

German schwere Silbe