Using the formal syllable identification rules, you have the following (with an example pronunciation):

MacDonald => Mac + Don + ald (`/məkdˈɒnl̩d/`)
McDonald  => McDon + ald (`/məkdˈɒnl̩d/`)
Kvitova   => Kvit + o + va (`/kəvˈɪtəvə/`)

Here, the number of vowel sounds (syllabic or not) in the last two examples does not match the syllable split. A (/ə/) has been inserted between two of the consonants.

Does this pronunciation pattern change the syllabification rules to align with the number of spoken vowel/syllabic consonant sounds, or is it more a pattern of speech to smooth over adjacent consonants that do not flow easily together (e.g. the kv pair in kvitova)?

With Mc, should this be considered a prefix like be, de and others are, and be considered a syllable on its own -- that is, should it follow the syllable pattern of MacDonald?

If Mc should be considered a syllable, is the c the nucleus? If so, does that make the /k/ phoneme syllabic?

  • 2
    You seem to be confusing spelling and pronunciation. Syllables are about sounds and Eglish spelling is notoriously not in a diretion 1:1 relationship with its pronunciation. Nov 24, 2013 at 12:48
  • I know that there is not a 1:1 relationship between spelling and pronunciation and that different accents have different pronunciations. I also know that syllables are about sounds (i.e. the number of vowel sounds in a word). Here, the Mc has the /@/ vowel, so should be considered a syllable. However, there is no vowel to be the nucleus. Therefore, the letter c should form the nucleus and @k should be syllabic. That is, you don't pronounce McDonald as /mkʼdˈɒnl̩d/ or similar (i.e. an ejective or implosive /k/).
    – reece
    Nov 24, 2013 at 13:22
  • There is a vowel to be the nucleus, /@/ as you have written, I'm assuming schwa. Letters don't form nuclei, sounds do. You have a string of two letters representing a string of three sounds. You pronounce McDonald as /m@kdon@ld/ or /m@kdonld/, etc. Nov 24, 2013 at 13:24
  • 1
    May I say that this is an extraordinarily stupid question. "Mc" is just an abbreviation of "Mac". Are you going to tell us that "Mister" has two syllables and "Mr" has none?
    – fdb
    Nov 24, 2013 at 13:35
  • 1
    hippietrail nowhere argues that McDon is a syllable. He says that Mc is a syllable whose nuclear vowel /ə/ is not represented in the spelling. He denies your claim that it has no nuclear vowel. Nov 24, 2013 at 14:38

1 Answer 1


There is no reasonable analysis under which "mcDon" is a syllable. It is two syllables, irrespective of whether you write an 'a' in it or not.

"Kvit" (or "kvi") is one syllable except for those people who find it impossible to pronounce the cluster "kv", and for them it is two syllables.

  • 1
    Indeed. The syllabification rules in English do not admit mkd as an onset. I'd be interested to know about other languages, though my guess is that it's seldom admissible there either due to sonority ordering.
    – geometrian
    Oct 13, 2014 at 16:14

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