Apheresis (linguistics)

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Sound change and alternation

In phonetics and phonology, apheresis (/əˈfɛrss, əˈfɪərss/; British English: aphaeresis) is the loss of one or more sounds from the beginning of a word, especially the loss of an unstressed vowel, thus producing a new form called an aphetism (/ˈæfɪtɪzəm/).


Apheresis comes from Greek ἀφαίρεσις aphairesis, "taking away" from ἀφαίρέω aphaireo from ἀπό apo, "away" and αἱρέω haireo, "to take." Aphetism comes from Greek ἄφεσις aphesis, "letting go" from ἀφίημι aphiemi from ἀπό apo, "away" and ἵημι híemi, "send forth."

Apheresis as a historical sound change[edit]

In historical phonetics and phonology, the term "apheresis" is often but not always limited to the loss of an unstressed vowel. The Oxford English Dictionary gives this particular kind of apheresis the name aphesis (/ˈæfsɪs/; from Greek ἄφεσις).

Loss of any sound[edit]

Loss of an unstressed vowel[edit]

  • Greek epískopos > Vulgar Latin *ebiscopus > Old English bisceop 'bishop'
  • English acute > cute
  • Middle English Egipcien > gipcyan, gipsen 'Gypsy'[1]
  • English alone > lone
  • English amend > mend
  • Old French e(s)vanisse > Middle English vanisshen 'vanish'
  • Old French estable > English stable
  • Old French estrange > English strange
  • English esquire > squire

Apheresis as a poetic device[edit]

  • English it is > poetic 'tis
  • English upon > 'pon

Apheresis in informal speech[edit]

Synchronic apheresis is more likely to occur in informal speech than in careful speech – 'scuse me vs. excuse me, How 'bout that? and How about that? – and typically supplies the input enabling acceptance of apheresized forms historically, such as especially > specially. The result may be doublets, such as especially and specially, or the pre-apheresis form may fail to survive (Old French eschars > English scarce). An intermediate status is common, in which both forms continue to exist, but lose their transparent semantic relationship: abate 'decrease, moderate', with bate now confined to the locution with bated breath 'with breath held back'.

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary, Gypsy. Retrieved 2010-07-13.


  • Alexander, James D. 1988. Aphesis in English. Word 39.29-65
  • Crowley, Terry (1997). An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press.