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Sound change and alternation

In phonology, apocope (/əˈpɒkəp/[1][2]) is the loss of one or more sounds from the end of a word, and especially the loss of an unstressed vowel.


Apocope comes from Greek ἀποκοπή apokopḗ from ἀποκόπτειν apokóptein, “cutting off”, from ἀπο- apo-, “away from” and κόπτειν kóptein, “to cut.”

Historical sound change[edit]

In historical phonetics, the term apocope is often (but not always) limited to the loss of an unstressed vowel.

Loss of an unstressed vowel (with nasal)[edit]

  • Vulgar Latin pan[em] → Spanish pan (bread)
  • Vulgar Latin lup[um] → French lou[p] (wolf)

Loss of other sounds[edit]

  • Latin illu[d] → Spanish ello

Case marker[edit]

In the Estonian language and Sami languages, apocopes help explain the forms of grammatical cases. For example, a nominative is described as having apocope of the final vowel, whereas the genitive does not. Throughout its history, however, the genitive case marker has also undergone apocope: linn (a city) vs linna (of a city), is derived from linna and linnan, respectively. In the genitive form, final /n/, while being deleted, blocked the loss of /a/. In spoken Finnish, the final vowel is sometimes omitted from case markers.

Grammatical rule[edit]

Some languages have apocopations internalized as mandatory forms. In Spanish and Italian, for example, some adjectives that come before the noun lose the final vowel or syllable when they precede a noun (mainly) in the masculine singular form. In Spanish some adverbs, cardinal and ordinal numbers have apocopations as well.

  • Adjectives
    • Grande (big/great) → grangran mujer (feminine) (great woman. However, if the adjective follows the noun, the final syllable remains, but the meaning may also change: mujer grande, meaning large woman)
    • Bueno (good) → buenbuen hombre (masculine) (good man; the final vowel remains in hombre bueno, with no accompanying change in meaning)
  • Adverbs
    • Tanto (so much) → tan (so) → tan hermoso (so beautiful)
  • Cardinal numbers
  • Ordinal numbers
    • Primero (first) → primerprimer premio (first prize)
    • Segundo (second) → según (according to) → según él (according to him)
    • Tercero (third) → tercertercer lugar (third place)

Informal speech[edit]

Various (and numerous) sorts of informal abbreviations might be classed as apocope:

  • English photographphoto
  • French sympathique(s)sympa meaning nice
  • French réactionnaireréac meaning reactionary
  • English animation → Japanese アニメーション animēshon → アニメ anime
  • English synchronizationsync, synch, syncro, or synchro
  • English AlexanderAlex and so on with other hypocorisms
  • Spanish fotografíafoto meaning photography
  • Spanish televisióntele meaning television (cf. French « télé » for « télévision »)

For a list of similar apocopations in the English language, see List of English apocopations. These processes are also linguistically subsumed under a process called clipping or truncation.

See also[edit]


  • Crowley, Terry. (1997) An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press.

External links[edit]