Sound change and alternation

In linguistics, an elision or deletion is the omission of one or more sounds (such as a vowel, a consonant, or a whole syllable) in a word or phrase. Sometimes sounds are elided to make a word easier to pronounce. The word elision is frequently used in linguistic description of living languages, and deletion is often used in historical linguistics for a historical sound change.

In English as spoken by native speakers, elisions come naturally, and are often described as "slurred" or "muted" sounds. Often, elisions are deliberate. It is a common misconception that contractions automatically qualify as elided words, which comes from slack definitions: not all elided words are contractions and not all contractions are elided words (for example, 'going to' → 'gonna': an elision that is not a contraction; 'can not' → 'cannot': a contraction that is not an elision).

In French, elisions are mandatory in certain contexts, as in the clause C'est la vie (elided from *Ce est la vie).

In Spanish, elisions occur less frequently but are common in certain dialects. They are never marked by an apostrophe in writing. Of particular interest is the word para, which becomes pa. Multiple words can be elided together, as in pa trabajar for para trabajar and pa delante or even pa lante for para adelante.

Elisions likely occurred regularly in Latin, but were not written, except in inscriptions and comedy. Elision of a vowel before a word starting in a vowel is frequent in poetry, where the meter sometimes requires it. For example, the opening line of Catullus 3 is Lugete, O Veneres Cupidinesque, but would be read as Lugeto Veneres Cupidinesque.

Some morphemes take the form of elision: see disfix.

The opposite of elision is epenthesis, whereby sounds are inserted into a word to ease pronunciation.

The omission of a word from a phrase or sentence is not elision but ellipsis, or elliptical construction.


In linguistics, an elision is the deletion of a sound or sounds. When notating an elision in phonological rules, the null sign marks the place where a sound has been deleted:

Either all cases of a sound are deleted, or a sound is deleted in a limited number of cases. These cases can often be described with a phonological rule.

Ecthlipsis (from Ancient Greek: ἔκθλιψις) in Latin poetry is the elision of a vowel and the letter m before a word beginning with a vowel:

Et mutam nequiquadloquerer cinerem (pronunciation after elision)

Syncope is the elision of vowels between consonants. apheresis is the elision of a sound at the beginning of a word (generally of an unstressed vowel). Apocope is the loss of a sound at the end of a word.

Elision is the final stage in lenition or consonant weakening.


Even though the effort that it takes to pronounce a word does not hold any influence in writing, a word or phrase may be spelled the same as it is spoken, for example, in poetry or in the script for a theatre play, in order to show the actual speech of a character. It may also be used in an attempt to transcribe non-standard speech. Some kinds of elisions (as well as other phonological devices) are commonly used in poetry in order to preserve a particular rhythm.

In some languages employing the Latin alphabet, such as English, the omitted letters in a contraction are replaced by an apostrophe (e.g., isn't for is not). Greek, which does not use the Latin alphabet but instead uses the Greek alphabet, marks elisions in the same way.



Examples of elision in English:

Word IPA before elision IPA after elision
comfortable /ˈkʌmfərtəbəl/ /ˈkʌmftərbəl/
laboratory /læˈbɔːrətɔːri/ /ˈlæbrətɔːri/ (American English), /ləˈbɒrətri/ (British English)
temperature /ˈtɛmpərəər/ /ˈtɛmpərər/, /ˈtɛmprəər/
family /ˈfæmɪli/ /ˈfæmli/
vegetable /ˈvɛətəbəl/ /ˈvɛtəbəl/, /ˈvɛtəbəl/
fifth /ˈfɪfθ/ /ˈfɪθ/
him /hɪm/ /ɪm/
going to /ˈɡ.ɪŋ t/ /ɡənə/ (gonna)
it is, it has /ˈɪt ɪz/, /ˈɪt hæz/ /ɪts/ (it's)
I have /ˈ hæv/ /v/ (I've)
is not /ˈɪznɒt/ /ˈɪzənt/ (isn't)

Most elisions in English are not mandatory, but they are used in common practice and even sometimes in more formal speech. This applies to nearly all the examples in the above table. However, these types of elisions are rarely shown in modern writing and never shown in formal writing. In formal writing, the words are written the same whether or not the speaker would elide them, but in many plays and classic American literature, words are often written with an elision to demonstrate accent:

"Well, we ain’t got any," George exploded. "Whatever we ain’t got, that’s what you want. God a’mighty, if I was alone I could live so easy. I could go get a job an’ work, an’ no trouble. No mess at all, and when the end of the month come I could take my fifty bucks and go into town and get whatever I want. Why, I could stay in a cathouse all night. I could eat any place I want, hotel or any place, and order any damn thing I could think of. An’ I could do all that every damn month. Get a gallon of whisky, or set in a pool room and play cards or shoot pool." Lennie knelt and looked over the fire at the angry George. And Lennie’s face was drawn in with terror. "An’ whatta I got," George went on furiously. "I got you! You can’t keep a job and you lose me ever’ job I get. Jus’ keep me shovin’ all over the country all the time."

Other examples, such as "him" and "going to" shown above, are generally used only in fast or informal speech. They are still generally written as is unless the writer intends to show the dialect or speech patterns of the speaker.

The third type of elision is in common contractions, such as "can't", "isn't", or "I'm". The apostrophes represent the sounds that are removed and are not spoken but help the reader to understand that it is a contraction and not a word of its own. These contractions used to be written out when transcribed (i.e. "cannot", "is not", "I am") even if they were pronounced as a contraction, but now they are always written as a contraction so long as they are spoken that way. However, they are by no means mandatory and a speaker or writer may choose to keep the words distinct rather than contract them either as a stylistic choice, when using formal register, to make meaning clearer to children or non-native English speakers, or to emphasize a word within the contraction (e.g. "I am going!")


The consonant in the partitive case ending -ta elides when it is surrounded by two short vowels except when the first of the two vowels involved is paragoge (added to the stem). Otherwise, it stays. For example, katto+takattoa, ranta+tarantaa, but työ+tätyötä (not a short vowel), mies+tamiestä (consonant stem), jousi+tajousta (paragogic i on a consonant stem).


Elision of unstressed vowels (usually /ə/) is common in the French language and, in some cases, must be indicated orthographically with an apostrophe. For further information about final vowel elision, see Elision (French).

Elision of vowel and consonant sounds was also an important phenomenon in the phonetic evolution of French. For example, s following a vowel and preceding another consonant regularly elided, with compensatory lengthening of the vowel.


Nouns and adjectives that end with unstressed "el" or "er" have the "e" elided when they are declined or a suffix follows. ex. teuer becomes teure, teuren, etc., and Himmel + -isch becomes himmlisch.

The final "e" of a noun is also elided when another noun or suffix is concatenated onto it: Strafe + Gesetzbuch becomes Strafgesetzbuch.

In both of the above cases, the "e" represents a schwa.


Elision (brottfall) is common in Icelandic. There are a variety of rules for its occurrence,[2] but the most notable is the loss of trailing consonants in common particles as well as the merger of similar vowel sounds. For example, the ubiquitous "ég er að (verb)" structure ("I am verb-ing") becomes transformed to "éra (verb)"; the full particles is spoken only when a person is sounding the sentence out word by word. Another noteworthy and extremely common example along this line includes the phrase "er það ekki?" ("really?") which is pronounced as "erþakki". A common example of internal consonant loss in Icelandic is "gerðu svo vel" ("here you go" / "please"), pronounced "gjersovel" (the hidden "j" sound is unrelated to the elision and occurs when a /kʰ/ or /k/ precedes /ɛ, i, ɪ, ai/). Another special case of elision is the loss of /θ/ from the start of "þetta" ("this" / "that"), which is sometimes pronounced "etta" ("hvað er þetta" (what is this?) -> "hvaretta?"). The pronunciation of the full word tends to lay emphasis on it ("what is THIS") while the elision of the word leads to its deemphasis ("WHAT is this?"). The loss of the /θ/ in "þetta" is similar to how /ð/ can be lost in "that" and "this" when asking a question and speaking swiftly in English.


Elision is found in the Ulster dialect of Irish, particularly in final position. Iontach, for example, while pronounced [ˈiːntəx] in the Conamara dialect, is pronounced [ˈintə] in Ulster. n is also elided when it begins intervocalic consonant clusters. Anró is pronounced aró; muintir is pronounced muitir.


Elision is extremely common in the pronunciation of the Japanese language. In general, a high vowel (/i/ or /u/) that appears in a low-pitched syllable between two voiceless consonants is devoiced and often deleted outright. However, unlike French or English, Japanese does not often show elision in writing. The process is purely phonetic and varies considerably depending on the dialect or level of formality. A few examples (slightly exaggerated; apostrophes added to indicate elision):

Matsushita-san wa imasu ka? ("Is Mr. Matsushita in?")
Pronounced: matsush'tasanwa imas'ka
IPA: [matsɯɕtasaɴwa imasɯ̥ka]
roku, shichi, hachi ("six, seven, eight")
Pronounced: rok', shich', hach'
IPA: [ɽokɯ̥ ɕitɕi̥ hatɕi̥]
Shitsurei shimasu ("Excuse me")
Pronounced: sh'ts'reishimas'
IPA: [ɕi̥tsɯ̥ɽeː ɕimasɯ̥]

Gender roles also influence elision in Japanese. It is considered masculine to elide, especially the final u of the polite verb forms (-masu, desu), but women are traditionally encouraged to do the opposite. However, excessive elision is generally viewed as basilectic, and inadequate elision is seen as overly fussy or old-fashioned. Some nonstandard dialects, such as Satsuma-ben, are known for their extensive elision.


Latin poetry featured frequent elision, with syllables being dropped to fit the meter or for euphony. Words ending in vowels would elide with the following word if it started with a vowel; words ending in -um often elided in the same way. For example, Virgil's Aeneid features elision in Book I, Line 3: "litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto" ("multum ille et" is pronounced "multillet", comprising three long syllables, or one and a half spondees).


Dropping sounds in connected speech by native speakers very common in this language from Kerala, southern India. For example, entha becomes ntha and ippol becomes ippo.


The change of Latin into the Romance languages included a significant amount of elision, especially syncope (loss of medial vowels). Spanish has these examples:

In addition, speakers often employ crasis or elision between two words to avoid a hiatus caused by vowels: the choice of which to use depends upon whether or not the vowels are identical.

A frequent informal use is the elision of d in the past participle suffix -ado, pronouncing cansado as cansao. The elision of d in -ido is considered even more informal, but both elisions common in Andalusian Spanish. Thus, the Andalusian quejío for quejido (“lament”) has entered Standard Spanish as a term for a special feature of Flamenco singing. Similar distinctions are made with the words bailaor(a) and cantaor(a) as contracted versions of the literal translations for dancer and singer exclusively used for Flamenco, compared to the bailarín and cantante of standard Spanish. The perceived vulgarity of the silent d may lead to hypercorrections like *bacalado for bacalao (cod) or *Bilbado for Bilbao.[3]


Tamil has a set of rules for elision. They are categorised into classes based on the phoneme where elision occurs:

Class name Phoneme
Kutriyalukaram u
Kutriyalikaram i
Aiykaarakkurukkam ai
Oukaarakkurukkam au
Aaythakkurukkam the special character akh
Makarakkurukkam m


Elision is a major feature of Welsh, found commonly in verb forms, such as in the following examples:

See also



  1. Steinbeck, John. "Of Mice and Men Quotes". "Of Mice and Men". Covici, Friede, Inc. Retrieved 2012-09-09.
  2. Ultracorrección in the Diccionario panhispánico de dudas, 1st edition, October 2005, Real Academia Española.

General references

External links

Look up elision in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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