Apheresis (linguistics)

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Sound change and alternation

In phonetics, apheresis (/əˈfɛrsɪs, əˈfɪərsɪs/; Template:Lang-en-GB) 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 aphetism (/ˈæfɪtɪzm/).


Apheresis comes from Greek ἀφαίρεσις from ἀπό apo, "away" and αἱρέω haireo, "to take."

Apheresis as a historical sound change

In historical phonetics, 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

Loss of an unstressed vowel

  • 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
  • English escape + goat > scapegoat[2]
  • Old French e(s)vanisse > Middle English vanisshen 'vanish'
  • Old French estable > English stable
  • Old French estrange > English strange
  • English esquire > squire
  • Greek Assyria > Syria

Apheresis as a poetic device

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

Apheresis in informal speech

  • Spanish está > familiar Spanish [e]tá > ta ('is')
  • English oath God's truth > familiar Template:Lang-en-AU (exclamation)
  • English America > Murica

See also



  1. Online Etymology Dictionary, Gypsy. Retrieved 2010-07-13.
  2. Online Etymology Dictionary, Scapegoat. Retrieved 2012-06-05.


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