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Sound change and alternation

In phonology, apocope (/əˈpɒkp/) 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

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)

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

Loss of other sounds

  • Latin illu[d] → Spanish ello

Case marker

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

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)
    • Tercero (third) → tercertercer lugar (third place)

Informal speech

Various 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

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


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

External links