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Sound change and alternation

Crasis (/ˈkrsɪs/;[1] from the Greek κρᾶσις, "mixing", "blending")[2] is a type of contraction in which two vowels or diphthongs merge into one new vowel or diphthong, making one word out of two. Crasis occurs in Portuguese and Arabic as well as in Ancient Greek, for which it was first described.

In some cases, as in the French examples below, crasis involves the grammaticalization of two individual lexical items into one, but in other cases, as in the Greek examples, crasis is the orthographic representation of the encliticization and vowel reduction of one grammatical form with another. The difference between the two is that the Greek examples involve two grammatical words and a single phonological word and the French examples involve a single phonological word and grammatical word.


In both Ancient Greek and Modern Greek, crasis merges a small word and long word that are closely connected in meaning.[n 1]

A coronis (κορωνίς korōnís "curved"; plural κορωνίδες korōnídes) marks the vowel from crasis. In ancient times this was an apostrophe placed after the vowel (i.e., τα᾽μά), but today it is written over the vowel and is identical to the smooth breathing (τἀμά). Unlike a coronis, a smooth breathing never occurs on a vowel in the middle of a word (although it occurs on doubled rho: πύῤῥος pyrrhos).

The article undergoes crasis with various nouns and adjectives starting in a vowel:

  • τὰ ἐμά → τἀμά "my (affairs)"
  • τὸ ἐναντίον → τοὐναντίον "on the contrary"
  • τὸ αὐτό → ταὐτό "the same"
  • τὰ αὐτά → ταὐτά (plural of the previous example)

καί undergoes crasis with forms of the first-person singular pronoun, producing a long ᾱ (the macron is not written here, since it occurs with a coronis):

  • καὶ ἐγώ → κἀγώ "and I", "I too"
  • καὶ ἐμοί → κἀμοί "and to me"

In modern monotonic orthography, the coronis is not written.


In French, the contractions of determiners are often the results of a vocalisation and a crasis.

For example, :

  • de ledu, de lesdes
  • à leau, à lesaux
  • en lesès


In the evolution of the Portuguese language, several words lost some of its vowels due to a phonological change. This was later reflected by orthography change. Examples:

  • door (Old Portuguese) > dor (pain, grief, sorrow, ache, sore, suffering);
  • noo (Old Portuguese) > (node, knot, tie, joint, hitch);
  • seer (Old Portuguese) > ser (to be [as a condition or fate], to exist);
  • veer (Old Portuguese) > ver (to look, to eye, to see, to admit);
  • rãa (Old Portuguese) > (frog, paddock);

In Portuguese, the most frequently observed crasis today is the contraction of the preposition a ("to" or "at") with the feminine singular definite article a ("the"), indicated in writing with a grave accent, or masculine singular definite article o (also "the"). For example, instead of *Vou a a praia ("I go to the beach"), one says Vou à praia ("I go to-the beach"). This contraction turns the clitic a into the stressed word à. Meanwhile, a person going to a bank, to a supermarket or to a market-place would say Vou ao banco, Vou ao supermercado and Vou à feira, respectively.

Crasis also occurs between the preposition a and demonstratives: for instance, when this preposition precedes aquele(s), aquela(s) (meaning "that", "those", in different genders), they contract to àquele(s), àquela(s). In this case, the accent marks a secondary stress in Portuguese.

In addition, the crasis à is pronounced lower as /a/ than the article or preposition a, as /ɐ/, in these examples in standard European Portuguese, but the qualitative distinction is not made by most speakers in Brazilian Portuguese (some dialects, as Rio de Janeiro's fluminense, are exceptions).

The crasis is very important and can completely change the meaning of a sentence:

  • Exposta, a polícia - The police is exposed
  • Exposta à polícia - She is exposed to the police
  • Glória, a rainha - Glória the queen
  • Glória à rainha - Glory to the queen
  • a mulher - Give the woman
  • à mulher - Give to the woman

Further rules

To determine whether the crasis always apply, or whether one may use the contraction à (with an accent) instead of the preposition a (without an accent), one must follow these rules:

1) it replaces the preposition a by another preposition, as em ("in") or para ("to"). If, with replacement, the definite article a ("the") is still possible, then the crasis applies. Examples:

  • Pedro viajou à Região Nordeste: with grave accent, because it equivalent to "Pedro traveled 'to the' Northeast Region". Here, para a Região Nordeste would also be used.
  • O autor dedicou o livro a sua esposa: without a grave accent in Brazilian Portuguese, because it is equivalent to "The author dedicated the book 'to' his wife". A consistent use according to the rules in Brazil would not allow para a sua esposa be used instead. In European Portuguese, nevertheless, rules change, and it is O autor dedicou o livro à sua esposa, albeit it can not be explained translanting to English as both sentences carry the same meaning. In Portuguese-speaking countries other than Brazil, para a sua esposa is to be deemed standard usage.

2) in a supposed situation the nominal complement is exchanged, after "a", from a feminine noun for a masculine noun and if with the exchange, it is necessary to use the combination 'ao' (that is used naturally by native speakers), then the crasis applies. Here are some examples:

  • Prestou relevantes serviços à comunidade, He/she paid outstanding services to the community: with a grave accent because when one changes the object to a masculine noun ( "Prestou relevantes serviços ao povo" He/she paid outstanding services to the people), there is an "ao" ("to [masculine] the").
  • "Chegarei daqui a uma hora" I will arrive in an hour: without crasis because when the object is changed to a masculine noun ("Chegarei daqui a um minuto" I will arrive in a minute) there is no "ao" (as "um/uma", indefinite articles, appear instead of "o/a").

Note that the grave accent is never used before masculine words (nouns, names, pronouns, etc.), verbs, personal pronouns, numerals, plural nouns without the use of the feminine plural definite article as ("the"), city names that do not use a feminine article, the word casa ("house") when it has the meaning of one's own home, the word terra ("earth") when it has the meaning of soil, and indefinite, personal, relative or demonstrative pronouns (except the third person and aquele(s) or aquela(s)); between identical nouns§ such as dia a dia "day by day", "everyday", "daily life", gota a gota "dropwise", "drip", and cara a cara "face to face"; and after prepositions. Here are exceptions:

É preciso declarar guerra à guerra! (It is necessary to declare war on war!)

É preciso dar mais vida à vida. (It is necessary to give more life to life.)

Optional crasis

The grave accent is optional in the following cases:

  • Before a female's first name

Refiro-me [à/a] Fernanda. (I am referring to Fernanda.)

  • Before a feminine possessive pronoun

Dirija-se [à/a] sua fazenda. (Go to your [own] hacienda.)

  • After the preposition até'

Dirija-se até [à/a] porta. (Go by that door.)

Eu fui até [à/a] Bahia de carro. (I traveled to Bahia by car.)

See also

Notes and references


  1. Note on terminology:
    Crasis in English usually refers to merging of words, but the sense of the word in the original Greek used to be more general,[1] referring to most changes related to vowel contraction, including synaeresis, though this is no longer the case.


  1. 1.0 1.1 "crasis". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. κρᾶσις. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project; cf. κεράννῡμι, "I mix" wine with water; kratēr "mixing-bowl" is related.

External links