In phonetics and phonology, apheresis (/əˈfɛrɪsɪs, əˈfɪərɪsɪs/; British English: aphaeresis) is a sound change in which a word-initial vowel is lost, e.g., American > 'Merican. In a broader sense, it can refer to the loss of any initial sound (including consonants) from a word or, in a less technical sense, to the loss of one or more sounds from the beginning of a word.[1] The more specific term aphesis (and its adjective aphetic) is sometimes used to refer to the loss of unstressed vowels.


The term apheresis, attested since at least 1550 in English, comes from Latin aphaeresis, from Greek ἀφαίρεσις aphairesis, "taking away" from ἀφαιρέω aphaireo from ἀπό apo, "away" and αἱρέω haireo, "to take".[1]

The hyponyms aphesis (/ˈæfəsɪs/) and aphetic, coined in 1880 by James Murray, is inspired by Greek ἄφεσις aphesis, "letting go" from ἀφίημι aphiemi from ἀπό apo, "away" and ἵημι híemi, "send forth".

Historical sound change

In historical phonetics and phonology, the term "apheresis" is often limited to the loss of an unstressed vowel. The Oxford English Dictionary gives that particular kind of apheresis the name aphesis (/ˈæfɪsɪs/; from Greek ἄφεσις).

Loss of unstressed vowel

Loss of any sound

Poetic device

Informal speech

Synchronic apheresis is more likely to occur in informal speech than in careful speech: 'scuse me vs. excuse me, How 'bout that? and How about that? It typically supplies the input enabling acceptance of apheresized forms historically, such as especially > specially. The result may be doublets, such as especially and specially, or the pre-apheresis form may fail to survive (Old French eschars > English scarce). An intermediate status is common in which both forms continue to exist but lose their transparent semantic relationship: abate 'decrease, moderate', with bate now confined to the locution with bated breath 'with breath held back'.

See also



  1. ^ a b Campbell, Lyle (2007). Glossary of Historical Linguistics. Edinburgh University Press. p. [13]. ISBN 978-0-7486-3019-6.
  2. ^ Online Etymology Dictionary, Gypsy. Retrieved 2010-07-13.