- epenthesis, from epi "on" + en "in" +
thesis "putting") is the addition of one or more
sounds to a word, especially to the interior of a word.
Epenthesis may be divided into two types: excrescence
(if the sound added is a consonant) and anaptyxis
(if the sound added is a vowel).
Epenthesis of a consonant, or
As a historical sound change
- Latin tremulare > French trembler
- Old English thunor > English thunder
- (Reconstructed) Proto-Greek *anrotos > Ancient
Greek ambrotos ("immortal")
As a synchronic rule
/t/ is inserted in inverted interrogative phrases between
a verb ending in a vowel and a pronoun beginning with
a vowel, such as il a ('he has') > a-t-il
('has he?'). Here there is no epenthesis from a historical
perspective, since the a-t is derived from Latin
habet (he has), and the t is therefore the
original third person verb inflection. However it is correct
to call this epenthesis when viewed synchronically,
since the modern basic form of the verb is a, and
the psycholinguistic process is therefore the addition
of t to the base form.
A similar example is the English
indefinite article a, which becomes an before
a vowel. In Old
English, this was ane in all positions, so
a diachronic analysis would see the original n
disappearing except where a following vowel required its
retention: an > a. However a synchronic
analysis, in keeping with the perception of most native
speakers, would (equally correctly) see it as epenthesis:
a > an.
As a poetic device
- Latin reliquias > poetic relliquias
In informal speech
- English "hamster" often pronounced with an added "p"
sound as [hæmpstəɹ]
- English "warmth" often pronounced with an added "p"
sound as [wɔɹrmpθ]
- English "fence" often pronounced [fɛnts]
- English fam(i)ly> dialectal fambly
A limited number of words in Japanese
use epenthetic consonants to separate vowels, example
of this is the word harusame (春雨,
spring rain) which is a compound of haru and ame
in which an /s/ is added to separate the final /u/ of
haru and the initial /a/ of ame. Since epenthetic
consonants are not used regularly in modern Japanese,
it is possible that this epenthetic /s/ is a hold over
Japanese. It is also possible that OJ /ame2/
was once pronounced */same2/, and the /s/ is
not epenthetic but simply retained archaic pronunciation.
Another example is kosame (小雨,
Certain word compounds show an epenthetic /w/. One example
is the word baai (場合, situation),
which is a combination of ba (場, place)
and ai (合い, meet): in some dialects
it is pronounced bawai.
argues that Japanese /r/ developed "as a default, epenthetic
consonant in the intervocalic position".
Epenthesis of a vowel, or anaptyxis
Epenthesis of a vowel, or anaptyxis (ἀνάπτυξις,
"growth" in Greek), is also known by the Sanskrit term
As a historical sound change
In the middle of a word
- braːdar > Persian baraːdar
- Latin stupidus > Spanish estúpido
As a poetic device
An example in an English song is "The Umbrella Man",
where the meter
requires "umbrella" to be pronounced with four syllables,
um-buh-rel-la, so that "any umbrellas" has the
meter ány úmberéllas.
As a grammatical rule
Epenthesis often breaks up a consonant
cluster or vowel sequence that is not permitted by
of a language. Sporadic cases can be less obviously motivated,
however, such as warsh 'wash' in some varieties
of American English.
Regular or semiregular epenthesis commonly occurs in
languages which use affixes.
For example, a schwa
or an /ɪ/
is inserted before the English plural suffix -/z/
and the past tense suffix -/d/
when the root ends in a similar consonant: glass
→ glasses /glæsəz/
and bat → batted /bætəd/
Vocalic epenthesis typically occurs when words are borrowed
from a language that has consonant clusters or syllable
codas that are not permitted in the borrowing language,
though this is not always the cause.
Languages use various vowels for this purpose, though
schwa is quite common when it is available. For example,
uses a single vowel, the schwa
(though pronounced as /ɛ/
in Israeli Hebrew).
generally uses [ɯ]
except following /t/
when it uses [o],
and after /h/,
when it uses an echo
vowel. For example, the English word street
in Japanese; the Dutch
name Gogh becomes /ɡohho/,
and the German
name Bach, /bahha/.
except when borrowing [ʃ],
which takes a following [i]
if the consonant is at the end of the word, or /ju/
In informal speech
Epenthesis most often occurs within unfamiliar or complex
consonant clusters. For example, the name Dwight
is commonly pronounced with an epenthetic schwa between
and the /w/,
and many speakers insert schwa between the /l/ and /t/
of realtor. Epenthesis is sometimes used for humorous
or childlike effect. For example, the cartoon character
Bear says "pic-a-nic basket" for "picnic basket."
Another example is to be found in the chants of England
football fans in which England is usually rendered as
or the pronunciation of "athlete" as "ath-e-lete". Some
apparent occurrences of epenthesis, however, have a separate
cause: the pronunciation of nuclear as nucular
arises out of analogy with other -cular words (binocular,
particular, etc.), rather than epenthesis.
- Certain registers of colloquial Brazilian
Portuguese sometimes have [i]
clusters, except those formed with /l/
(atleta) or /r/
(prato), so that words like psicologia
and advogado are pronounced as /pisikoloʒiɐ/
Some regional dialects also use [e]
for voiced consonant clusters.
- In Spanish
it is usual to find epenthetic or svarabatic vowels
in the groups of plosive + trill + vowel or labiodental
fricative + trill + vowel, normally in non-emphatic
pronunciation: For instance in pronouncing "Vinagre"
instead of the usual [biˈnaɣre]
we find [biˈnaɣ(ə)re].
there are two epenthetic vowels and two nativization vowels.
One epenthetic vowel is the preceding vowel, found in
case ending -(h)*n, e.g. maahan, taloon.
(There is no schwa
in Finnish; the term "schwa" is often confused with the
epenthetic vowel.) The second one is [e],
connecting stems that have historically been consonant
stems to their case endings, e.g. nim+n →
In standard Finnish, consonant clusters may not be broken
by epenthetic vowels; foreign words undergo consonant
deletion rather than addition of vowels. However, modern
loans may not end in consonants. Even if the word, such
as a personal name, is not loaned, a paragogic
vowel is needed to connect a consonantal case ending
to the word. The vowel is /i/,
e.g. (Inter)net → netti, or in the
case of personal name, Bush + -sta →
Bushista "about Bush".
Finnish has moraic
consonants, of which L, H and N are of interest in this
case. In standard Finnish, these are slightly intensified
when preceding a consonant in a medial cluster, e.g. -hj-.
Some dialects, like Savo
employ epenthesis instead, using the preceding vowel in
clusters of type -lC-
and in Savo, -nh-. For example, Pohjanmaa
"Ostrobothnia" → Pohojammaa, ryhmä
→ ryhymä, and Savo vanha →
vanaha. Ambiguities may result: salmi "strait"
(An exception is that in Pohjanmaa, -lj- and -rj-
become -li- and -ri-, respectively, e.g.
kirja → kiria. Also, in a small region
in Savo, the vowel /e/
is used in the same role.)
the addition of a sound to the start of a word.
the addition of a sound to the end of a word.
the insertion of a morpheme
within a word.
the inclusion of a whole word within another one.
the reordering of sounds within a word.