Syncope (phonetics)

Syncope (phonetics)

For other uses of the word syncope, see syncope (disambiguation)
In phonology, syncope (Greek syn- + kopein “to strike”) is the loss of one or more sounds from the interior of a word; especially, the loss of an unstressed vowel.

Syncope as a historical sound change

In historical phonetics, the term "syncope" is often but not always limited to the loss of an unstressed vowel:

The loss of any sound

  • Old English hláford > English lord
  • English Worcester, pronounced [ˈwʊstə]
  • English Gloucester, pronounced [ˈɡlɒstə]

The loss of an unstressed vowel

  • Latin cál[i]dum > Italian caldo "hot"
  • Latin óc[u]lum > Italian occhio "eye"
  • Latin trem[u]láre > Italian tremare "to tremble"

Syncope as a poetic device

Sounds may be removed from the interior of a word as a rhetoric or poetic device, whether for embellishment or for the sake of the meter.

  • Latin commo[ve]rat > poetic commorat ("he had moved")
  • English hast[e]ning > poetic hast'ning
  • English heav[e]n > poetic heav'n
  • English over > poetic o'er

Syncope in informal speech

Various sorts of colloquial reductions might be called "syncope". Forms such as "didn't" that are written with an apostrophe are, however, generally called contractions:

  • English [Au]stra[lia]n > colloquial Strine
  • English go[ing t]o> gonna
  • English wa[nt t]o > wanna
  • English did n[o]t > didn't
  • English do[n't k]no[w] > dunno
  • English I [woul]d [h]ave > I'd've

See also


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

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