Augment (Indo-European)
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Augment Indo-European

The augment is a prefix used in certain Indo-European languages, most notably Greek, Armenian and Indo-Iranian languages such as Sanskrit, in the formation of past tenses. Historical linguists are uncertain whether the augment is a feature that was added to some branches of Indo-European or whether the augment was present in the parent language and lost by all other branches (see also Proto-Greek).


Ancient Greek

In Ancient Greek, the verb ? légo "I say" has the aorist élexa "I said". The initial ? e is the augment. When it comes before a consonant, it is called the "syllabic augment" because it adds a syllable. Sometimes the syllabic augment appears before a vowel because the initial consonant of the verbal root (usually digamma) was lost:[1]

  • *?- *é-widon -> (loss of digamma) * *éidon -> (synaeresis) eîdon

When the augment is added before a vowel, the augment and the vowel are contracted and the vowel becomes long: akoú? "I hear", ?́kousa "I heard". It is sometimes called the "temporal augment" because it increases the time needed to pronounce the vowel.[2]

Homeric Greek

In Homer, past-tense (aorist or imperfect) verbs appeared both with and without an augment.

  • ? --
    h?̀s pháto -- h?̀s éphato
    "so he/she said"
  • ? ? ,
    êmos d' ?rigéneia phán? rhododáktulos ́s,
    "And when rose-fingered Dawn appeared, early-born,"

Modern Greek

Unaccented syllabic augment disappeared during the Byzantine period as a result of the loss of unstressed initial syllables. However, accented syllabic augments remained in place.[3] So Ancient , (él?sa, elsamen) "I loosened, we loosened" corresponds to Modern , (élisa, lísame).[4] The temporal augment has not survived in the vernacular, which leaves the initial vowel unaltered: Ancient , ? (agapô, ?gáp?sa) "I love, I loved"; Modern , ? (agapó, agápisa).


Sanskrit has the augment ?- / a-, prefixed to past-tense verbs (aorist and imperfect). [5]

stem present aorist imperfect English
? / dhã ? / dadhãti ? / adhãt / adadhãt put
/ gam / gacchati / agamat ? / agacchat go


Constructed languages

In J. R. R. Tolkien's Quenya, the repetition of the first vowel before the perfect (for instance utúlië, perfect tense of túlë, "come") is reminiscent of the Indo-European augment in both form and function, and is referred to by the same name in Tolkien's grammar of the language.


  1. ^ Herbert Weir Smyth. Greek Grammar. par. 429: syllabic augment.
  2. ^ Smyth. par. 435: temporal augment.
  3. ^ Browning, Robert (1983). Medieval and Modern Greek (p58).
  4. ^ Sophroniou, S.A. Modern Greek. Teach Yourself Books, 1962, Sevenoaks, p79.
  5. ^ Coulson, Michael. Teach yourself Sanskrit. p. 244. Hodder and Stoughton, 1976, Sevenoaks.
  6. ^ Clackson, James. 1994. The Linguistic Relationship Between Armenian and Greek. London: Publications of the Philological Society, No 30. (and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing)

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