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In phonology, epenthesis (; Greek ) means the addition of one or more sounds to a word, especially to the interior of a word (at the beginning prothesis and at the end paragoge are commonly used). The word epenthesis comes from epi- "in addition to" and en- "in" and thesis "putting". Epenthesis may be divided into two types: excrescence for the addition of a consonant, and for the addition of a vowel, svarabhakti (in Hindi, Bengali and other North Indian languages, stemming from Sanskrit) or alternatively anaptyxis . The opposite process, where one or more sounds are removed, is referred to as elision.


Epenthesis arises for a variety of reasons. The phonotactics of a given language may discourage vowels in hiatus or consonant clusters, and a consonant or vowel may be added to make pronunciation easier. Epenthesis may be represented in writing or be a feature only of the spoken language.

Separating vowels

A consonant may be added to separate vowels in hiatus. This is the case with linking and intrusive R in English.

  • drawing -> drawring

Bridging consonant clusters

A consonant may be placed between consonants in a consonant cluster where the place of articulation is different (e.g., where one consonant is labial and the other is alveolar).

  • something -> somepthing
  • hamster -> hampster
  • *a-mrotos -> ambrotos (see below)

Breaking consonant clusters

A vowel may be placed between consonants to separate them.

Other contexts

While epenthesis most often occurs between two vowels or two consonants, it can also occur between a vowel and a consonant, or at the ends of words. For example, the Japanese prefix ma- ((), pure ..., complete ...) transforms regularly to ma'- ((), (gemination of following consonant)) when followed by a consonant, as in masshiro ((?), pure white). The English suffix -t, often found in the form -st, as in amongst (from among + -st), is an example of terminal excrescence.


Excrescence is the epenthesis of a consonant.

Historical sound change

  • Latin tremulare > French trembler ("to tremble")
  • Old English thunor > English thunder
  • French messager, passager > English messenger, passenger
  • French message, messager > Portuguese mensagem, mensageiro
  • (Reconstructed) Proto-Germanic *s?an? > Old English s?wan, Old Saxon s?ian ("to sow")
  • (Reconstructed) Proto-Greek *amrotos > Ancient Greek ámbrotos ("immortal"; cf. ambrosia)
  • Latin homine(m) > homne > homre > Spanish hombre ("man")

Synchronic rule

In French, /t/ is inserted in inverted interrogative phrases between a verb ending in a vowel and a pronoun beginning with a vowel: il a ('he has') > a-t-il ('has he?'). There is no epenthesis from a historical perspective since the a-t is derived from Latin habet ('he has'), and so the t is the original third-person verb inflection. However, it is correct to call it epenthesis when viewed synchronically since the modern basic form of the verb is a and so 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. It originated from Old English ?n ("one, a, an"), which retained an n in all positions, so a diachronic analysis would see the original n disappearing except if 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.

In Dutch, whenever the suffix -er (which has several meanings) is attached to a word already ending in -r, an additional -d- is inserted in between. For example, the comparative form of the adjective zoet ("sweet") is zoeter, but the comparative of zuur ("sour") is zuurder and not the expected **zurer. Similarly, the agent noun of verkopen ("to sell") is verkoper ("salesperson"), but the agent noun of uitvoeren ("to perform") is uitvoerder ("performer").

Variable rule

In English, a stop consonant is often added as a transitional sound between the parts of a nasal + fricative sequence:

  • English hamster often pronounced with an added p sound, GA: ['hmpst?] or RP: ['hampst?]
  • English warmth often pronounced with an added p sound, GA: ['wmp?] or RP: ['w?:mp?]
  • English fence often pronounced ['f?nts]

Poetic device

  • Latin reliqui?s "remnants, survivors" (accusative plural) > poetic relliqui?s

The three short syllables in reliqui?s do not fit into dactylic hexameter because of the dactyl's limit of two short syllables so the first syllable is lengthened by adding another l. However, the pronunciation was often not written with double ll, and may have been the normal way of pronouncing a word starting in rel- rather than a poetic modification.

In Japanese

A limited number of words in Japanese use epenthetic consonants to separate vowels. An example is the word harusame ((?), spring rain), 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. That is a synchronic analysis. As for a diachronic (historical) analysis, since epenthetic consonants are not used regularly in modern Japanese, the epenthetic /s/ could be from Old Japanese. It is also possible that Old Japanese /ame2/ was once pronounced */same2/; the /s/ would then be not epenthetic but simply an archaic pronunciation. Another example is kosame ((), "light rain").

A complex example of epenthesis is massao ((?), deep blue, ghastly pale), from ma- (??(), pure, complete) + ao (?(), blue). It exhibits epenthesis on both morphemes: ma- (()) -> ma'- ((), (gemination of following consonant)) is common (occurring before a consonant), and ao (?()) -> sao (?()) occurs only in the example; it can be analyzed as maao -> masao (intervocalic) -> massao; akin to kirisame ((?), drizzle, light rain) from kiri (?(), fog, mist) + ame (?(), rain).

One hypothesis argues that Japanese /r/ developed "as a default, epenthetic consonant in the intervocalic position".[1]


Epenthesis of a vowel is known as anaptyxis (, from Greek "unfolding"). Some accounts distinguish between "intrusive" optional vowels, vowel-like releases of consonants as phonetic detail, and true epenthetic vowels that are required by the phonotactics of the language and are acoustically identical with phonemic vowels.

Historical sound change

End of word

Many languages insert a so-called prop vowel at the end of a word, often as a result of the common sound change where vowels at the end of a word are deleted. For example, in the Gallo-Romance languages, a prop schwa /?/ was added when final non-open vowels were dropped leaving /Cr/ clusters at the end, e.g. Latin nigrum '(shiny) black' > *['negro] > Old French negre /'negr?/ 'black' (thus avoiding the impermissible /negr/, cf. carrum > char 'cart').

Middle of word

Similarly as above, a vowel may be inserted in the middle of a word to resolve an impermissible word-final consonant cluster. An example of this can be found in Lebanese Arabic, where /'?al?b/ 'heart' corresponds to Modern Standard Arabic /qalb/ and Egyptian Arabic /?ælb/. In the development of Old English, Proto-Germanic *akraz 'field, acre' would have ended up with an impermissible /kr/ final cluster (*æcr), so it was resolved by inserting an /e/ before the rhotic consonant: æcer (cf. the use of a syllabic consonant in Gothic akrs).

Vowel insertion in the middle of a word can be observed in the history of the Slavic languages, which had a preference for open syllables in medieval times. An example of this is the Proto-Slavic form *gord? 'town', in which the East Slavic languages inserted an epenthetic copy vowel to open the closed syllable, resulting in (gorod?), which became (gorod) in modern Russian and Ukrainian. Other Slavic languages used metathesis for the vowel and the syllable-final consonant, producing *grod? in this case, as seen in Polish gród, Old Church Slavonic grad?, Serbo-Croatian grad and Czech hrad.

Another environment can be observed in the history of Modern Persian, in which former word-initial consonant clusters, which were still extant in Middle Persian, are regularly broken up: Middle Persian br?dar 'brother' > modern Iranian Persian bar?dar /bæ'r?dær/, Middle Persian st?n 'column' > Early New Persian ? sut?n > modern Iranian Persian ? sotun /so'tun/.

In Spanish, as a phonetic detail, it is usual to find a schwa vowel in sequences of a consonant followed by a flap. For instance, vinagre 'vinegar' may be [bi'nae] but also [bi'nae].[]

Many Indo-Aryan languages carry an inherent vowel after each consonant. For example, in Assamese, the inherent vowel is "o" (?), while in Hindi and Marathi, it is "a" (?). Sanskrit words like "maangsa" (meat, ?), "ratna" (jewel, ?), "yatna" (effort, ?), "padma" (lotus, ?), "harsha" (joy, ?), "dwaara" ("door", ) etc. become "mongoh" (? > ), "roton" (? > ), "zoton" (? > ), "podum" (? > ?), "horix" (? > ?), "duwar" ( > ) etc. in Assamese.[2] Other, non-Tatsama words also undergo anaptyxis, for example, the English word "glass" becomes "gilas" ().

Beginning of word

In the Western Romance languages, a prothetic vowel was inserted at the beginning of any word that began with /s/ and another consonant, e.g. Latin spatha 'two-edged sword, typically used by cavalry' becomes the normal word for 'sword' in Romance languages with an inserted /e/: Spanish/Portuguese espada, Catalan espasa, Old French espede > modern épée (see also espadon 'swordfish').

French in fact presents three layers in the vocabulary in which initial vowel epenthesis is or is not applied, depending on the time a word came into the language:

  • insertion of epenthetic /e/ in inherited and commonly-used learned and semi-learned words, which then drop the following /s/ after the medieval period: Latin st?lla, *st?la > Old French esteile > modern étoile 'star', studium > Old French estude > modern étude 'study', schola > OF escole > modern école 'school'
  • insertion of /e/ and keeping /s/ in learned words borrowed during the Middle Ages or the Renaissance: speci?s > espèce, spatium > espace
  • then in the modern period, /e/ is not inserted and uncommon old learned borrowings are remolded to look more like Latin: schol?ris > scolaire, spati?lis > spatial, speci?lis > learned Old French especiel > remolded to modern spécial

Grammatical rule

Epenthesis often breaks up a consonant cluster or vowel sequence that is not permitted by the phonotactics of a language. Regular or semi-regular epenthesis commonly occurs in languages with affixes. For example, a reduced vowel /?/ or /?/ (here abbreviated as /?/) is inserted before the English plural suffix -/z/ and the past tense suffix -/d/ when the root ends in a similar consonant: glass -> glasses /'?læs?z/ or /'?l?:s?z/; bat -> batted /'bæt?d/. However, this is a synchronic analysis as the vowel was originally present in the suffix but has been lost in most words.

Borrowed words

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.

Languages use various vowels, but schwa is quite common when it is available:

  • Hebrew uses a single vowel, the schwa (pronounced /?/ in Israeli Hebrew).
  • Japanese generally uses /?/ except after /t/ and /d/, when it uses /o/, and after /h/, when it uses an echo vowel. For example, English cap becomes ? /kjapp?/ in Japanese; English street, /s?to?i:to/; the Dutch name Gogh, /?ohho/; and the German name Bach, /bahha/.
  • Korean uses /?/ in most cases. /i/ is used after borrowed /?/, /?/, /t?/, /d?/, or /ç/, although /u/ may also be used after borrowed /?/ depending on the source language. /u/ is used when /?/ is followed by a consonant or when a syllable ends with /?/. For example, English strike becomes /s?.t.?a.i.k/, with three epenthetic /?/ vowels and a split of English diphthong into two syllables.
  • Brazilian Portuguese uses /i/, which, in most dialects, triggers palatalization of a preceding /t/ or /d/: nerd > /'nd?i/; stress > /is'tsi/; McDonald's > /m?ki'dõnawd?is/ with normal vocalization of /l/ to /w/. Most speakers pronounce borrowings with spelling pronunciations, and others try to approximate the nearest equivalents in Portuguese of the phonemes in the original language. The word stress became estresse as in the example above.
  • Classical Arabic does not allow clusters at the beginning of a word, and typically uses /i/ to break up such clusters in borrowings: Latin str?ta > ‏/s?ira:t?/ 'street'. In Modern Standard Arabic and Egyptian Arabic, copy vowels are often used as well, e.g. English/French klaxon (car horn) > Egyptian Arabic ? /kæ'læks/ 'car horn', but note French blouse > Egyptian Arabic /be'lu:zæ/ (where /e/ corresponds to MSA /i/). Many other modern varieties such as North Levantine Arabic and Moroccan Arabic allow word-initial clusters however.
  • Persian also does not allow clusters at the beginning of a word and typically uses /æ/ to break up such clusters in borrowings except between /s/ and /t/, when /o/ is added.
  • Spanish does not allow clusters at the beginning of a word with an /s/ in them and adds e- to such words: Latin species > especie, English stress > estrés.
  • Turkish prefixes close vowels to loanwords with initial clusters of alveolar fricatives followed by another consonant: Isparta < Greek (Sparti), setuskur < set screw, uskumru < Greek (skoúmbri), Üsküdar < Byzantine Greek ? (Skoutárion), istimbot < steamboat, ?skoçya < Scotland, istavrit < Greek (stavridís), ?zmir < Greek (Smírni). The practice is no longer productive as of late 20th century and a few such words have changed back: spor < ?spor < French sport.

Informal speech

Epenthesis most often occurs within unfamiliar or complex consonant clusters. For example, in English, the name Dwight is commonly pronounced with an epenthetic schwa between the /d/ and the /w/ ([d?'wa?t]), and many speakers insert a schwa between the /l/ and /t/ of realtor. Irish English and Scottish English are some of the dialects that may insert a schwa between /l/ and /m/ in words like film (['f?l?m]) under the influence of Celtic languages, a phenomenon that also occurs in Indian English due to the influence of Indo-Aryan languages like Hindi.

Epenthesis is sometimes used for humorous or childlike effect. For example, the cartoon character Yogi Bear says "pic-a-nic basket" for picnic basket. Another example is found in the chants of England football fans in which England is usually rendered as ['?l?nd] 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 (/'n(j)ukj?l?/) in some North American dialects arises out of analogy with other -cular words (binocular, particular, etc.) rather than from epenthesis.

In colloquial registers of Brazilian Portuguese, [i] is sometimes inserted between consonant clusters except those with /l/ (atleta), /?/ (prato) or syllable-ending /s/ (pasta; note syllable-final /s/ is pronounced [?] in a number of dialects). Examples would be tsunami /tisu'nami/, advogado /adivo'?adu/ and abdômen [abi'dom?j]. Some dialects also use [e], which is deemed as stereotypical of people from lower classes, such as those arriving from rural flight in internal migrations to cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Brasília and São Paulo.

In Finnish

In Finnish, there are two epenthetic vowels and two nativization vowels. One epenthetic vowel is the preceding vowel, found in the illative case ending -(h)*n: maa -> maahan, talo -> taloon. The second is [e], connecting stems that have historically been consonant stems to their case endings: nim+n -> nimen.

In Standard Finnish, consonant clusters may not be broken by epenthetic vowels; foreign words undergo consonant deletion rather than addition of vowels: ranta ("shore") from Proto-Germanic *strand?. However, modern loans may not end in consonants. Even if the word, such as a personal name, is native, a paragogic vowel is needed to connect a consonantal case ending to the word. The vowel is /i/: (Inter)net -> netti, or in the case of personal name, Bush + -sta -> Bushista "about Bush" (elative case).

Finnish has moraic consonants: l, h and n are of interest. In Standard Finnish, they are slightly intensified before a consonant in a medial cluster: -hj-. Some dialects, like Savo and Ostrobothnian, have epenthesis instead and use the preceding vowel in clusters of type -lC- and -hC-, in Savo also -nh-. (In Finnish linguistics, the phenomenon is often referred to as ?vaa; the same word can also mean schwa, but it is not a phoneme in Finnish so there is usually no danger of confusion.)

For example, Pohjanmaa "Ostrobothnia" -> Pohojammaa, ryhmä -> ryhymä, and Savo vanha -> vanaha. Ambiguities may result: salmi "strait" vs. salami. (An exception is that in Pohjanmaa, -lj- and -rj- become -li- and -ri-, respectively: kirja -> kiria. Also, in a small region in Savo, /e/ is used instead.)[3]

In constructed languages

Lojban--a constructed language that seeks logically-oriented grammatical and phonological structures--uses a number of consonant clusters in its words, and since it is designed to be as universal as possible, it allows a type of anaptyxis called "buffering" to be used if a speaker finds a cluster difficult or impossible to pronounce. A vowel sound that is nonexistent in Lojban (usually "?" as in "hit") is added between two consonants to make the word easier to pronounce. Despite altering the phonetics of a word, the use of buffering is completely ignored by grammar. Also, the vowel sound used must not be confused with any existing Lojban vowel.

An example of buffering in Lojban: if a speaker finds the cluster [ml] in the word mlatu ("cat") (pronounced ['mlatu]) hard or impossible to pronounce, the vowel [?] can be pronounced between the two consonants, resulting in the form [m?'latu]. Nothing changes grammatically, including the spelling and the syllabication of the word.

In sign language

A type of epenthesis in sign language is known as "movement epenthesis" and occurs, most commonly, during the boundary between signs while the hands move from the posture required by the first sign to that required by the next.[4]

Related phenomena

  • Prothesis: the addition of a sound to the beginning of a word
  • Paragoge: the addition of a sound to the end of a word
  • Infixation: the insertion of a morpheme within a word
  • Tmesis: the inclusion of a whole word within another one
  • Metathesis: the reordering of sounds within a word

See also


  1. ^ Labrune 2012, 3.13 /r/, pp. 92-95, citing unpublished "The phonology of Japanese /r/: a panchronic account" by same author, originally from Ph.D. thesis 1993 « Le statut phonologique de /r/ en japonais et en coréen : histoire, typologie, structure interne des segments », université Paris 7, "The phonological status of /r/ in Japanese and in Korean: history, typology, internal structure of segments", Paris 7 University.
  2. ^ Deka, Dharma Singha (2019). Rosona Bisitra. Guwahati: Assam Book Depot. pp. 3-4. ISBN 978-93-82384-00-7.
  3. ^ Savolainen, Erkki (1998). "Välivokaali". Suomen murteet (in Finnish). Internetix. Retrieved .
  4. ^ Liddell, Scott; Johnson, Robert (2011), "American Sign Language: The Phonological Base", in Valli, Clayton; Lucas, Ceil; Mulrooney, Kristin; et al. (eds.), Linguistics of American Sign Language (5 ed.), Washington, DC: Gallaudet University Press, pp. 315-316, ISBN 9781563685071


External links

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