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For other uses of the word syncope, see Syncope
Sound change and alternation
Fortition (strengthening)

In phonology, syncope (pronounced /ˈsɪŋkəpiː/, 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 /ˈwʊstər/
  • English Gloucester, pronounced /ˈɡlɒstər/

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". It is also called compression.[1]

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[i]n[g t]o> gonna
  • English wan[t t]o > wanna
  • English did n[o]t > didn't
  • English do[n't k]no[w] > dunno
  • English I [woul]d [ha]ve > I'd've

See also


  • Crowley, Terry. (1997) An Introduction to Historical Linguistics. 3rd edition. Oxford University Press.
  1. ^ Wells, John C. (2000). Longman Pronouncing Dictionary (2nd ed. ed.). Longman. pp. 165–6. ISBN 978-0-582-36467-7.  


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