In linguistics and etymology, suppletion is traditionally understood as the use of one word as the inflected form of another word when the two words are not cognate. For those learning a language, suppletive forms will be seen as "irregular" or even "highly irregular". The term "suppletion" implies that a gap in the paradigm was filled by a form "supplied" by a different paradigm. Instances of suppletion are overwhelmingly restricted to the most commonly-used lexical items in a language.

Irregularity and suppletion

An irregular paradigm is one in which the derived forms of a word cannot be deduced by simple rules from the base form. For example, someone who knows only a little English can deduce that the plural of "girl" is "girls", but cannot deduce that the plurals of "man" and "person" are "men" and "people". Language learners are often most aware of irregular verbs, but any part of speech with inflections can be irregular. For most synchronic purposes — first language acquisition studies, psycholinguistics, language teaching theory — it is enough to note that these forms are irregular. However historical linguistics seeks to explain how they came to be so and distinguishes different kinds of irregularity according to their origins. Most irregular paradigms (like "man:men") can be explained by philological developments which affected one form of a word but not another. The historical antecedents of the current forms were once a regular paradigm. The term "suppletion" was coined by historical linguists to distinguish irregularities like "person:people" which cannot be so explained, because the parts of the paradigm have not evolved out of a single form.


*In English, the past tense of the verb "go" is "went", which comes from the past tense of the verb "wend", archaic in this sense. (The modern past tense of "wend" is "wended".) See go (verb).

*The Romance languages have a variety of suppletive forms in conjugating the verb "to go", as these first-person singular forms illustrate::

:† This is an adverbial form ("badly"); the Italian adjective is itself suppletive ("cattivo," from the same root as "captive").

*Similarly to the Italian noted above, the English adverb form of "good" is the unrelated word "well," from Old English "wel", cognate to "wyllan" "to wish."

* In English, the complicated irregular verb "be / is / were" has forms from several different roots: "be" originally comes from the Proto-Indo-European language "*bhu-"; "am", "is" and "are" from "*es-", and "was" and "were" from "*wes-". This verb is suppletive in most IE languages. See Indo-European copula.

* An incomplete suppletion in English exists with the plural of "person" (from the Latin "persona"). The regular plural "persons" occurs mainly in legalistic use. The singular of the unrelated noun "people" (from Latin "populus") is more commonly used in place of the plural, e.g. "two people were living on a one-person salary" (note the plural verb). In its original sense of "ethnic group", "people" is itself a singular noun with regular plural "peoples".

* In Russian, the word "человек" "chelovek" (man, human being) is suppletive. The strict plural form, "человеки" "cheloveki", is used only in Orthodox Church context. It may have originally been "*человекы" but this is not attested. In any case, in modern usage it has been replaced by "люди" "ljudi", the singular form of which is known in Russian only as a component of compound words (such as "простолюдин" "prostoljudin"). This suppletion also exists in Polish ("człowiek" > "ludzie") and Czech ("člověk" > "lidé").

* In Bulgarian, the word "човек" "chovek" (man, human being) is suppletive. The strict plural form, "човеци" "chovetsi", is used only in Biblical context. In modern usage it has been replaced by the Greek loan "хора" "xora". The counter form (special form for masculine nouns, used after numerals) is suppletive as well: "души" "dùshi" (with the accent on the first syllable), e.g. "двама, трима души" (two, three people). This form has no singular either (a related but different noun is the plural "души" "dushì", with the accent at the last syllable, singular "душа" "dushà" (soul).

* In Polish, the plural form of "rok" ("year") is "lata" which comes from the plural of "lato" ("summer").

* In many Slavic languages, "small" and "big" are suppletive::^ * "z", "przy", "w", and "wy" are prefixes and are not part of the root

Weak suppletion

The term “weak suppletion” is sometimes used in contemporary synchronic morphology in regard to sets of stems (or affixes) whose alternations cannot be accounted for by current phonological rules. For example, stems in the word pair oblige/obligate are related by meaning but the stem-final alternation is not related by any synchronic phonological process. This makes the pair appear to be suppletive, except that they are related etymologically. In historical linguistics suppletion only refers to etymologically unrelated stems. Current usage of the term “weak suppletion” in synchronic morphology is not fixed.

External links

* [ Surrey Suppletion Database] – examples of suppletion in different languages

ee also

* Irregular verb


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Suppletion —   [spätlateinisch suppletio »Ergänzung«] die, , Suppletivịsmus, Sprachwissenschaft: Zusammenschluss von Formen oder Wörtern etymologisch unterschiedlichen Stammes zu einem Formen oder Bedeutungssystem (z. B. beim Nomen Steigerungsformen wie… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • suppletion — [sə plē′shən] n. [ME supplecioun < ML suppletio < L suppletus: see SUPPLETORY] Linguis. 1. a) the occurrence of an allomorph of a morpheme which has no phonological similarity to the other allomorphs (Ex.: the en of oxen, as opposed to a… …   English World dictionary

  • Supplétion — En morphologie linguistique, on parle de supplétion quand l ensemble des formes que prend un même mot (ou plus précisément un lemme) dans sa flexion fait intervenir plusieurs radicaux (ou lexèmes), au lieu d être bâti par modifications d un… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Suppletion — Unter Suppletion (auch: Suppletivismus) versteht man in der Sprachwissenschaft die Bildung verschiedener Wortformen eines Flexionsparadigmas unter Verwendung verschiedener Stämme im Gegensatz zu einem nicht suppletivischen Paradigma, bei dem alle …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • suppletion — noun Etymology: Medieval Latin suppletion , suppletio act of supplementing, from Latin supplēre Date: 1914 the occurrence of phonemically unrelated allomorphs of the same morpheme (as went as the past tense of go or better as the comparative form …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • suppletion — /seuh plee sheuhn/, n. Gram. the use in inflection or derivation of an allomorph that is not related in form to the primary allomorph of a morpheme, as the use of better as the comparative of good. [1275 1325; ME: supplementation, supplement < ML …   Universalium

  • suppletion — noun /səˈpliːʃn/ a) The supplying of something lacking. b) The use of an unrelated word or phrase to supply inflected forms otherwise lacking, e.g. using “to be able” as the infinitive of “can”, or “better” as the comparative of “good” …   Wiktionary

  • Suppletion — Sup|ple|ti|on die; <aus spätlat. suppletio »Ergänzung«> svw. ↑Suppletivismus …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • suppletion — n. (Linguistics and Etymology) use of a word as tense or inflection of a completely different word that is not related to the uninflected form (e.g., the past tense of the verb go is went which derives from the past tense of the verb wend ; was… …   English contemporary dictionary

  • suppletion — [sə pli:ʃ(ə)n] noun Linguistics the occurrence of an unrelated form to fill a gap in a conjugation (e.g. went as the past tense of go). Derivatives suppletive adjective Origin ME: from OFr., from med. L. suppletio(n ), from supplere (see supply1) …   English new terms dictionary

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