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Augment (linguistics)

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Title: Augment (linguistics)  
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Subject: Injunctive mood, Armenian language, Indo-Aryan migration theory, Indo-European linguistics, Kurgan hypothesis
Collection: Greek Grammar, Indo-European Linguistics, Linguistic Morphology, Phonology
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Augment (linguistics)

In linguistics, the augment is a syllable added to the beginning of the word in certain Indo-European languages, most notably Greek, Armenian, and the Indo-Iranian languages such as Sanskrit, to form the past tenses.


  • Indo-European languages 1
    • Greek 1.1
      • Ancient Greek 1.1.1
      • Homeric Greek 1.1.2
      • Modern Greek 1.1.3
    • Sanskrit 1.2
    • Other 1.3
  • Non-Indo-European languages 2
  • References 3

Indo-European languages

Historical linguists are uncertain whether the augment is a feature that was added to these 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 λέγω légo “I say” has the aorist ἔλεξα élexa “I said”. The initial ε e is the augment. When this 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]

  • *έ-ϝιδον → (loss of digamma) *ἔιδον → (synaeresis) εἶδον

When the augment is added before a vowel, the augment and the vowel are contracted, and the vowel becomes long: akoúō "I hear", ḗkousa "I heard". This 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.

  • ὣς φάτο — ὣς ἔφατο
    hṑs pháto — hṑs éphato
    "so he/she said"
  • ἦμος δ᾿ ἠριγένεια φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς,
    êmos d' ērigéneia phánē rhododáktulos Ēṓs,
    "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 ἔλυσα, ἐλύσαμεν "I loosened, we loosened" corresponds to Modern έλυσα, λύσαμε (élisa, lísame).[4] Temporal augment has not survived in the vernacular, which leaves the initial vowel unaltered: Ancient ἀγαπῶ, ἠγάπησα "I love, I loved"; Modern αγαπώ, αγάπησα (agapó, agápisa).


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

stem present aorist imperfect English
ध / dhã दधति / dadhãti अधत् / adhãt अदधत् / adadhãt put
गम् / gam गच्छति / gacchati अगमत् / agamat अगच्छत् / agacchat go


Non-Indo-European languages

The term has also been extended to describe similar features in non-Indo-European languages.

In Nahuatl, the perfect ō- prefix is called an augment.

In certain Bantu languages such as Zulu, the term "augment" refers to the initial vowel of a noun class prefix, such as (in Zulu) umu-, ama-. This vowel can be present or absent according to grammatical rules.


  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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