An Introduction to Aphæresis

Aphæresis (derives from Greek word ‘apheresis’ literally means “a taking away”), is a device in prosodyOpens in new window, solely for the process which deletes segments in a word's initial syllable, usually a vowel, e.g.,

  • ‘gainst’ for “against”;
  • ‘mid’ for “amids”;
  • ‘neath’ for “beneath.”

Most often, it is used in achieving metricalOpens in new window or rhythmicalOpens in new window requirements.

Aphaeresis may also occur in the form of a syllableOpens in new window containing a vowel-consonant or consonant-vowel pairing, e.g.,

  • ‘zactly’ for “exactly”;
  • ‘cause’ for “because”.

It also consists in specific circumstances, where the consonantOpens in new window clusters with the succeeding word, e.g.,

  • ‘tis’ for “it is”;
  • ‘twere’ for “it were.”

Most times, it is the vowelOpens in new window sound that is elided, e.g.,

  • ‘supposed’ becomes “pposed” or “s’pposed”.

In the English language, the elided syllable carries relatively minimal stress, and the following syllable carries either the primary or secondary stress of the word. An iambicOpens in new window word or phrase thereby becomes a stressed monosyllableOpens in new window. In Greek poetry, aphaeresis occurs in the suppression of an initial short ‘e’ following a word ending in a long vowel or diphthongOpens in new window. —( Stephen Cushman, Clare Cavanagh, Jahan Ramazani, and Paul Rouzer: The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: 4th Edition)

Examples in Literary Works
  • The king hath cause to plain [instead of: complain]”
  • —(Shakespeare, King Lear, 3.1.36-39)
    It may also be used to add a colloquial touch on the flow of speech:
  • “Use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape [instead of: escape] whipping?”
  • — (Shakespeare, Hamlet, 2.2.529-530)
Further Readings:
Silver Rhetoricae, Figures | AphaeresisOpens in new window
Thomas O. Sloane | Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, Volume 1 AphaeresisOpens in new window
The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics: Fourth Edition, Edited by: Stephen Cushman, Clare Cavanagh, Jahan Ramazani, Paul Rouzer | AphaeresisOpens in new window