Appendix:Ancient Greek contraction

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Ancient Greek had a complicated system whereby two vowels in hiatus were contracted together into a single long vowel according to a set of rules, which often varied by dialect. This contraction was ubiquitous, appearing in several prominent modes of verb and noun inflection.

Origin of hiatus[edit]

Due to the loss of Proto-Indo-European *s (> Proto-Hellenic *h) and *y between vowels, many pairs of vowels were brought into contact. This set was further augmented by the later loss of ϝ (*w). However, not all dialects lost ϝ between vowels (namely, most West Greek dialects), and in many cases vowels are not contracted even when ϝ is lost: γένους (*génehos) but ἡδέος (*hwēdewos).

General notes[edit]

Similar vowels are usually contracted into a single long vowel: ᾰ + ᾰ = ᾱ (a + a = ā), ο + ω = ω (o + ō = ō), etc. Diphthongs in -ι usually retain their final element. (There are no certain examples of contraction with a diphthong in .) Dissimilar vowels are generally either contracted into the lengthened form of the first vowel (ᾰ + ε = ᾱ), or a vowel of intermediate quality (ε + ᾰ = η).

The diphthong ει had shifted at an early point to a long vowel /eː/, which was equal in quality to ε /e/. For this reason, long /eː/ which originated from lengthening of ε (including, but not limited to, contraction of εε /e.e/) was also written as ει. However, the differing origins of the sound are still evident in contracted forms: ει which comes from an original diphthong (called "genuine" ει) is contracted to forms with /j/ (, , οι), whereas ει which comes from lengthening of ε (called "spurious" ει) is contracted to forms without /j/ (, η, ου).

A similar situation occurred with ο and ου: οο was contracted to ου rather than ω. However, no examples of contraction of "genuine" ου exist.

However, in some forms of Doric (Elean, Laconian, Heraclean, and Cretan, often called "Severe" Doric), as well as the Arcadocypriot dialect, ε, ο were closer in quality to η, ω. For this reason, εε and οο contract to η and ω respectively (and other lengthening processes lengthen them to η and ω as well.) In Boeotian, ω is written for lengthened ο, but ει for lengthened ε (note that Boeotian in fact lacks η entirely, and has ει for all instances of it.)

Tables of contraction[edit]

Attic[edit]

Second vowel
αι ε ει (gen.) ει (sp.) η ι ο οι ου ω
First vowel αι αι ω ω ω
η ω[1] ω[1]
ε η[2] η[2][3] [4] ει (sp.) ει (gen.) ει (sp.) η ει (gen.) ου οι ου ευ ω
η η η η
ο ω[2] ου οι ου ω [5] οι ου οι ου ω
  1. 1.0 1.1 Strictly speaking, this is contraction of εω, which arose from ᾱο > ηο (or ᾱω > ηω) through quantitative metathesis. However, this contraction is not universal.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 in the dual and plural of contracted nouns.
  3. ^ Proper names in -εᾱς are usually uncontracted.
  4. ^ αι in the dual and plural of contracted nouns.
  5. ^ οι in the dual and plural of contracted nouns.


Attic contracted vowels the most out of all dialects. Most other dialects did not contract εο, εω, εου, ᾱο, etc.

The following contractions are also attested:

  • ῐ + ῐ = ῑ (i + i = ī): Χῐ́ῐος → Χῖος (Khíios → Khîos)
  • ῠ + ῠ = ῡ (u + u = ū): ῠ̔ῠ́ς → ῡ̔́ς (huús → hū́s)
  • ω + ᾰ = ω (ō + a = ō): ἥρωᾰ → ἥρω (hḗrōa → hḗrō)
  • ω + ι = ῳ (ō + i = ōi): ἥρωῐ̈ → ἥρῳ (hḗrōï → hḗrōi)

Ionic[edit]

Second vowel
αι ε ει (gen.) ει (sp.) η ι ο οι ου ω
First vowel αι αι ω ω ω
η ω[1] ω[1]
ε ει (sp.) ει (gen.) ει (sp.) η ει (gen.) ευ [2] ευ ευ [2] [2]
η η η η
ο ου οι ου ω οι ου οι ου ω
  1. 1.0 1.1 Strictly speaking, this is contraction of εω, which arose from ᾱο > ηο (or ᾱω > ηω) through quantitative metathesis. Usually only contracted after vowels.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 ε may be lost after a vowel: *ᾰ̓δεέως (*adeéōs) > ᾰ̓δεῶς (adeôs).


Major differences from Attic are bolded.

Ionic contracts the least of all dialects. Many of the above contractions are rare (however, contractions of like vowel sounds are usually common.) Note also that Ionic also has η for most cases of .

Not shown in the table is the contraction οαυωυ, attested in ἑωυτοῦ (heōutoû, himself), from *ἑοαυτοῦ (*heoautoû).

West Greek (Northwest and Doric) and Boeotian[edit]

Second vowel
αι ε ει (gen.) ει (sp.) η ι ο οι ου ω
First vowel αι η η η αι ω[1] ω ω
[2]
ε [3] ει (sp.)[4] ει (gen.) ει (sp.) η ει (gen.) [5] [5] ευ [5] [5]
ο ω [6] ου[7][8] οι ου[7] οι ου ω
  1. ^ αο from αϝο is contracted in West Greek, but not in Boeotian.
  2. ^ Uncontracted in Boeotian.
  3. ^ Occasionally contracted to η. εᾰ from εϝᾰ is also sometimes contracted (never in Attic.)
  4. ^ Contracted to η in Elean, Laconian, Heraclean, and Cretan. η is also Arcadocypriot (an East Greek dialect.)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 ε may be lost after a vowel.
  6. ^ Contracted to in Coan and Rhodian. is also Lesbian (an East Greek dialect.)
  7. 7.0 7.1 Contracted to ω in Boeotian, Elean, Laconian, Heraclean, and Cretan. ω is also Arcadocypriot (an East Greek dialect.)
  8. ^ ε is sometimes lost before two consonants.


Major differences from Attic are bolded.

Most West Greek dialects have scant inscriptional evidence. Many contractions are not well attested, and most alphabets do not distinguish between ε, ει, η or ο, ου, ω. Additionally, many verbs that would be contracted in Attic or Ionic have different stems in West Greek (δουλίζω for δουλόω, γέλαμι for γελάω).

Crasis[edit]

Crasis is the process of contracting vowels across word boundaries—that is, contracting the last vowel in a word with the first vowel in a following word. Crasis only occurs after a vowel that cannot be elided—so only monosyllables not ending in ε, or words ending in a long vowel, can undergo crasis. Additionally, only articles, some pronouns, and adverbial particles will undergo crasis.

A pair of words joined by crasis is written as a single word, with the smooth breathing written over the contracted vowel (regardless of whether the second word has a smooth or rough breathing):

  • ἐγὼ οἶδαἐγδα
  • δὴ ἡμέραδμέρα

However, π, τ, κ become φ, θ, χ before a word beginning with the rough breathing:

  • τὸ ἱμάτιονθοἰμάτιον

Additionally, if the first word comprises a single vowel which has the rough breathing, the rough breathing will be written:

  • ὁ ἐκοὑκ

The accent of the second word is always used, and does not change if the vowel becomes long:

  • τὰ ἄλλᾰτᾱ̓́λλᾰ (not **τἆλλᾰ)

If the first vowel is a diphthong, it loses its final element:

  • σοι ἐστίσοὐστί

Before α, the final vowel of the article or τοί (or its compounds) is dropped, and α is lengthened instead of contracting normally:

  • ὁ ἀνήρᾱ̔νήρ (not **ὡνήρ)
  • τοὶ ἄρατᾱ̓́ρα (not **τὤρα)
  • μέντοι ἄνμεντᾱ̓́ν (not **μεντὤν)
  • τοῦ αὐτοῦταὐτοῦ

καί (kaí) usually loses its final vowel except before ε ει, ο:

  • καὶ οὐκοὐ (not **κὠ)
  • καὶ ἡχἠ (not **χᾱ̓)
  • καὶ ἐνκᾱ̓ν
  • καὶ εἶτακτα
  • καὶ ὅτεχὤτε

References[edit]

  • Herbert Weir Smyth, A Greek Grammar for Colleges
  • Carl Darling Buck, Introduction to the Study of the Greek Dialects