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From German Suppletivwesen, from Latin supplēre (to supply), perfect stem supplet-, + -ion.



suppletion (usually uncountable, plural suppletions)

  1. The supplying of something lacking.
  2. (linguistics, grammar) 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”, or “went” as the simple past of “go”.
  3. (grammar) More loosely, the use of unrelated (or distantly related) words for semantically related words which may not share the same lexical category, such as father/paternal or cow/bovine, normally referred to as collateral adjectives.

Usage notes[edit]

Strictly speaking, suppletion in linguistics refers only to inflection, such as good/better, which are both adjectives, and this is the most frequent use. It is also used in the looser sense of semantic relations without etymological relations (or with distant etymological relations) such as father/paternal, where these are noun/adjective.[1][2] However, this latter use is significantly less common and may be considered incorrect. The term suppletion is particularly used to contrast these phenomena with phonologically conditioned irregularities like man/men, where both parts are derived by sound changes from an originally regular paradigm.

Related terms[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Paul Georg Meyer (1997) Coming to know: studies in the lexical semantics and pragmatics of academic English, p. 130: "Although many linguists have referred to [collateral adjectives] (paternal, vernal) as 'suppletive' adjectives with respect to their base nouns (father, spring), the nature of ..."
  2. ^ Aspects of the theory of morphology, by Igor Melʹčuk, p. 461