Suppletion

From Academic Kids

In linguistics and etymology, suppletion is the use of one word as the inflected form of another word when the two words are not cognate. Suppletion in a particular language, as demonstrated below, occurs overwhelmingly in lexical items which arise particularly often. Many suppletive forms are known to learners of languages simply as irregular.

Here are some examples:

  • 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.) There is also a suppletive use of the perfect tense of be to distinguish an experiential sense ("He has been to France") from a resultative sense ("He has gone to France").
  • The Romance languages have a variety of suppletive forms in conjugating the verb "to go", as these first-person singular forms illustrate:
Language Present Future Preterite
French vais (1) irai (2) allai (3)
Italian vado (1) andrņ (4) andai (4)
Spanish voy (1) iba (2) fui (5)
The sources of these are 5 different Latin verbs:
  1. vadere "to advance"
  2. ire "to go"
  3. either ambulare "to walk" or allatus suppletive participle of afferre "to carry"
  4. andare "to go" (In Spanish, andar means "to walk".)
  5. fui suppletive perfective of esse "to be" (the preterites of "to be" and "to go" are identical in Spanish).
Language Adjective Etymology Comparative/superlative Etymology
English;
German
good; gut OE gOd, akin to OHG guod, Sanskrit gadhya "what one clings to" better/best; besser/am besten OE betera, akin to bOt "remedy", Sanskrit bhadra "fortunate"
English bad perhaps from OE bæddel "hermaphrodite" worse/worst OE wyrsa, akin to OHG wirsiro
French;
Spanish;
Italian
bon; bueno; buono Latin bonus, from OL duenos, akin to Sanskrit duva "reverence" meilleur; mejor; migliore Latin melior, akin to multus "many", Gk mala "very"
mauvais; malo; male† Latin malus pire; peor; peggiore Latin pejor, akin to Sanskrit padyate "he falls"
† This is an adverbial form ("badly"); the Italian adjective is itself suppletive (cattivo, akin to "captive").
  • Similarly to the Italian noted above, the English adverb form of "good" is the unrelated word "well," from Old English wel, akin to wyllan "to wish."
  • In English, the complicated irregular verb be / is / were has forms from several different roots: be originally comes from Indo-European *bhu-; am, is and are from *es-, and was and were from *wes-.
  • Also in English, the word people is often used as the plural form of the unrelated word person (from the Latin words populus and persona, respectively.) The two exist as unrelated nouns, with the legalistic plural "persons" and the use of "people" as a singular noun to mean "ethnic group"; however, when "people" is used as the plural of "person," it takes a plural verb.
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