AskDefine | Define suppletion

User Contributed Dictionary



supplere "to supply," perfect stem supplet-, + -ion.


  • /səˈpliːʃən/


  1. The supplying of something lacking.
  2. 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”.

Extensive Definition

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. Instances of suppletion in a particular language are overwhelmingly restricted to its most commonly-used lexical items. For those learning a language, suppletive forms will be seen as "irregular" or even "highly 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.)
  • The Romance languages have a variety of suppletive forms in conjugating the verb "to go", as these first-person singular forms illustrate:
The sources of these are 5 different Latin verbs:
  1. vadere "to advance"
  2. ire "to go"
  3. ambulare "to walk" (sometimes claimed to be the source of Spanish andar "to walk")
  4. fui suppletive perfective of esse "to be" (the preterites of "to be" and "to go" are identical in Spanish).
Many of the Romance languages use forms from different verbs in the present tense; for example, French has je vais, "I go", (from vadere) but nous allons "we go", (from ambulare).
† This is an adverbial form ("badly"); the Italian adjective is itself suppletive (cattivo, from the same root as "captive").
  • Similarly to the Italian noted above, the English adverb form of "good" is the unrelated word "well," from Old English wel, cognate to wyllan "to wish."
  • An incomplete suppletion in English exists with the plural of person (from the Latin persona). The regular plural persons occurs mainly in legalistic use. The singular of the unrelated noun people (from Latin populus) is more commonly used in place of the plural, e.g. "two people were living on a one-person salary" (note the plural verb). In its original sense of "ethnic group", people is itself a singular noun with regular plural peoples.
  • In Russian, the word человек chelovek (man, human being) is suppletive. The strict plural form, человеки cheloveki, is almost never used. In modern usage it has been replaced by люди ljudi, the singular form of which is known in Russian only as a component of compound words (such as простолюдин prostoljudin). (This suppletion exists also in Polish and Czech languages)
  • In Bulgarian, the word човек chovek (man, human being) is suppletive. The strict plural form, човеци chovetsi, is used only in Biblical context. In modern usage it has been replaced by the Greek loan хора xora. The counter form (special form for masculine nouns, used after numerals) is suppletive as well: души dùshi (with the accent on the first syllable), e.g. двама, трима души (two, three people). This form has no singular either (a related but different noun is the plural души dushì, with the accent at the last syllable, singular душа dushà (soul)).

External links

suppletion in German: Suppletion
suppletion in Spanish: Supletismo
suppletion in Hungarian: Szuppletivizmus
suppletion in Japanese: 補充形
suppletion in Norwegian Nynorsk: Suppletivisme
suppletion in Russian: Супплетивизм
suppletion in Swedish: Suppletion
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