Augment (linguistics)

In linguistics, the augment is a syllable added to the beginning of the word in certain Indo-European languages, most notably Greek, Armenian and Indo-Iranian languages such as Sanskrit, to form the past tenses.

Indo-European languages

Historical linguists are uncertain whether the augment is a feature that was added to some branches of Indo-European or whether the augment was present in the parent language and lost by all other branches (see also Proto-Greek).


Ancient Greek

In Ancient Greek, the verb λέγω légo “I say” has the aorist ἔλεξα élexa “I said”. The initial ε e is the augment. When it comes before a consonant, it is called the "syllabic augment" because it adds a syllable. Sometimes the syllabic augment appears before a vowel because the initial consonant of the verbal root (usually digamma) was lost:[1]

When the augment is added before a vowel, the augment and the vowel are contracted and the vowel becomes long: akoúō "I hear", ḗkousa "I heard". It is sometimes called the "temporal augment" because it increases the time needed to pronounce the vowel.[2]

Homeric Greek

In Homer, past-tense (aorist or imperfect) verbs appeared both with and without an augment.

Modern Greek

Unaccented syllabic augment disappeared during the Byzantine period as a result of the loss of unstressed initial syllables. However, accented syllabic augments remained in place.[3] So Ancient ἔλυσα, ἐλύσαμεν "I loosened, we loosened" corresponds to Modern έλυσα, λύσαμε (élisa, lísame).[4] Temporal augment has not survived in the vernacular, which leaves the initial vowel unaltered: Ancient ἀγαπῶ, ἠγάπησα "I love, I loved"; Modern αγαπώ, αγάπησα (agapó, agápisa).


Sanskrit had the augment अ- / a-, prefixed to past-tense verbs (aorist and imperfect). [5]

stem present aorist imperfect English
ध / dhã दधति / dadhãti अधत् / adhãt अदधत् / adadhãt put
गम् / gam गच्छति / gacchati अगमत् / agamat अगच्छत् / agacchat go


Non-Indo-European languages

The term has also been extended to describe similar features in non-Indo-European languages.

In Nahuatl, the perfect ō- prefix is called an augment.

In certain Bantu languages such as Zulu, the term "augment" refers to the initial vowel of a noun class prefix such as (in Zulu) umu-, ama-. That vowel may be present or absent, according to grammatical rules.

Constructed languages

In High Elvish, the repetition of the first vowel before the perfect (for instance utúlië, perfect tense of túlë, "come") is also called an augment.


  1. Herbert Weir Smyth. Greek Grammar. par. 429: syllabic augment.
  2. Smyth. par. 435: temporal augment.
  3. Browning, Robert (1983). Medieval and Modern Greek (p58).
  4. Sophroniou, S.A. Modern Greek. Teach Yourself Books, 1962, Sevenoaks, p79.
  5. Coulson, Michael. Teach yourself Sanskrit. p. 244. Hodder and Stoughton, 1976, Sevenoaks.
  6. Clackson, James. 1994. The Linguistic Relationship Between Armenian and Greek. London: Publications of the Philological Society, No 30. (and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing)
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