Apocopation and the Clipping of Words in Spanish

13 Words That Get Shortened in Special Instances

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In Spanish, there are just over a dozen words that are shortened in certain sentence formations. The linguistic term is apocope or apocopation, which is defined as the loss of one or more sounds from the end of a word, and especially the loss of an unstressed vowel.

Does Apocopation Occur in English?

In English, apocopation is also called final clipping, which means the shortening of the end of a word, while the word retains its full meaning.

Examples of this include "auto" clipped from "automobile," or "gym" shortened from "gymnasium."

Do We Need to Clip Words in Spanish?

While in English, it does not matter if you shorten the word or not, in Spanish, the apocopation of several words is required as a grammatical rule. The good news is the list is short. There are only 13 words that need memorizing.

The Rule With Singular Masculine Nouns

The most common of these by far is uno, the number "one," which is usually translated as "a" or "an." It is shortened to un when it comes before a singular masculine noun: un muchacho, "a boy," but, it does retain the final vowel sound when in the feminine form, una muchacha, "a girl".

What follows are other adjectives that are shortened, when they precede a singular masculine noun. All but the last one, postrero, are very common.

Word/MeaningExampleTranslation
alguno "some"algún lugarsome place
bueno "good"el buen samaritanothe good Samaritan
malo "bad"este mal hombrethis bad man
ninguno "no" "not one"ningún perrono dog
uno "one"un muchachoa boy
primero "first"primer encuentrofirst encounter
tercero "third"Tercer MundoThird World
postrero "last"mi postrer adiósmy last goodbye

For all the adjectives listed above, the usual form is retained when the words are followed by a feminine or plural noun, for example, algunos libros, which means "some books," and tercera mujer, which means "third woman."

Five Other Common Words That Get Shortened

There are five other common words that undergo apocopation: grande, meaning "great," cualquiera, meaning "whatever," ciento, meaning "one hundred," "Santo," meaning "Saint," and tanto, meaning "so much."

Grande

The singular grande is shortened to gran before a noun in both the masculine and feminine. In that position, it usually means "great." For an example look at un gran momento, which means, "a great moment" and la gran explosión, which means, "the great explosion." There is a case when grande is not apocopated, and that is when it follows más. For reference, look at the following examples, el más grande escape, meaning "the greatest escape," or el más grande americano, meaning "the greatest American."

Cualquiera

When used as an adjective, cualquiera, meaning "any" in the sense of "whatever," drops the -a before a noun. Take at look at the following examples, cualquier navegador, meaning "any browser," or cualquier nivel, meaning "whatever level."

Ciento

The word for "one hundred" is shortened before a noun or when used as part of a number that it multiplies, for example, cien dólares, which means, "100 dollars," and cien millones, which means, "100 million." The exception is that ciento is not shortened within a number, for example, the number 112, would be spelled out and pronounced as ciento doce.

Santo

The title for a saint is shortened before the names of most males, such as San Diego or San Francisco, and the long form Santo is retained if the following name begins with Do- or To-, for example, Santo Domingo or Santo Tomás.

Tanto

The adjective tanto, meaning, "so much," gets shortened to tan when it is used as an adverb in a sentence. When it becomes an adverb, its translation becomes "so." For example, Tengo tanto dinero que no sé qué hacer con él, which translates to, "I have so much money I don't know what to do with it." An example of tanto being shortened and used as an adverb can be found in the following sentences, Rita es tan alta como María, meaning "Rita is as tall as María," or& Rita habla tan rápido como María, meaning, "Rita talks as fast as María."