Apocopation and the Clipping of Words in Spanish

13 Words That Spanish Makes Shorter

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In Spanish, there are just over a dozen words that are shortened in certain sentence formations through what is known in linguistics as apocope or apocopation. Apocopation is the loss of one or more sounds from the end of a word.

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."

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

Word/Meaning Example Translation
alguno "some" algún lugar some place
bueno "good" el buen samaritano the good Samaritan
malo "bad" este mal hombre this bad man
ninguno "no," "not one" ningún perro no dog
uno "one" un muchacho a boy
primero "first" primer encuentro first encounter
tercero "third" Tercer Mundo Third World
postrero "last" mi postrer adiós my last goodbye

For all the adjectives listed above, the usual form is retained when the words are followed by a feminine or plural noun. Examples include 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. Examples include el más grande escape, meaning "the greatest escape," or el más grande americano, "the greatest American."

Cualquiera

When used as an adjective, cualquiera, meaning "any" in the sense of "whatever," drops the -a before a noun whether masculine or feminine. 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. To avoid awkward pronunciations, the long form Santo is retained if the following name begins with Do- or To-, such as in Santo Domingo or Santo Tomás.

Tanto

The adjective tanto, meaning, "so much," gets shortened to tan when it is used as an adverb. 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."

Contrasting Apocopation in English and Spanish

Although apocopes exist in Spanish and English, the terms is applied differently in the two languages.

Apocopation in English is also called end-cut or final clipping, usually referring to the shortening of the end of a word while the word retains its meaning. Examples of apocopes include "auto" clipped from "automobile" and "gym" shortened from "gymnasium." The same thing is sometimes done in Spanish—for example, one word for a bicycle, bici, is a shortened form of bicicleta. But such clipping isn't as common in Spanish and isn't typically given any particular grammatical name.

Evidence of apocopation be seen in old spellings of words such as "olde" for "olde," which used to be pronounced with a final vowel sounds. In modern spoken English, apocopation can be seen in words that end ing "-ing," where the final sound is often shorted to "-in'" without affecting the spelling.

Key Takeaways

  • Through a process known as apocopation, Spanish has 13 words (12 of them common) that are shortened before certain other words. The shortened word is known as an apocope.
  • The most common apocopation is that of uno ("one," "a," or "an"), which it comes before a singular masculine noun.
  • The term "apocopation" is used differently in English and Spanish grammar.