What Is Elision in the English Language?

It's a common occurrence in everyday conversation

Couple drinking coffee face to face in cafe
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In phonetics and phonology, elision is the omission of a sound (a phoneme) in speech. Elision is common in casual conversation.

More specifically, elision may refer to the omission of an unstressed vowel, consonant, or syllable. This omission is often indicated in print by an apostrophe.

How Elision Is Used

"Elision of sounds can ... be seen clearly in contracted forms like isn't (is not), I'll (I shall/will), who's (who is/has), they'd (they had, they should, or they would), haven't (have not) and so on. We see from these examples that vowels or/and consonants can be elided. In the case of contractions or words like library (pronounced in rapid speech as /laibri/), the whole syllable is elided."

Tej R. Kansakar, "A Course in English Phonetics."

The Nature of Reduced Articulation

"It is easy to find examples of elision, but very difficult to state rules that govern which sounds may be elided and which may not. Elision of vowels in English usually happens when a short, unstressed vowel occurs between voiceless consonants, e.g. in the first syllable of perhaps, potato, the second syllable of bicycle, or the third syllable of philosophy."
"It is very important to note that sounds do not simply 'disappear' like a light being switched off. A transcription such as /æks/ for acts implies that the /t/ phoneme has dropped out altogether, but detailed examination of speech shows that such effects are more gradual: in slow speech the /t/ may be fully pronounced, with an audible transition from the preceding /k/ and to the following /s/, while in a more rapid style it may be articulated but not given any audible realisation, and in very rapid speech it may be observable, if at all, only as a rather early movement of the tongue blade toward the /s/ position."

Daniel Jones, "English Pronouncing Dictionary."

From Iced Tea to Ice Tea

"An elision is the omission of a sound for phonological reasons ..: 'cause (also spelled 'cos, cos, coz) from because; fo'c'sle from forecastle; or ice tea from iced tea (in which -ed is pronounced /t/ but omitted because of the immediately following /t/)."

John Algeo, "Vocabulary," in "The Cambridge History of the English Language."

From Iced Cream to Ice Cream

"[Ice cream] is an extremely common term and no one these days, I believe, would be tempted to describe the confection as iced cream — and yet this was its original description. . . . With time, however, the -ed ending eroded. In pronunciation, it would have been swallowed very early and eventually, this was reflected in the way it was written."

Kate Burridge, "Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History."

Elision Examples in Literature

"In "North and South", Mr. [John] Jakes is careful to keep his elisions within quotation marks: 'I'm sure, Cap'n,' says a farmer in his novel, and a stevedore calls a young soldier a 'sojer boy.'
"Stephen Crane, in his "Maggie, a Girl of the Streets", in 1896 pioneered wanna in literature with 'I didn' wanna give 'im no stuff.' The spelling is designed to recreate the way the spoken word pounds, shapes and knocks about the original words."

William Safire, "The Elision Fields." The New York Times Magazine, August 13, 1989.


  • Algeo, John. The Cambridge History of the English Language. Edited by Suzanne Romaine, vol. 4, Cambridge University Press, 1999.
  • Burridge, Kate. Gift of the Gob: Morsels of English Language History. Harper Collins Australia, 2011.
  • Jones, Daniel, et al. Cambridge English Pronouncing Dictionary. 17th ed., Cambridge University Press, 2006.
  • Kansakar, Tej R. A Course in English Phonetics. Orient Longman, 1998.
  • Safire, William. “The Elision Fields.” The New York Times Magazine, 13 Aug. 1989.
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Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Elision in the English Language?" ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, thoughtco.com/elision-phonetics-term-1690638. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). What Is Elision in the English Language? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/elision-phonetics-term-1690638 Nordquist, Richard. "What Is Elision in the English Language?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/elision-phonetics-term-1690638 (accessed February 5, 2023).