replacive (word elements)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Are tooth and teeth instances of the same word or of different words?. (Allen Donikowski/Getty Images)


In English grammar and morphology, a replacive is a word element that substitutes for another element within a stem. For example, the e in men (the plural form of man) is considered a replacive element.

"Replacives are considered to be allomorphs," notes Philip Orazio Tartaglia. "More specifically, the replacive involved in going from goose to geese is an allomorph of the plural morpheme.

Thus, we see that boys, cats, roses, oxen, sheep, and geese, all contain the plural morpheme though each contains a different allomorph of the plural morpheme" (Problems in the Construction of a Theory of Natural Language). 

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "The term [replacive] is particularly used in the label replacive morph or replacive morpheme to enable irregular forms such as men from man and sang or sung from sing to be described in morphemic terms, despite falling outside the straightforward rules for forming noun plurals or past verb forms by the addition of inflections."
    (Sylvia Chalker and Edmund Weiner, Oxford Dictionary of English Grammar. Oxford University Press, 1994)
  • Tooth and Teeth: One Word or Two?
    - "[A] synthetic, tooth-colored material the consistency of dough is chemically fused onto stained, chipped, widely spaced, or misshapen teeth and molded into whatever new shape is desired."
    (Justine De Lacy, "The New Skin of Your Teeth." New York, August 3, 1981)

    - "Consider then the sentences This tooth needs attention and These teeth need attention. Are tooth and teeth instances of the same word or of different words? In one sense they are clearly different: they differ in pronunciation, spelling, meaning and in their grammatical behaviour. In another sense, however, they are manifestations of a single element, and indeed they are traditionally said to be 'forms of the same word.' We thus have two distinct concepts here, the second more abstract than the first: I will use word in the less abstract sense and introduce the term lexeme for the more abstract one. Thus I will say that tooth and teeth are different words, but forms of the same lexeme. . . .

    "More precisely, we will say that tooth and teeth are different inflectional forms of tooth, and will speak of 'singular' and 'plural' here as inflectional properties. Similarly with verbs: sang and sung, for example, are respectively the past tense and the past participle forms of the lexeme sing."
    (Rodney Huddleston, English Grammar: An Outline. Cambridge University Press, 1988)
  • Verbs Derived From Nouns
    "[W]e treat noun plurals in English such as men, feet, mice, teeth as occurring with 'replacives' (i.e. replacements which are morphemic). . . . "Replacive morphemes . . . may consist of segmental or suprasegmental phonemes . . .. A rather rarer type of replacement is represented by the English series bath : bathe, sheath : sheathe, wreath : wreathe, teeth : teethe, safe : save, strife : strive, thief : thieve, grief : grieve, half : halve, shelf : shelve, serf : serve, advice : advise, house /haws/ : house /hawz/, etc. In each pair, the noun has a voiceless continuant, the verb a voiced continuant. If we agree to derive the verbs from the nouns, we set up three replacive elements . . .; but since these three elements exhibit a phonetic-semantic resemblance to each other, and since their occurrence is phonologically conditioned, we combine them into a single replacive morpheme."
    (Eugene A. Nida, "The Identification of Morphemes." Morphology: Critical Concepts in Linguistics, ed. by Francis Katamba. Routledge, 2004)