In linguistics and etymology, suppletion is traditionally understood as the use of one word as the inflected form of another word when the two words are not cognate. For those learning a language, suppletive forms will be seen as "irregular" or even "highly irregular".
The term "suppletion" implies that a gap in the paradigm was filled by a form "supplied" by a different paradigm. Instances of suppletion are overwhelmingly restricted to the most commonly used lexical items in a language.
An irregular paradigm is one in which the derived forms of a word cannot be deduced by simple rules from the base form. For example, someone who knows only a little English can deduce that the plural of girl is girls but cannot deduce that the plural of man is men. Language learners are often most aware of irregular verbs, but any part of speech with inflections can be irregular.
For most synchronic purposes--first-language acquisition studies, psycholinguistics, language-teaching theory--it suffices to note that these forms are irregular. However, historical linguistics seeks to explain how they came to be so and distinguishes different kinds of irregularity according to their origins.
Most irregular paradigms (like man:men) can be explained by phonological developments that affected one form of a word but not another (in this case, Germanic umlaut). In such cases, the historical antecedents of the current forms once constituted a regular paradigm.
Historical linguistics uses the term "suppletion" to distinguish irregularities like person:people or cow:cattle that cannot be so explained because the parts of the paradigm have not evolved out of a single form.
Similarly, in Modern Standard Arabic, the verb j ("come") usually uses the form tal for its imperative, and the plural of mar?ah ("woman") is nis.
Some of the more archaic Indo-European languages are particularly known for suppletion. Ancient Greek, for example, has some twenty verbs with suppletive paradigms, many with three separate roots. (See Ancient Greek verbs § Suppletive verbs.)
|Italian||vai, va, va'||1||vado, vo||1||vada||1||andrò||3||andai||3||andare||3|
The sources of these forms, numbered in the table, are six different Latin verbs:
Many of the Romance languages use forms from different verbs in the present tense; for example, French has je vais 'I go' from vadere, but nous allons 'we go' from ambulare. Galician-Portuguese has a similar example: imos from ire 'to go' and vamos from vadere 'we go'; the former is somewhat disused in modern Portuguese but very alive in modern Galician. Even ides, from itis second-person plural of ire, is the only form for 'you (plural) go' both in Galician and Portuguese (Spanish vais, from vadere).
Sometimes, the conjugations differ between dialects. For instance, the Limba Sarda Comuna standard of Sardinian supported of a fully regular conjugation of andare, but other dialects like Logudorese do not (see also Sardinian conjugation). In Romansh, Rumantsch Grischun substitutes present and subjunctive forms of ir with vom and giaja (both are from Latin v?dere and ?re, respectively) in the place of mon and mondi in Sursilvan.
Similarly, the Welsh verb mynd 'to go' has a variety of suppletive forms such as af 'I shall go' and euthum 'we went'. Irish téigh 'to go' also has suppletive forms: dul 'going' and rachaidh 'will go'.
In Estonian, the inflected forms of the verb minema 'to go' were originally those of a verb cognate with the Finnish lähteä 'to leave', except for the passive and infinitive.
In Germanic, Romance (except Romanian), Celtic, Slavic (except Bulgarian and Macedonian), and Indo-Iranian languages, the comparative and superlative of the adjective "good" is suppletive; in many of these languages the adjective "bad" is also suppletive.
|English||good||Proto-Germanic: *g?daz||better||best||Proto-Germanic: *batizô
cognate to Sanskrit: bhadra "fortunate"
from Old Latin: duenos
|Scottish Gaelic||math||Proto-Celtic: *matis
from Proto-Indo-European: *meh?- "ripen", "mature"
from Proto-Indo-European: *wers- "peak"
|Breton||mat||gwell, gwelloc'h (1)||gwellañ (1)|
|Welsh||da||Proto-Celtic: *dagos "good", "well"||gwell (1)||gorau (2)|
|Polish||dobry||Proto-Slavic: *dobr?||lepszy||najlepszy||Proto-Indo-European *lep-, *l?p- "behoof", "boot", "good"|
|Serbo-Croatian||dobar||bolji||najbolji||Proto-Slavic: *bol?j? "bigger"|
|Russian||?, khoroshiy||probably from Proto-Slavic: *xorb||, luchshe||(), (nai)luchshiy||Old Russian , neut. ?
Old Church Slavonic: "more suitable, appropriate"
|Persian||, kh?b [x?b][a]||probably cognate of Proto-Slavic *xorb (above). Not a satisfactory etymology for beh; but see comparative and superlative forms in comparison to Germanic||, x?b-tar or ?, beh-tar[b]||?, x?b-tar?n or , beh-tar?n||Not clear if cognate of Germanic "better" (above)[c]|
|English||bad||Uncertain, possibly from OE bæddel ("effeminate man, hermaphrodite, pederast"), related to OE bædan ("to defile") < Proto-Germanic *baidijan? ("constrain, cause to stay")
In OE yfel was more common, compare Proto-Germanic *ubilaz, Gothic ubils (bad), German übel (evil / bad) Eng evil
|worse||worst||OE wyrsa, cognate to OHG wirsiro|
|Old Norse||(illr, vándr)||verri||verstr|
|Icelandic||(illur, vondur, slæmur)||verri||verstur|
|Faroese||(illur, óndur, ringur)||verri||verstur|
|Swedish||(dålig, ond)||sämre, värre||sämst, värst|
|French||mal[a]||Latin: malus||pire||Latin: peior, cognate to Sanskrit padyate "he falls"|
|Scottish Gaelic||droch||Proto-Celtic *drukos ("bad") < (possibly) PIE *d?rewg?- ("to deceive")||miosa||Proto-Celtic *missos < PIE *mey- ("to change")|
|Welsh||drwg||gwaeth||gwaethaf||Proto-Celtic *waxtisamos ("worst")|
|Polish||z?y||Proto-Slavic *zel||gorszy||najgorszy||compare Polish gorszy? (to disgust, scandalise)|
|Russian||(plokhoy)||probably Proto-Slavic *polx||? (khuzhe)||() ((nai)khudshiy)||Old Church Slavonic , Proto-Slavic *?ud? ("bad", "small")|
Similarly to the Italian noted above, the English adverb form of "good" is the unrelated word "well", from Old English wel, cognate to wyllan "to wish".
|Language||Adjective||Comparative / superlative|
(Old Irish bec < Proto-Celtic *bikkos)
|níos lú / is lú |
(< Old Irish laigiu < Proto-Celtic *lagy?s < PIE *h?leng- ("lightweight"))
(< Brythonic *b?x
< Proto-Celtic *bikkos)
|llai / lleiaf |
(< PIE *h?leng- ("lightweight"))
In many Slavic languages, great and small are suppletive:
In Albanian there are 14 irregular verbs divided into suppletive and non-suppletive:
|rënë||to fall, strike||bie||rashë||bija|
In Bulgarian, the word , chovek ("man", "human being") is suppletive. The strict plural form, , chovetsi, is used only in Biblical context. In modern usage it has been replaced by the Greek loan ?, khora. The counter form (the special form for masculine nouns, used after numerals) is suppletive as well: ?, dushi (with the accent on the first syllable). For example, , ?, dvama, trima dushi ("two, three people"); this form has no singular either. (A related but different noun is the plural ?, dushi, singular ?, dusha ("soul"), both with accent on the last syllable.)
In English, the complicated irregular verb to be has forms from several different roots:
This verb is suppletive in most Indo-European languages, as well as in some non-Indo-European languages such as Finnish.
An incomplete suppletion exists in English with the plural of person (from the Latin persona). The regular plural persons occurs mainly in legalistic use. More commonly, the singular of the unrelated noun people (from Latin populus) is used as the plural; for example, "two people were living on a one-person salary" (note the plural verb). In its original sense of "populace, ethnic group", people is itself a singular noun with regular plural peoples.
Several irregular Irish verbs are suppletive:
In some Slavic languages, a few verbs have imperfective and perfective forms arising from different roots. For example, in Polish:
|to go in/to go out (on foot)||wchodzi?, wychodzi?||wej, wyj|
|to ride in/to ride out (by car)||wje?d?a?, wyje?d?a?||wjecha?, wyjecha?|
Note that z--, przy--, w--, and wy-- are prefixes and are not part of the root
The Romanian verb a fi ("to be") is suppletive and irregular, with the infinitive coming from Latin fieri, but conjugated forms from forms of already suppletive Latin sum. For example, eu sunt ("I am"), tu e?ti ("you are"), eu am fost ("I have been"), eu eram ("I used to be"), eu fusei/fui ("I was"); while the subjunctive, also used to form the future in o s? fiu ("I will be/am going to be"), is linked to the infinitive.
In Russian, the word ?, chelovek ("man, human being") is suppletive. The strict plural form, , cheloveki, is used only in Orthodox Church contexts. It may have originally been the unattested *, *cheloveky. In any case, in modern usage, it has been replaced by ?, lyudi, the singular form of which is known in Russian only as a component of compound words (such as , prostolyudin). This suppletion also exists in Polish (cz?owiek > ludzie), Czech (?lov?k > lidé), Serbo-Croatian (?ovjek > ljudi), and Slovene (?lovek > ljudje).
Strictly speaking, suppletion occurs when different inflections of a lexeme (i.e., with the same lexical category) have etymologically unrelated stems. The term is also used in looser senses, albeit less formally.
The term "suppletion" is also used in the looser sense when there is a semantic link between words but not an etymological one; unlike the strict inflectional sense, these may be in different lexical categories, such as noun/verb.
English noun/adjective pairs such as father/paternal or cow/bovine are also referred to as collateral adjectives. In this sense of the term, father/fatherly is non-suppletive. Fatherly is derived from father, while father/paternal is suppletive. Likewise cow/cowish is non-suppletive, while cow/bovine is suppletive.
In these cases, father/pater- and cow/bov- are cognate via Proto-Indo-European, but 'paternal' and 'bovine' are borrowings into English (via Old French and Latin). The pairs are distantly etymologically related, but the words are not from a single Modern English stem.
The term "weak suppletion" is sometimes used in contemporary synchronic morphology in reference to sets of stems whose alternations cannot be accounted for by synchronically productive phonological rules. For example, the two forms child/children are etymologically from the same source, but the alternation does not reflect any regular morphological process in modern English: this makes the pair appear to be suppletive, even though the forms go back to the same root.
In that understanding, English has abundant examples of weak suppletion in its verbal inflection: e.g. bring/brought, take/took, see/saw, etc. Even though the forms are etymologically related in each pair, no productive morphological rule can derive one form from the other in synchrony. Alternations just have to be learned by speakers -- in much the same way as truly suppletive pairs such as go/went.
Such cases, which were traditionally simply labelled "irregular", are sometimes described with the term "weak suppletion", so as to restrict the term "suppletion" to etymologically unrelated stems.