The Farlex Grammar Book > English Spelling and Pronunciation > Spelling Conventions > Forming Contractions > Enclitics
What are enclitics?
Enclitics are reduced or contracted forms of words. They are attached to the word that precedes them by an apostrophe, and they are dependent on that word for their meaning.
Enclitics generally consist of just one consonant sound and cannot stand on their own. In English, they are usually the unstressed forms of functional words such as auxiliary verbs, determiners, participles, and pronouns. As such, they have grammatical rather than lexical meaning (compared with suffixes, which create new words through inflection).
The majority of enclitics in English are reflected in the common contractions we use in speech and writing. Here are a few of the most common.
When unstressed, the present tense forms of the auxiliary verb be (am/is/are) become enclitics when they are contracted and attached to the noun that precedes them. For example:
- “I’m going shopping.” (am)
- “Your father’s on the phone.” (is)
- “They’re waiting outside.” (are)
Not is used after auxiliary verbs to make them negative. When this occurs, it usually attaches to the auxiliary verb as an enclitic. Uniquely, its enclitic form (“-n’t”) has the apostrophe occurring within not itself, rather than between the enclitic and the head word. For example:
- “I haven’t been to town in a long time.”
- “We can’t go to town without a car.”
- “She shouldn’t wait for us.”
Have is used to form the perfect and past tenses. Its enclitic form, “-’ve,” attaches to the subject in clauses without an auxiliary verb, and to the auxiliary verb itself in clauses that include one. For example:
- “I’ve never been here before.”
- “We would’ve called you if we knew you were in town.”
- “He might’ve read that book already, but I’m not sure.”
The enclitic form of will is “-’ll,” and it attaches to the subject of the clause.
- “We’ll all go together.”
- “It’ll all work out in the end.”
- “They’ll be there before you know it.”
The words would and had share an identical enclitic form, “-d.” When we encounter it in speech or text, we have to pay attention to the context to know which one is being used. For example:
- “They’d already cooked dinner when I got home.” (had)
- “I’d been there many times before.” (had)
- “We’d love to go with you!” (would)
- “She’d always play in the garden when she was young.” (would)
The possessive “-’s” was originally a contraction of the Old English suffix “-es”; however, this “-es” ending fell out of use, and we generally think of the possessive -’s as a distinct syntactic and grammatical construct, rather than a contraction. It is, however, an enclitic, since its meaning is dependent on the word that precedes it, and it is joined to it by an apostrophe. For example:
- “The dog’s tail is wagging.”
- “Daniel’s wallet is on the table.”
- “Jen’s books are in the car.”
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