Augment (Indo-European)

The augment is a prefix used in certain Indo-European languages (Indo-Iranian, Greek, Armenian and Phrygian) to indicate past time. The augment is of rather late origin in Proto-Indo-European, and in the oldest daughter languages such as Vedic Sanskrit and early Greek, it is used optionally. The same verb forms when used without the augment carry an injunctive sense.[1][2][3]

The augment originally appears to have been a separate word, with the potential meaning of 'there, then', which in time got fused to the verb. The augment is *é- in PIE (é- in Greek, á- in Sanskrit) and always bears the accent.[1][2]


The predominant scholarly view on the prehistory of the augment is that it was originally a separate particle, although dissenting opinions have occasionally been voiced.[4]

Homeric GreekEdit

In Homer, past-tense (aorist or imperfect) verbs appeared both with and without an augment.

  • ὣς φάτο — ὣς ἔφατο
    hṑs pháto — hṑs éphato
    "so he/she said"
  • ἦμος δ᾿ ἠριγένεια φάνη ῥοδοδάκτυλος Ἠώς,
    êmos d' ērigéneia phánē rhododáktulos Ēṓs,
    "And when rose-fingered Dawn appeared, early-born,"

Ancient GreekEdit

In Ancient Greek, the verb λέγω légo "I say" has the aorist ἔλεξα élexa "I said." The initial ε e is the augment. When it comes before a consonant, it is called the "syllabic augment" because it adds a syllable. Sometimes the syllabic augment appears before a vowel because the initial consonant of the verbal root (usually digamma) was lost:[5]

  • *έ-ϝιδον *é-widon → (loss of digamma) *ἔιδον *éidon → (synaeresis) εἶδον eîdon

When the augment is added before a vowel, the augment and the vowel are contracted and the vowel becomes long: ἀκούω akoúō "I hear", ἤκουσα ḗkousa "I heard". It is sometimes called the "temporal augment" because it increases the time needed to pronounce the vowel.[6]

Modern GreekEdit

Unaccented syllabic augment disappeared during the Byzantine period as a result of the loss of unstressed initial syllables. However, accented syllabic augments have remained in place.[7] So Ancient ἔλυσα, ἐλύσαμεν (élūsa, elū́samen) "I loosened, we loosened" corresponds to Modern έλυσα, λύσαμε (élisa, lísame).[8] The temporal augment has not survived in the vernacular, which leaves the initial vowel unaltered: Ancient ἀγαπῶ, ἠγάπησα (agapô, ēgápēsa) "I love, I loved"; Modern αγαπώ, αγάπησα (agapó, agápisa).


The augment is used in Sanskrit to form the imperfect, aorist, pluperfect[a] and conditional. When the verb has a prefix, the augment always sits between the prefix and the root.[10] The following examples of verb forms in the third-person singular illustrate the phenomenon:

√bhū-[b] sam + √bhū-[c]
Present bháv·a·ti sam·bháv·a·ti
Imperfect á·bhav·a·t sam·á·bhav·a·t
Aorist á·bhū·t sam·á·bhū·t
Conditional á·bhav·iṣya·t sam·á·bhav·iṣya·t

When the root starts with any of the vowels i-, u- or , the vowel is subject not to guṇa but vṛddhi.[11][12]

  • icch·á·ti -> aí·cch·a·t
  • urṇó·ti -> aú·rṇo·t
  • ṛdh·nó·ti -> ā́r·dh·no·t


Constructed languagesEdit

In J. R. R. Tolkien's Quenya, the repetition of the first vowel before the perfect (for instance utúlië, perfect tense of túlë, "come") is reminiscent of the Indo-European augment in both form and function, and is referred to by the same name in Tolkien's grammar of the language.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Or the past perfect. Rare in Vedic and only one or two forms attested in the later language.[9]
  2. ^ 'to be'
  3. ^ 'to be together, be possible, etc'


  1. ^ a b Fortson, §5.44.
  2. ^ a b Burrow, pp. 303-304.
  3. ^ Clackson, p. 123.
  4. ^ Andreas Willi (2018) Origins of the Greek verb, Chapter 7 - The Augment, pp. 357-416, Online publication date January 2018, Cambridge University Press, DOI:
  5. ^ Herbert Weir Smyth. Greek Grammar. par. 429: syllabic augment.
  6. ^ Smyth. par. 435: temporal augment.
  7. ^ Browning, Robert (1983). Medieval and Modern Greek (p58).
  8. ^ Sophroniou, S.A. Modern Greek. Teach Yourself Books, 1962, Sevenoaks, p79.
  9. ^ Whitney, §817.
  10. ^ Burrow, p. 303.
  11. ^ Burrow, §7.5.
  12. ^ Whitney, §585.
  13. ^ Clackson, James. 1994. The Linguistic Relationship Between Armenian and Greek. London: Publications of the Philological Society, No 30. (and Oxford: Blackwell Publishing)


  • Fortson, Benjamin W. Indo-European Language and Culture (2010 ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-8895-1.
  • Clackson, James (2007). Indo-European Linguistics. Cambridge. ISBN 978-0-521-65313-8.
  • Burrow, T. The Sanskrit Language (2001 ed.). Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-1767-2.
  • Whitney, William Dwight. Sanskrit Grammar (2000 ed.). Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 81-208-0620-4.