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date: 27 May 2024

Allomorphy and Syncretism in the Romance Languagesfree

Allomorphy and Syncretism in the Romance Languagesfree

  • Marc-Olivier HinzelinMarc-Olivier HinzelinUniversity of Hamburg


Allomorphy and syncretism are both deviations from the one-to-one relationship between form and meaning inside the linguistic sign as postulated by Saussure as well as from the ideal of inflectional morphology as stipulated in the canonical approach by Corbett. Instances of both phenomena are well documented in all Romance languages. In inflection, allomorphy refers to the use of more than one root/stem in the paradigm of a single lexeme or to the existence of more than one inflectional affix for the same function. Syncretism describes the existence of identical forms with different functions in one and the same paradigm.

Verbs exhibiting stem allomorphy are traditionally called irregular, a label that describes the existence of unexpected and, sometimes, unpredictable forms from a learner’s perspective. Extreme forms of allomorphy are called suppletion, for which traditional accounts require two or more etymologically unrelated roots/stems to coexist within the paradigm of a single lexeme. Allomorphy often originates in sound change affecting only stems in a certain phonological environment. When the phonological conditioning of the stem allomorph disappears, which is frequently the case, its distribution within the paradigm may become purely morphological, thus constituting a morphome in the sense of Aronoff.

Recurrent patterns of syncretism may also be considered morphomes. Whereas syncretism was quite rare in Latin verb morphology, Romance languages feature it to much greater, if different, degrees. In extreme cases, syncretism patterns become paradigm-structuring in many Gallo-Romance varieties, as is the case in the verb morphology of standard French, where almost all forms are syncretic with at least one other.


  • Historical Linguistics
  • Language Families/Areas/Contact
  • Morphology

1. Introduction: The Linguistic Sign and Canonical Inflection

1.1 The Linguistic Sign

In his seminal lectures on structuralist linguistics—later published posthumously in 1916 by his pupils as Cours de linguistique générale, Ferdinand de Saussure (1916/1994, pp. 97–100) posited that the linguistic sign (e.g., a word like Latin arbor ‘tree’ in Figure 1) should be perceived as the relationship between signifiant (‘signifier’, i.e., the form or ‘acoustic image’) and signifié (‘signified’, i.e., the meaning or ‘concept’); see Figures 1 and 2.

Figure 1. The linguistic sign according to Saussure (1916/1994, p. 99): Example Latin arbor ‘tree’.

Source: Reprinted from Saussure (1916/1994, p. 99).

Figure 2. The linguistic sign according to Saussure (1916/1994, p. 99): Its two sides, concept and sound-image.

Source: Reprinted from Saussure (1916/1994, p. 99).

Ideally, the relationship between the two is one-to-one, that is, every form has only one meaning, and every meaning a single dedicated form (isomorphism; cf. Haiman, 1980; Vennemann, 1972). Obviously, deviations from this ideal for linguistic signs are found in natural languages: In the domain of lexical morphology, on the one hand, synonymy refers to words or lexemes that share the same meaning despite their different forms. On the other hand, if the same form is used for different and unrelated meanings, this is called homonymy. In inflectional morphology, the counterparts to these deviations encountered within the paradigm of inflectional forms of a single lexeme are termed allomorphy and syncretism, respectively. Vennemann (1972) conceptualized the tension between the poles of uniformity/isomorphism on the one hand and allomorphy/suppletion on the other as Humboldt’s Universal (referring to the discussion in Humboldt, 1836): “Suppletion is undesirable, uniformity of linguistic symbolization is desirable: Both roots and grammatical markers should be unique and constant” (p. 184).

1.2 Canonical Inflection

Greville Corbett (2005, 2007) has proposed a canonical approach to inflectional morphology allowing “the linguist to handle gradient phenomena in a principled way” (Corbett, 2007, p. 9). In the inflectional morphology of a single lexeme, the combination of a unique stem with different inflectional affixes following the same combinatorial rules should spell out the complete paradigm of the lexeme in question yielding dedicated forms for every single paradigm cell (see Table 1). Inversely, across lexemes, the stems should differ, but the inflectional affixes and combinatorial rules should stay the same, yielding different forms (see Table 1).

Table 1. Canonical Inflection

Source: Adapted from Corbett (2007, p. 9).

This ideal presumes a one-to-one relationship between form and meaning called isomorphism (cf. Haiman, 1980). Isomorphism represents the “canon” and therefore serves as the point of departure to measure the various deviations from the canon encountered in natural languages:

In a canonical approach, we take definitions to their logical end point and build theoretical spaces of possibilities. […] It follows that canonical instances (the best examples, those most closely matching the canon) may well not be the most frequent. They may indeed be extremely rare, or even non-existent. However, they fix a point from which occurring phenomena can be calibrated, and it is then significant and interesting to investigate frequency distributions.

(Corbett, 2005, p. 26)

Allomorphy/suppletion, heteroclisis, and syncretism constitute all non-canonical instances in inflectional morphology. In stem allomorphy, a single lexeme presents two or more stems, as in the French verb séduire ‘seduce’: sédui-s [sedɥi] versus séduis-ons [sedɥiz-õ] (see Tables 2 and 3 and Section 2.1). The extreme point of stem allomorphy is suppletion, with phonologically unrelated stems like the 3sg-forms of the Spanish verb ir ‘go’: v-a-∅, fu-e, ir (see Tables 2 and 3 and Section 2.1.3). From a typological perspective, Veselinova (2006, 2017) provides a detailed description of suppletion phenomena in different languages. Suffix allomorphy describes the existence of different affixes for the same function (see Tables 2 and 3 and Section 2.2). Syncretism may occur when phonetically identical affixes are used for different functions (see Tables 2 and 3 and Section 3). Baerman et al. (2005) explore syncretism phenomena in a wide array of languages.

Heteroclisis (cf. Stump, 2006, 2016) is a complex non-canonical phenomenon: It presupposes the existence of different inflection classes characterized by different theme vowels and/or inflectional affixes (see “Inflection Classes in Verbs in the Romance Languages,” in this encyclopedia). At least two roots of the same lexeme adhere to different inflection classes: There is heteroclisis combined with stem/root allomorphy or suppletion, and there is heteroclisis with superficially identical roots like Spanish dar ‘give’: d-a-∅, 3sg prs.ind with the theme vowel a of the first conjugation class, versus d-i-o, 3sg pret featuring the theme vowel i—shared here between the Spanish second and third class (see Tables 2 and 3 and Section 2.1.1; and see sec. 4.2 of “Inflection Classes in Verbs in the Romance Languages,” in this encyclopedia). Heteroclisis thus may change the composition of the lexeme by virtue of theme vowel alternation. Another case of alternation may be called affixation alternation, where sometimes suffixes, and at other times prefixes or combinations of both, are used.1

Table 2. Non-canonical Inflection

Table 3. Non-canonical Inflection With Examples Taken From French and Spanish

In the following, the focus will be on verb morphology. The morphology of nouns, adjectives, pronouns, and determiners offers less diversity because Latin case suffixes were almost completely lost in the vast majority of Romance languages (see Section 3.1), but typical examples will be mentioned in the respective sections. This article is located within the perspective of Word-and-Paradigm Morphology (for more information, see Hinzelin & Gaglia, 2012, pp. 1–2, 16–17; Stump, 2017).

2. Allomorphy

2.1 Stem Allomorphy

Andrew Carstairs-McCarthy (2010, pp. 57–80) supposes in his book The Evolution of Morphology that one of the origins of morphology during the language evolution process lies in sound change. Allomorphy first came into existence through assimilation phenomena, that is, naturally occurring sound change caused by surrounding sounds. These allomorphs were perceived as “synonyms” that are in conflict with vocabular clarity, that is, with the avoidance of exact synonyms—if synonyms coexist, they must have slightly different meanings or functions (cf. Carstairs-McCarthy, 2010, pp. 81–100, 226–233). In order to avoid the synonymy, the allomorphs are then (re)distributed along linguistic parameters (Carstairs-McCarthy, 2010, pp. 81–100).2 The need for vocabular clarity results in synonymy avoidance and is grounded in Clark’s Principle of Contrast established for first-language acquisition. Carstairs-McCarthy (1994, p. 737) summarizes Clark’s Principle aptly:

Clark (1987, 1988, 1990, 1993) proposes that children learning their mother tongue are guided by a Principle of Contrast: “Every two forms contrast in meaning” (1987:2). This is presented as a pragmatic principle which facilitates language acquisition by narrowing the range of likely meanings for a newly encountered wordform. But the Principle of Contrast has implications not just for how the language system is acquired but also for the system itself. If the principle is at all close to being correct, exact synonyms should be non-existent or rare. Among psycholinguists this implication is generally accepted, even though there is disagreement about the Principle of Contrast as an explanation for it (Gathercole 1989).

According to Carstairs-McCarthy (2010, p. 234), Clark’s Principle of Contrast played an important role in the genesis of morphology:

In language, similarly, the human brain’s extraordinary capacity for learning and memorizing vocabulary meant that, as soon as phonological processes began to yield noticeably different forms that risked having the same meaning, there was little to impede a bizarre kind of runaway vocabulary elaboration through the attachment to potential synonyms of a multiplicity of differentiating factors. The out-come of this runaway vocabulary elaboration is what we now know as morphology.

2.1.1 The Origin and Extent of Stem Allomorphy in the Romance Languages

Allomorphy frequently evolves out of a phonologically conditioned sound change. Among other sources are (a) allomorphy inherited from Latin and (b) incursive suppletion (see Section 2.1.3). One frequent source of stem allomorphy in the Romance languages lies in the differential evolution of vowels with respect to the position of stress: rhizotonic, that is, the stress lies on the root, versus arrhizotonic, that is, the root is unstressed. For example, Latin ŏ (vulgar Latin [ɔ]) diphthongizes to ue [we] in Spanish under stress, leading to allomorphy in the verb contar ‘tell; count’: cnto 1sg prs.ind versus contámos 1pl prs.ind and contár inf. This is a systematic alternation between monophthong and diphthong, which constitutes a morphophonological pattern. Each cell of the lexeme’s paradigm contains one of the two stem alternants. In this case, the distribution follows the so-called N-pattern—an autonomously morphological pattern established in the Romance languages (Maiden, 2005, 2018; see Section 2.1.2). Another perspective on the distribution of allomorphic stems is the notion of ‘stem spaces’ (espaces thématiques; see sec. 4.1 of “Inflection Classes in Verbs in the Romance Languages,” in this encyclopedia) developed by Bonami and Boyé (2003), which is also compatible with the assumption of principal parts already used in traditional Latin grammar (cf. Finkel & Stump, 2007).

In Spanish, a large number of verbs show a systematic alternation of the monophthongs e or o with the corresponding diphthongs ie or ue: [e / o] ~ [je / we]. Very similar alternations are found in many other Romance languages, for example, diphthongization in Italian (1) and French (2):



In old French, the effects of stress can also be observed in other alternations of verb forms (see Table 4): changes in vowel quality (lav-/lev- ‘wash’ < lavare), presence versus absence of a vowel (parol-/parl- ‘speak’ < parabolare), alternation between monophthong and diphthong or different diphthongs (plo(u)r-/pleur- ‘cry, weep’ < plorare). Many of these alternations have been lost subsequently due to analogical leveling (cf. Buridant, 2000, pp. 238–244; Lausberg, 1956/1969, pp. 130–135, 1962/1972, pp. 200–201; Pope, 1952, pp. 348–357). This elimination of morphophonological allomorphy is a good illustration of Sturtevant’s Paradox (Sturtevant, 1947, p. 109): “Phonetic laws are regular but produce irregularities. Analogic creation is irregular but produces regularity.”

Table 4. Allomorphy and Analogy in Old and Modern French (Verbs laver ‘wash’, parler ‘speak’, and plorer/pleurer ‘cry, weep’)

Other instances of morphophonological alternations include word-final obstruent devoicing in old French (example (3) and see Table 4: lef 1sg prs.ind of laver ‘wash’). In adjectives, it affected mostly masculine forms, as the feminine ones typically ended in schwa. It is no longer an active phonological process in modern French, but its remnants are still found today (4), encoding the morphological gender distinction in some adjectives by a word-final voiced consonant in the feminine forms3 versus a word-final voiceless consonant (4a) or its absence (4b–c) in the masculine forms (cf. Buridant, 2000, p. 203; Lausberg, 1962/1972, pp. 77–78; Pope, 1952, pp. 306–308):



Similar distributions of word-final obstruent devoicing in adjective pairs are also found in Catalan (5) and Gardenese Dolomitic Ladin (6):



Allomorphy in nouns is encountered in ‘irregular’ plurals (8–13)4 (cf. Lausberg, 1962/1972, pp. 15–73) and existed also with respect to case (and number) in some declension classes in old French (7a–g) (cf. Buridant, 2000, pp. 63–69; Lausberg, 1962/1972, pp. 25, 50–57; Pope, 1952, pp. 310–314). Alternations already found in Latin, as homo nom.sghomines nom/ ‘man’, are continued in some Romance languages up to the present day (11b, 12g).








Heteroclisis exists when a lexeme adheres to different inflection classes or as Stump (2006, p. 279) puts it: “Heteroclisis is the property of a lexeme whose inflectional paradigm involves two or more distinct inflection classes.” In a novel perspective, heteroclisis may also be regarded as a very special kind of stem/root allomorphy. Superficially, the roots are identical, as the phonetic material does not change, but on a deeper level, the lexeme is split in two: one root pertains to inflection class A, the other to inflection class B (see sec. 4.2 of “Inflection Classes in Verbs in the Romance Languages,” in this encyclopedia). Other instances of heteroclisis may include non-identical or even suppletive roots (see the Section 2.1.3 with Spanish ir ‘go’).

2.1.2 Distributional Patterns of Stem Allomorphy: Morphomes

Martin Maiden (2005, 2009, 2018) has proposed that most instances of allomorphy (and suppletion) belong to one of a number of different morphomes occurring in characteristic patterns throughout the Romance languages (for an introduction, cf. Hinzelin & Gaglia, 2012 and see sec. 4.3 of “Inflection Classes in Verbs in the Romance Languages,” in this encyclopedia, and see “Morphologically ‘Autonomous’ Structures in the Romance Languages” forthcoming, in this encyclopedia). The suggestion of the existence of an autonomous morphological level and the notion of ‘morphome’ originate in Aronoff’s seminal book Morphology by Itself (1994). A very frequent pattern, found in stem allomorphy (Section 2.1.1) and suppletion (see Section 2.1.3) as well as in syncretism (Section 3.4.1.), is what Maiden labels the ‘N-pattern’, comprising all and only 1/2/3sg+3pl prs.ind/prs.sbjv + 2sg imp, for example, the verbs contar in Spanish and sedere in Italian (see Section 2.1.1) and ‘go’ (see Section 2.1.3) in many Romance languages. Another pattern is the so-called ‘PYTA’-pattern embracing all the forms of the pret.ind and pst.sbjv and exhibiting a special stem here, for example, Spanish venir ‘come’ or poner ‘put’ with the respective PYTA-stems vin- and pus-.5

2.1.3 Suppletion

Greville Corbett (2007) establishes 14 criteria to define canonical instances of suppletion, for example, a fused exponence combining stem and inflection (criterion 1) and a morphological distribution of the forms (criterion 5) are considered more canonically suppletive than just a suppletive stem and a morphosyntactic distribution. In both Romance and other Indo-European languages as well as universally (cf. Veselinova, 2006, p. 90), the verbs ‘be’ and ‘go’ typically feature suppletive stems. Suppletion may originate in the merger of the paradigms of two different lexemes into the single paradigm of a single lexeme displaying now two etymologically unrelated stems (incursion): in the paradigm of French aller ‘go’, the reflexes of the three originally independent Latin verbs ire, vadere, and ambulare > *alare are encountered (for a discussion on the etymology of the forms of this verb, cf. Buchi et al., 2016–2020 in Dictionnaire Étymologique Roman [DÉRom, Buchi & Schweickard, 2008–], s.v. */'β‎ad-e-/, as well as Französisches Etymologisches Wörterbuch [FEW, Wartburg et al., 1922–2002] and Lessico Etimologico Italiano [LEI, Pfister, 1979–], s.v. ambulare).

Etymologically related stems may also enter into a suppletive relationship if there are no or only too few shared phonemes due to divergent phonetic evolutions, as in French avoir ‘have’ with the stems av-/a(-) [av/a], aie(-) [ɛ], eu(-) [y], and aur- [oʁ] or in Romanian a lua ‘take’ with the stems lua(-)/luă(-) [luˈa/luˈə], iau/ia [ja(w)], and ie- [je]. From a learner’s perspective these stems are as unrelated as the ones with different etymologies. The distribution of these stems may follow established patterns of stem allomorphy like the N-pattern (see Section 2.1.2) as is the case for ‘go’ in some Romance languages, for example, the distribution of the v-stem in French, Occitan, and Italian (14), or they may show a completely idiosyncratic distribution of stems like the verb ‘be’ in most languages (15) (cf. Aski, 1995; Hinzelin, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c, 2012; Juge, 2000; Maiden, 2004a, pp. 232–233, 247, 250n12, 2004b, pp. 383–387, 2018, pp. 192–209, 296–297).



The existence of suppletion with the verb ‘be’ is already very old, as it is documented in the various Indo-European languages including the ancestor of the Romance languages, Latin. The distribution of the stems has changed in most languages. Suppletive roots may also display heteroclisis (see Section 2.1.1) as in Spanish ir ‘go’ (16) with the first set of forms presenting similarities with first conjugation verbs in -ar and the second with verbs in -ir (Spanish third conjugation):6


Suppletion in adjectives denoting ‘good’ and ‘bad’ with respect to their comparative counterparts ‘better’ and ‘worse’ is continued from Latin bonus – melior / malus – pēior: Portuguese bom – melhor / mau – pior, Spanish bueno – mejor / malo – peor, Catalan bo – millor / mal – pitjor, Occitan bon – melhor / mal – pièger, French bon – meilleur / mauvais – pire, Italian buono – migliore / malo – peggiore. (Romanian has lost the suppletive forms.) A rare case of suppletion in adjectives with respect to number has been described for Megleno-Romanian by Maiden (2014).

2.2 Allomorphy in Inflectional Suffixes

According to the canonical approach (see Section 1.2), the same function, for example, the expression of a person/number feature like 1sg, should be realized by one and the same inflectional suffix across all existing tense, mood, and aspect (TMA) combinations and across all conjugation classes. Already Latin exhibited different inflectional suffixes according to tense, mood, and aspect:7 the 1sg-function could be realized by (prs.ind, fut.ind in classes I/II; future perfect), -m (impf.ind, prs.sbjv, impf.sbjv, fut.ind in classes III/IV, plup.ind, pret.sbjv, plup.sbjv) or (pret.ind). There is no allomorphy for the other person/number suffixes except in the pret.ind: 2sg -istī, 3sg -it, 1pl -imus, 2pl -istis, 3pl -ērunt (largely replaced by -erunt in vulgar Latin) compared to the general 2sg -s, 3sg -t, 1pl -mus, 2pl -tis, 3pl -nt.8 The imperative has dedicated forms: 2sg -∅ (the bare stem, i.e., root + theme vowel but without any suffix) and 2pl -te.

A very similar distribution of allomorphy and many similar forms are still found in the Ibero-Romance languages today. The present indicative usually has a different 1sg-suffix than the other TMA-combinations: Spanish/Portuguese/Catalan feature -o in the prs.ind but a zero desinence (-∅) in almost all other 1sg-cells (and, thus, a syncretism with the 3sg, see Section 3.2)—with the exception of the preterite and the newly coined synthetic future. The Latin suffix -t for the 3sg is lost in most languages (see Section 3.1) as is the allomorph -m for 1sg, lost without a trace. The general9 suffixes are: Portuguese -/-o, -s, -, -mos, -(e)is, -m; Spanish -/-o, -s, -, -mos, -is, -n; Catalan -/-o, -(e)s, -, -(e)m, -(e)u, -(e)n; Occitan -i/-∅,10 -(e)s, -, -m, -tz, -(o)n; French, written -e/-s, -(e)s, -e/-t, -ons, -ez, -ent, spoken generally [- - - õ e -] and in liaison contexts (see Section 3.1) [-/z z t õz ez t]; Logudorese Sardinian -/-o, -s, -t, -mus/-mos, -des/-zis, -n; Italian -/-o,11 -i, -, -mo, -te, -(o)no; Romanian -/-m,12 -i, -ă/-e, -m, -ți, -ă/-∅; Surmiran Rumansh -a/-, -as, -a/-, -an/-agn/-gn, -as/-ez/-z, -an; Gardenese Dolomitic Ladin -e, -es, -a/-e, -an/-on/-onse, -ais/-ëis/-ëise, -a/-e; and Friulian -i/-, -is, -e/-/-i, -in/-ìn, -is, -in.

Special preterite person/number suffixes are fused morphemes inherited from Latin (see earlier in this section and note 8). Their form is sometimes changed due to phonetic developments or to analogical spread within the suffixes, and an additional allomorphy may exist with respect to conjugation class for some forms: Portuguese -ei/-i, -ste, -ou/-u, (-mos,)13 -stes, -ram; Spanish -é/-í, -ste, -ó, (-mos,) -steis, -ron; Catalan -í, -(e)res, -/-é, -(é)rem, -(é)reu, -(e)ren; Occitan -èri, -ères, -èt, -èrem, -èretz, -èron; French, written -s/-ai, -s, -t/-, -mes, -tes, -rent, spoken [-/e - - m t ʁ]; Italian -i, -sti, -ò/-e/-ette/-, -mmo, -ste, -rono; Romanian: -i, -și, -, -răm, -răți, -ră; and Friulian -i, -ris, -, -rin, -ris, -rin.

A new allomorphy arose with the development of a new synthetic future in many languages; the new inflectional suffixes originate in the forms of the auxiliary habēre ‘have’:14 Portuguese -ei, -ás, -á, -emos, -eis, -ão; Spanish -é, -ás, -á, -emos, -éis, -án; Catalan -é, -às, -à, -em, -eu, -an; Occitan -ai, -às, -à, -em, -etz, -àn; French -ai, -as, -a, (-ons, -ez,) -ont [e a a õ e õ]; Italian -ò, -ai, -à, -emo, -ete, -anno; Surmiran Rumansh -o, -ossas, -o, -on, -ossas, -on; Gardenese Dolomitic Ladin , -és, -à, (-on, -ëis,) -à; and Friulian -ai, -âs, -à, -ìn, -ês, -an.

Another kind of allomorphy concerns TMA-suffixes, for example, in Spanish there is a split in the imperfect opposing (-a)ba- in the first conjugation and (-í)a- in second/third conjugation.15 In French, a split is observed in the imperfect with respect to person/number: -ai- [ɛ] (1/2/3sg+3pl) versus -i- [j] (1/2pl).16 For more information on allomorphy and for examples stemming from a wider array of Romance languages, compare Iliescu and Mourin (1991).

In noun morphology, after the loss of case suffixes in most languages, suffix allomorphy is limited to variation in plural suffixes, in general due to phonological conditioning like Spanish -s (pl-suffix after unstressed vowels, i.e., the unmarked PL-suffix), -es (after consonants and stressed vowels), and -∅ (in nouns with final -s in an unstressed syllable in the sg, see Section 3.1).

3. Syncretism

3.1 Introduction

The existence of identical forms fulfilling different functions within a single paradigm constitutes an inflectional homonymy called syncretism (Section 1). In their seminal book, Matthew Baerman, Dunstan Brown, and Greville G. Corbett (2005, p. 2) provide the following key components of the definition of syncretism:


a morphological distinction which is syntactically relevant (i.e. it is an inflectional distinction)


a failure to make this distinction under particular (morphological) conditions


a resulting mismatch between syntax and morphology.

Carstairs[-McCarthy] (1987, 1984), Stump (1993, 2001, pp. 212–241, 2002, 2016, pp. 170–183), Baerman (2004), Baerman et al. (2005), and Hinzelin (2012) discuss the nature of syncretism from a theoretical point of view, addressing the questions of constraints, paradigm functions, naturalness, directionality, and grammaticalization of syncretism. Two types of syncretism may be distinguished: systematic versus accidental (Carstairs[-McCarthy], 1987, p. 91) and, using a different terminology, stable versus spontaneous (Hinzelin, 2012, p. 66):

‘Stable’ or systematic syncretisms are recurring patterns across inflectional classes or TMA-combinations that may be also shared by most varieties of a language group and thus typologically define it.

‘Spontaneous’ or accidental syncretisms are isolated within a paradigm or not found in other inflectional classes. They are local and isolated, that is, limited to one variety (or very few neighboring varieties).

But the division between the two is not neat: “In practice, the distinction between accidental and systematic homophony may be ambiguous or fluid. Indeed, there is diachronic evidence that originally accidental patterns can be reinterpreted as systematic” (Baerman, 2004, p. 810).

Syncretism was virtually non-existent in Latin verb morphology,17 though it played a prominent role in noun morphology (e.g., = across all declension classes). Through sound change, syncretism arose in verb morphology and, in conjunction with other factors,18 brought the case system to the brink of collapse in noun morphology in early Romance (cf. Lausberg, 1962/1972, pp. 15–17; Pope, 1952, pp. 308–314). Almost all Romance languages exhibit different degrees of syncretism in verb morphology and lost case distinctions in nouns, adjectives, and determiners, with the notable exception of Romanian. Old French and old Occitan preserved a two-case system, ultimately lost in the modern varieties, and a few Francoprovençal varieties spoken in the Swiss canton of Valais retain a two-case distinction in definite articles (cf. Cornu, 1877; Kristol, 2013). In personal pronouns, case distinctions are generally upheld. The distinction of singular and plural is intact across the board except for some varieties of Gallo-Romance, most prominently standard French. Here, plural is indicated most reliably by determiners as plural marking on the noun and adjective is generally absent in spoken French, leading to syncretism in nouns and adjectives (17) as well as in third person subject clitics (18):



The exception to this general rule is the liaison context in (19) and (20), that is, when the following word starts with a vowel (with the exception of so-called h-aspiré words) and the plural is indicated by the surface realization of /z/ (cf. Durand et al., 2011 and references given therein):



Other cases of number syncretism include Spanish words ending in -s (in an unstressed syllable), for example, la crisis – las crisis ‘the’, or all Italian nouns not ending in an unstressed vowel, for example, la città – le città ‘the city – the cities’. In old French, combined case/number syncretisms existed, for example, = and = in masculine type I nouns like murs – mur ‘wall’ (cf. Buridant, 2000, p. 63).

For the remainder of this section, the focus will be on verb morphology. Here, many Gallo- and Raeto-Romance varieties have developed a large number of syncretic paradigm cells, and syncretism patterns became paradigm-structuring (cf. Hinzelin, 2011a, 2012), see Section 3.4 and Section 3.5. Less abundant syncretism patterns are found in Ibero-Romance (Section 3.2), standard Italian (Section 3.3.2), and Romanian (Section 3.3.3). The development of some of these syncretism patterns follows directly from sound change: the Latin consonants -m and -t in the coda of final unstressed syllables are lost in almost all Romance languages (Sardinian and archaic southern Italian varieties being the exception with respect to the general loss of final -t; cf. Lausberg, 1956/1967, p. 84). But exactly these two consonants played a pivotal role in Latin verb morphology as person/number suffixes marking the 1sg and 3sg, respectively (see Section 2.2). Table 19 illustrates this fact: there is a syncretism of 1sg = 3sg in most TMA-combinations in Ibero-Romance and Gallo-Romance. Gascon (Section 3.4.2) as well as standard Italian (Section 3.3.2) behave differently, partly due to an analogical extension of the 1sg prs.ind-suffix. The loss of the 3sg-suffix -t often also leads to a syncretism with the 2sg imp, as documented by Ibero-Romance (across all conjugations) and French, Italian, and Romanian in the first conjugation class (cf. Swearingen, 2011, pp. 123–124 and see Section 2.2). Note, however, that Spanish and Portuguese (Section 3.2.1), Sardinian (Section 3.3.1), and Raeto-Romance (Section 3.5) retain a dedicated 2pl imp, and Sardinian and Francoprovençal varieties (Section 3.4.3) a dedicated 2sg imp. Virtually no syncretism is found in Sardinian and scarcely any in Gascon (Section 3.4.2).

In the following, the focus will be on syncretism in verbs of the first conjugation class, as this is the largest and most productive conjugation class in all Romance languages. This is also the class showing less stem allomorphy compared to other classes and thus a propensity to feature more syncretic forms than other classes: for example, the 3pl prs.ind in French participates in the more general sg-syncretism only in this class (see Section 3.4.1), no PYTA-stem allomorphy as in Spanish venimos versus vinimos (see Section 4) is found here, and the Italian syncretism of the 2sg prs.ind with the more general 1/2/3sg prs.sbjv-syncretism does not obtain in the other classes that feature the suffix -a (and sometimes also a different stem) in the prs.sbjv (see Section 3.3.2). Different syncretism patterns may be encountered in other classes; this is the case in Romanian (see Section 3.3.3)—Table 10 exemplifies syncretism patterns in Romanian fourth conjugation verbs.

3.2 Syncretism in Ibero-Romance

Ibero-Romance varieties exhibit rather uniform patterns of syncretism: the typical syncretism encountered nearly everywhere is 1sg = 3sg, except in the present indicative, preterite indicative, and future tenses—see Tables 5 and 6. This syncretism exists across all conjugation classes.

Table 5. Syncretism Patterns in Ibero-Romance Verbs (Verb beber/Catalan beure ‘drink’)

3.2.1 Syncretism in Spanish and Portuguese

Besides the syncretisms mentioned in Table 5, other typical syncretisms include 3sg prs.ind = 2sg imp (see Table 6 and cf. Swearingen, 2011, pp. 123–124). In Spanish, the 1pl prs.ind = 1pl pret are also syncretic (see Table 6), whereas European Portuguese presents a phonetic (and phonological) difference, thus constituting a minimal pair: 1pl prs.ind falamos [fɐˈlɐmuʃ] ~ 1pl pret falámos [fɐˈlamuʃ], that is, /ɐ/ ~ /a/. Hinzelin and Goldbach (2011) provide more specific information on syncretism in Ibero-Romance.

Table 6. Syncretism Patterns in Spanish First Conjugation Verbs (Verb pensar ‘think’)

3.2.2 Syncretism in Catalan

In Catalan, besides the syncretisms already mentioned in Table 5, there is a cross-cutting syncretism 1/2pl prs.ind = 1/2pl prs.sbjv = 1/2pl imp, which is due to the analogical extension of the subjunctive form (see Table 7; cf. Badia i Margarit, 1994, pp. 126–127, 346–347), similar to the syncretism 1pl prs.ind = 1pl prs.sbjv = 1pl imp found in Italian (see Section 3.3.2 and Table 8) and Friulian (see Section 3.5.3 and Table 18). Another common syncretism consists of 3sg prs.ind = 2sg imp.

Table 7. Syncretism Patterns in Standard Catalan Firsts Conjugation Verbs (Verb parlar ‘speak’)

3.3 Syncretism in Sardinian, Standard Italian, and Standard Romanian

3.3.1 Sardinian

In Sardinian, virtually no syncretism is found, as exemplified by the western Logudorese dialect of Bonorva described by Loporcaro (2012). He mentions only the 1pl prs.ind = 1pl imp forms as being syncretic (Loporcaro, 2012, pp. 10, 12). Gascon (see Section 3.4.2) is another Romance variety exhibiting nearly no syncretism at all.

3.3.2 Standard Italian

Interestingly, Italian does not display the 1sg = 3sg syncretism encountered in Ibero-Romance (see Section 3.2).19 The exception is the prs.sbjv, here the 1sg = 3sg syncretism is expanded to include the 2sg-forms of both the prs.sbjv and also prs.ind (the latter in the first conjugation only; see Table 8) due to the loss of Latin -s marking the 2sg and an analogy with the forms of the i-conjugation (see Section 2.2; cf. Rohlfs, 1968, pp. 247–248). The syncretism 1pl prs.ind = 1pl prs.sbjv = 1pl imp (see Table 8) arises by virtue of an analogy based on the subjunctive form (cf. Rohlfs, 1968, pp. 240, 249–253), much like in Catalan (see Section 3.2.2 and Table 7) and Friulian (see Section 3.5.3 and Table 18). Other syncretisms include 3sg prs.ind = 2sg imp and 1sg = 2sg pst.sbjv (see note 19).

Table 8. Syncretism Patterns in Standard Italian First Conjugation Verbs (Verb cantare ‘sing’)

3.3.3 Standard Romanian

In standard Romanian, two different syncretism patterns exist, distinguished with respect to the conjugation class of the verb: the first and fifth conjugation classes pattern alike, and the second, third, and fourth show the other patterning (see Table 9 and 10, respectively). The difference is displayed most strikingly in the prs.ind: 3sg = 3pl = 2 sg imp (first/fifth) versus 1sg = 3pl (second/third/fourth); 2sg = 2 sg imp (most verbs of the second/third/fourth conjugation).20 Across all conjugation classes, there is a syncretism of all prs.ind and prs.sbjv-forms with the same person/number features except in the 3sg and 3pl, which are different from their prs.ind-counterparts but constitute the special prs.sbjv-syncretism pattern across all conjugation classes: 3sg = 3pl.21 Other syncretisms include 1sg impf = 1pl impf and, in the first conjugation, 1sg pret = 2sg impf and a syncretism spanning four cells of the 2pl: prs.ind, prs.sbjv, imp, and impf.

Table 9. Syncretism Patterns in Standard Romanian First Conjugation Verbs (Verb a cânta ‘sing’)

Table 10. Syncretism Patterns in Standard Romanian Fourth Conjugation Verbs (Verb a dormi ‘sleep’)

3.4 Syncretism in Gallo-Romance

3.4.1 Standard French and Oïl Varieties

Northern Gallo-Romance varieties have pushed the extent of syncretism to the extreme: in the verb morphology of standard French, almost all forms are syncretic with at least one other. The entire paradigm is structured by these syncretism patterns (cf. Hinzelin, 2011a, 2012). Table 11 illustrates the syncretism patterns for the first, that is, the regular and most productive, conjugation class in standard French. Nearly every form is syncretic with another one. Recurrent syncretisms across the paradigm are 1sg = 2sg = 3sg = 3pl (except in the fut); syncretisms encountered in the fut only are 1sg = 2pl, 2sg = 3sg (a subset of the general pattern just mentioned), 1pl = 3pl.

In the other conjugation classes, the 3pl prs.ind does not participate in a syncretism pattern with the sg-persons due to the existence of a longer stem in the pl-forms, for example, séduire ‘seduce’: sédui-t [sedɥi] 3sg prs.ind vs. séduis-ent [sedɥiz] 3pl prs.ind (see also Section 4 and see sec. 3.3.4, 4.1 of “Inflection Classes in Verbs in the Romance Languages,” in this encyclopedia).

Table 11. Syncretism Patterns in Standard French First Conjugation Verbs (Verb aimer ‘love’)

Hinzelin (2011a, 2012) discusses Gallo-Romance syncretism patterns in much more detail and reaches the conclusion that these syncretism patterns constitute a morphomic distribution (see Section 2.1.2) by themselves. The standard French syncretism pattern in the prs.ind/prs.sbjv opposes the identical forms of the 1/2/3sg+3pl to the non-syncretic forms of the 1/2pl. This is an N-pattern distribution (1/2/3sg+3pl prs.ind/prs.sbjv + 2sg imp, see Section 2.1.2). Elsewhere, the forms of the N-pattern complement are encountered, most notably in the 1/2pl prs.ind/prs.sbjv + 2pl imp (and, in principle, in the remainder of the paradigm). This N-pattern complement distribution gets reduced owing to a replication of the original N-pattern distribution in other TMA-combinations like impf and cond: due to regular sound change, they are also featuring a 1/2/3sg+3pl-patterning, however with different forms (see Table 11). Other ‘horizontal’ syncretisms include 1pl prs.sbjv = 1pl impf, 2pl prs.sbjv = 2pl impf, 1pl prs.ind = 1pl imp, and 2pl prs.ind = 2pl imp = 1sg pret = inf = ptcp.

3.4.2 Occitan Varieties

Occitan shows very different degrees of syncretism: in the Languedocian variety of southern Occitan (see Table 12), syncretism is rather limited, even in comparison with Ibero-Romance (see Section 3.2.). Like Ibero-Romance, the 1sg=3sg-pattern is encountered in the prs.sbjv and pst.sbjv.22 Other patterns shared with Ibero-Romance are 3sg prs.ind = 2sg imp and 2pl prs.ind = 2pl imp.

Table 12. Syncretism Patterns in Languedocian Occitan First Conjugation Verbs (Verb parlar ‘speak’)

Source: Sauzet and Ubaud (1995, pp. 54–56).

In some northern Occitan varieties, spoken within and near the Croissant area at the boundary with French Oïl varieties, however, syncretism is as abundant and paradigm-structuring as in standard French but with a different distribution of the syncretic paradigm cells (see Table 13; cf. Hinzelin, 2011a, 2012). The characteristic syncretism patterns (1sg = 3sg, 2sg = 2pl, 1pl = 3pl) are observed across most TMA-combinations.

Table 13. Syncretism patterns in Northern Limousin Occitan First Conjugation Verbs (Verb chantar ‘sing’, Gartempe / Saint-Sylvain-Montaigut [Creuse]—North Limousin Marchois)

Source: Quint (1996, pp. 115–116).

Gascon, a southern Occitan dialect considered as a separate Romance language by some scholars (cf. Chambon & Greub, 2002 for a discussion), is exceptional by showing scarcely any syncretism at all, apart from all imperative forms, that is, 3sg prs.ind = 2sg imp, 1pl prs.sbjv = 1pl imp, 2pl prs.ind = 2pl imp, as well as 1sg prs.ind = 1sg prs.sbjv and 1pl prs.ind = gerund—homophonous though distinct in spelling (cf. Birabent & Salles-Loustau, 1989, p. 118).23 A parallel behavior is encountered in Sardinian (Section 3.3.1). Table 14 compares the extent of syncretism in the three Occitan varieties.

Table 14. Comparison of Syncretism Patterns in First Conjugation Verbs in Three Occitan Varieties

3.4.3 Francoprovençal Varieties

The different varieties of Francoprovençal show a considerable amount of variation. Table 15 exemplifies the variety spoken in La Salle in the Aosta Valley, Italy (cf. Bertolo et al., 1999). Again, syncretism is abundant and system-structuring (cf. Hinzelin, 2011a, 2012). Frequent syncretisms, present across most TMA-combinations, include 2sg = 3sg, 1sg = 2pl (except in the prs.ind), and 1pl = 3pl (except in the prs.ind and cond). Note the dedicated 2sg imp-form not participating in any syncretism. Hinzelin (2012) presents additional paradigms from more Francoprovençal varieties and a theoretical discussion of the syncretism patterns encountered.

Table 15. Syncretism Patterns in Valdôtain Francoprovençal First Conjugation Verbs (Verb prèdjè ‘speak’, La Salle, Aosta Valley, Italy)

Source: Patois à petits pas by Bertolo et al. (1999, pp. 118–120).

3.5 Syncretism in Raeto-Romance

3.5.1 Romansh

Surmiran (see Table 16), a variety of Swiss Romansh within the Raeto-Romance group spoken in the Albula region of the Grisons/Graubünden canton of eastern Switzerland, shows frequent syncretisms that are present across almost all TMA-combinations (except in the prs.ind): 1sg = 3sg, 2sg = 2pl, and 1pl = 3pl. The syncretism 1sg = 3sg is similar to Ibero-Romance (see Section 3.2 and Table 5), Languedocian Occitan (see Section 3.4.2 and Table 12), and Friulian (see Section 3.5.3 and Table 18). The syncretisms 2sg =2pl and 1pl = 3pl constitute a parallel to the ones found in northern Limousin Occitan (see Section 3.4.2 and Table 13) and Friulian (see Section 3.5.3 and Table 18). Another common syncretism across Romance consists of 3sg prs.ind = 2sg imp, encompassing here also the 1/3sg prs.sbjv. The 1pl = 3pl prs.sbjv-syncretism includes the 3pl prs.ind and the 2sg =2pl prs.sbjv one includes the 2sg prs.ind; the 2sg prs.ind/sbjv syncretism is also common in other Raeto-Romance varieties like Gardenese Dolomitic Ladin (see Table 17) and Friulian (see Table 18). Note, however, that the dedicated 1sg prs.ind, 2pl prs.ind, and 2pl imp-forms are not participating in any syncretism.

Table 16. Syncretism Patterns in Surmiran Romansh First Conjugation Verbs (Verb cantar ‘sing’)

Source: Signorell (2001, p. xiv) and Anderson (2011, pp. 15–17, 2016, p. 175).

3.5.2 Dolomitic Ladin

In Gardenese Dolomitic Ladin (see Table 17), spoken in Gherdëina/Val Gardena/Gröden in the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol region of northern Italy, syncretism is rather limited compared to Surmiran Romansh (see Section 3.5.1 and Table 16) and Friulian (see Section 3.5.3 and Table 18). Similar to standard Romanian (see Section 3.3.3 and Table 9), the 3sg = 3pl-pattern (and 3sg/pl prs.ind = 2 sg imp) is encountered in the prs.ind and prs.sbjv as well as, additionally, in the impf, fut, and pst.sbjv (see Table 17). In the prs.sbjv, the 3sg = 3pl-syncretism extends to the 1sg prs.ind/sbjv and the 2sg prs.ind/sbjv exhibit a syncretism, too (like in Surmiran). Another syncretism exists by virtue of 1pl impf = gerund.

Table 17. Syncretism Patterns in Gardenese Dolomitic Ladin First Conjugation Verbs (Verb cianté ‘sing’)

Source: Anderlan-Obletter (1991) and Bernardi (2002).

3.5.3 Friulian

In the Friulian koiné spoken in the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, syncretism patterns are quite similar to Surmiran Romansh (see Section 3.5.1): frequent syncretisms in the impf, pret, and pst.sbjv (see Table 18) are 2sg = 2pl and 1pl = 3pl. A syncretism 1sg = 3sg exists in the prs.sbjv and pst.sbjv, similar to Ibero-Romance (see Section 3.2 and Table 5) and Languedocian Occitan (see Section 3.4.2 and Table 12). In the prs.ind and prs.sbjv, the respective person/number forms are all syncretic except for the 3sg. This is very similar to Romanian (see Section 3.3.3 and Tables 9 and 10), except that in Romanian both third persons do not participate in these syncretisms. The syncretic forms also include a syncretism 1pl prs.ind = 1pl prs.sbjv = 1pl imp (see Table 18), very much like in Italian (see Section 3.3.2 and Table 8) and Catalan (see Section 3.2.2 and Table 7). Another common syncretism consists of 3sg prs.ind = 2sg imp. Note the dedicated 2pl imp-form, absent from any syncretism.

Table 18. Syncretism Patterns in Friulian First Conjugation Verbs (Verb clamâ ‘call’, Friulian koiné)

Source: Faggin (1997) and Marchetti (1952).

3.6 Comparison of Syncretism Across the Romance Languages

A comparison of syncretism across the Romance languages (see Table 19) illustrates that certain syncretism patterns may be considered typical for a language or a language group within one or more TMA-combinations: Ibero-Romance and Surmiran Romansh (as well as Friulian and Languedocian Occitan to some extent) are branded with the 1sg=3sg-pattern (in yellow in Table 19; for Friulian, see Table 18). These patterns thus contribute to the distinctiveness of the (verb) morphology of each variety and represent the stable or systematic syncretisms (see Section 3.1). Often, a replication of an established distinctive pattern in other TMA-combinations can be observed (e.g., in many Gallo-Romance varieties, see Section 3.4). Other forms may also join a pattern and enlarge it; this can be again replicated in other TMA-combinations (cf. Hinzelin, 2012, pp. 64–65). This suggests that syncretism is not just a simple epiphenomenon of morphology but that it may have some repercussions on deeper levels grammar (cf. Baerman, 2004, p. 810; Hinzelin, 2012, pp. 76–78; and see Section 4). Specific cases of syncretism may be regarded as systematic in a language’s morphology as Baerman (2004, p. 810) states:

There is good reason to believe, however, that some syncretism is systematically encoded in the morphology. One diagnostic of systematicity is the repetition of the same pattern of syncretism across multiple inflectional affixes or rules. A familiar example is the syncretic dative/ablative plural of Latin, which is realized by two different endings, -īs and -ibus, depending on declension class. If we did not treat this as morphologically systematic, we would have to assume the chance coincidence of two instances of accidental homophony. [emphasis added]

Table 19. Comparison of Syncretism Patterns Across the Romance Languages in First Conjugation Verbs Within One or More TMA-Combinations

4. Interaction of Allomorphy/Suppletion and Syncretism

Non-canonical phenomena may interact in various ways: allomorphy or suppletion may lead to the absence of an expected syncretism by counterbalancing it. The two non-canonical phenomena level each other out, and the resulting dedicated inflected form for a single paradigm cell matches again the requirements for a canonical form (see Table 1); for example, the stem allomorphy in Spanish venimos 1pl prs.ind versus vinimos 1pl pret.ind ‘we come/came’ cancels out the syncretism of the inflectional affix -mos. Whereas in regular third conjugation verbs a form like sentimos ‘we feel/felt’ is syncretic, it is here differentiated by an allomorphy of the PYTA-stem (see Section 2.1.2). In French, the 3pl prs.ind is displaced from the syncretism with the sg-persons if a longer stem variant exists for the pl-forms, for example, sédui- [sedɥi] sg prs.ind versus séduis- [sedɥiz] pl prs.ind in séduire ‘seduce’ (see Section 3.4.1).

If syncretism and allomorphy both exist in a verb but pertain to different morphomic patterns (see Section 2.1.2), a clash of patterns occurs (cf. Maiden, 2009, pp. 64–67, 2012, 2018, pp. 288–289, who discusses examples of clashes between distinct patterns associated with different stem allomorphs): “In principle, morphomic patterns can clash, in that the domain of one intrudes into that of another” (Maiden, 2018, p. 288). A clash may even lead to the development of new morphomic patterns (cf. Maiden, 2018, pp. 284–295).

Examples for a clash of syncretism and stem allomorphy patterns can be found in Gallo-Romance varieties: the verb ‘go’ (see Section 2.1.3) displays an N-pattern distribution (see Section 2.1.2) in many Romance languages, for example, in French aller. In northern Limousin Occitan (within and near the Croissant area) and Lorrain Oïl varieties, one stem is ousted from its habitual paradigm cell to ensure the continuity of the varieties’ idiosyncratic syncretism pattern (see Table 20; cf. Hinzelin, 2011a, pp. 297–299, 2012, pp. 73–78). In Table 20, the al-/(a)n-stem is forced out of the 1pl prs.ind-cell in the Limousin Occitan and Lorrain Oïl varieties (for the distribution in standard French and Languedocian Occitan, see Section 2.1.3, (11)), thus ensuring a 1pl = 3pl-syncretism. In Limousin, this affects also the 2pl prs.ind-cell, thus replacing the (a)n-stem completely in this TMA-combination (for a discussion on the etymology of the forms of this verb, cf. Buchi et al., 2016–2020 in DÉRom [Buchi & Schweickard, 2008–], s.v. */'β‎ad-e-/, as well as FEW [Wartburg, 1922–2002] and LEI [Pfister, 1979–], s.v. ambulare). A similar development has taken place in Gascon and Spanish: in modern Spanish, vamos and vais replaced the old Spanish forms imos and ides (cf. Diccionario Crítico Etimológico Castellano e Hispánico [DCECH, Corominas & Pascual, 1980–1991], s.v. ir) in the 1/2pl prs.ind-cells but the 2pl imp is still id. Note that not always is the v-stem the winner: in Aubure (Altweier), a neighboring village of Petit-Rombach featured in Table 20, it is the form [aˈlõ] that is used in the 3pl to vouch for the perpetuation of the 1pl = 3pl-syncretism (Urtel, 1902, p. 683). This demonstrates conspicuously that it is indeed the syncretism that is the driving force behind the reorganization of the distribution of the suppletive stems no matter the lexical material ultimately used. Figure 3 illustrates the variation in this distribution in the 1pl prs.ind with data taken from the Atlas Linguistique de la France [ALF, Gilliéron & Edmont, 1902–1910]: the white areas show the expected pattern like in standard French; the hatched areas have substituted the expected al-/(a)n-stem with a v-stem (realized as /b-/ in Gascon).

Table 20. Suppletion in the Verb ‘go’ in the prs.ind: Standard French Compared to Lorrain Oïl, Valdôtain Francoprovençal and Northern Limousin Occitan

Source: Lorrain: Klein-Rumbach = Petit-Rombach (Pt-Rb.) and Altweier = Aubure, Sainte-Croix-aux-Mines, Vallées vosgiennes d’Alsace, Haut-Rhin, France—Urtel (1902); Valdôtain: Nus (colline), Aosta Valley, Italy—Bertolo et al. (1999); northern Limousin: Gartempe, Creuse, France—Quint (1996).

Figure 3. The distribution of stems in the 1pl prs.ind of ‘go’ according to ALF-data.

Links to Digital Materials

Oxford Online Database of Romance Verb Morphology. Constructed in connection with the Arts and Humanities Research Council–funded research project Autonomous Morphology in Diachrony: Comparative Evidence From the Romance Languages (AH/D503396/1), carried out at Oxford University.


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  • 1. An example for this is the formation of the past participle in German: while all other inflectional affixes in German are suffixes only, past participles use a circumfix (simultaneous pre- and suffixation), for example, in ge-lieb-t ‘loved’ or ge-sung-en ‘sung’. Across lexemes, German only uses the circumfix consistently with simple (i.e., non-derived) verbs, the suffixes -t/-en alone are used in derived verbs, for example, ver-lieb-t (*ver-ge-lieb-t/*ge-ver-lieb-t) ‘fallen in love’ and marsch-ier-t ‘marched’. Other examples include (advanced/colloquial) French with obligatory ‘subject pronouns’, even in combination with lexical subjects, as well as Francoprovençal and northern Italian dialects with subject ‘clitics’: if the preverbal clitic subject pronouns are analyzed as prefixes, there are verb forms that only feature these prefixes while others still rely on the traditional suffixes only or on both (as the French 1/2pl-forms). Compare French j’aime, tu/t’aimes, il aime, ils aiment versus nous aimons, vous aimez in the prs.ind (see Table 11 for a phonetic transcription of the forms in question).

  • 2. Carstairs-McCarthy’s proposal (2010) is introduced here. In other accounts, the (re)distribution may also follow autonomously morphological patterns, that is, morphomes (see Section 2.1.2).

  • 3. The phonologically longer or marked (i.e., voiced) feminine form acts here as a portmanteau morph for the lexical and the grammatical (i.e., gender) morpheme.

  • 4. Note that Spanish has virtually no irregular plurals displaying root allomorphy with the exception of loan words and learnèd words like régimen–regímenes with a change of stress.

  • 5. The label PYTA derives from the acronym used in Spanish grammars to describe the distribution of these roots: perfecto y tiempos afines. PYTA-stems evolved from Latin perfectum stems (cf. sec. 2 of “Inflection Classes in Verbs in the Romance Languages,” in this encyclopedia), and many ‘irregular’ PYTA-stems continue the allomorphy already present in Latin.

  • 6. This is one possible interpretation of these forms: it presupposes a reanalysis of the -a- in va and vamos as theme vowel (though etymologically part of the root in Latin vadit with the infinitive vadere ‘go, walk, rush’). The imperfect forms are interpreted as pertaining to the first conjugation: while lacking the theme vowel a in the presence of the root i-, the suffix -ba is a dedicated first conjugation tense suffix in Spanish (see Section 2.2). The second set of forms is perceived as part of Spanish third conjugation, assuming a fusion of root i- and theme vowel i.

  • 7. Only forms of the active voice will be discussed here, as the Latin synthetic passive, which only existed for forms with the present stem (infectum), does not survive into Romance. Essentially, the same inflectional suffixes are used in the synthetic passive forms as in the active ones. An -r (and, after the consonants of the 3sg/pl, a formative vowel -u-) is added as the last inflectional suffix, thus indicating a passive form (cf. the speculative remark in Touratier, 1971, p. 339): 1sg -or (prs.ind; fut.ind in class I/II; future perfect – fut.pfv), 3sg -tur, and 3pl -ntur. An exception is the 2pl, which exhibits the dedicated cumulative exponent (or portmanteau morph) -minī expressing simultaneously 2pl and passive. The form for the 2sg may have developed from *-se > -re (older form), and then -ris with a double marking, that is, the original passive 2sg-suffix together with the active 2sg-suffix (Fortson, 2010, p. 286). Synchronically, an assimilation rule probably best captures the derivation of 1pl -mus + -r-mur and of 1sg (in the impf.ind, prs.sbjv, impf.sbjv, fut.ind in class III/IV) -m + -r-r.

  • 8. The amount of person/number allomorphy can be reduced further by analyzing -is-/-i- and -ēr(u-) as allomorphs of a (secondary) tense suffix (in addition to the primary tense suffix -v-/-u-, -s-, etc.), the only irregular person/number suffixes being then and -. This analysis will not be adopted here, as the person/number suffixes of the pret.ind in the Romance languages cannot be separated unambiguously from a tense suffix in all forms and thus are best regarded as cumulative exponents (or portmanteau morphs) of person/number and preterite instead.

  • 9. Irregular suffixes occurring in only a small number of irregular verbs like the suffixes -oy (1sg prs.ind) in Spanish soy, estoy, voy, doy, and -tes (2pl prs.ind) in French êtes, faites, dites are not listed here.

  • 10. In Languedocian Occitan, and even more so in Gascon, -i has spread to other 1sg-cells by means of analogical extension (see Section 3.4.2).

  • 11. Note the analogical spread of what was originally only a 1sg prs.ind-suffix, -o, to the impf.ind (but not to the subjunctives) in Italian. Italian displays yet another allomorphy in the imperfect subjunctive: -i, (-i,) -e, -imo, (-te,) -ero.

  • 12. Romanian uses 1sg-suffix -m in the imperfect and pluperfect. It is not a remnant of Latin -m.

  • 13. Parentheses enclosing a suffix indicate that this suffix is identical to the general one: no allomorphy is implied by listing it here.

  • 14. There exists also a new conditional in many languages, the inflectional suffixes stemming from imperfect forms of habēre in Ibero- and Gallo-Romance, thus presenting no new person/number suffixes. In Italian, however, the preterite forms of habēre are found in the conditional, which introduces completely new inflectional suffixes to the 3sg and 3pl, because these forms of the ‘strong’ preterite reflect Latin perfectum forms. The other forms copy the usual preterite person/number suffixes: -i, -sti, -bbe, -mmo, -ste, -bbero. (The -e- occurring before the person/number suffix is analyzed as a suffix marking the conditional here.) Sardinian and standard Romanian possess neither synthetic future nor conditional forms. Old Romanian had, and Aromanian and Istro-Romanian still have, a kind of synthetic conditional—or ‘restrictive future’ in Istro-Romanian—derived from the Latin future perfect.

  • 15. The parentheses indicate that a and i are analyzed as theme vowels here (see sec. 3.2.1 of “Inflection Classes in Verbs in the Romance Languages,” in this encyclopedia). Other analyses oppose -aba- to -ía- as imperfect markers.

  • 16. Interestingly, this split may be interpreted as a reproduction of the N-pattern (see Section 2.1.2) and ensures syncretism in line with an extended N-pattern (see Section 3.4.1).

  • 17. Notable exceptions are 2sg, 3sg, 1pl, 2pl, 3pl fut.pfv = pret.sbjv, for example, laudaveris, and 1sg fut.ind = 1sg prs.sbjv in conjugation classes III/IV, for example, regam.

  • 18. Compare Ledgeway (2012, pp. 21–23, 328–335) for an overview and additional references on the typological changes, for example, in alignment or in the more frequent use of prepositions.

  • 19. The expected syncretisms of 1sg = 3sg impf and 1sg = 3sg pst.sbjv are encountered in old Italian but are absent in modern Italian, due to the analogical introduction in the 1sg-forms of the 1sg prs.ind-suffix -o and the 1sg pret-suffix -i, respectively (cf. Rohlfs, 1968, pp. 241, 286, 303).

  • 20. It needs to be mentioned that this is a conscious oversimplification of a rather complex state of affairs: there are different inflectional forms of the 2sg imp in the second, third, and fourth conjugation classes depending on the transitivity or other properties of the verb and thus different syncretism patterns (cf. Graur, 1961; Iliescu & Popovici, 2013, pp. 244–246; Pană Dindelegan, 2013, pp. 35–37). With verbs of the fourth conjugation class, the presence of an augment in -esc and stems ending in -i, -per, -fer trigger a deviant pattern: 3sg = 2sg imp (while maintaining 1sg = 3pl). In the second, third, and most verbs of the fourth conjugation classes, the syncretism 2sg = 2sg imp is observed with intransitive verbs. With transitive verbs, however, the pattern changes to 3sg = 2sg imp. There are only few transitive verbs capable of forming imperatives in the second and fourth conjugation classes. Note also that with verbs of the fifth conjugation class displaying an augment in -ăsc, the pattern 1sg = 3pl is followed (while maintaining 3sg = 2sg imp), thus coinciding with the pattern of augmented verbs of the fourth conjugation class (for the distribution of the augment, see sec. 3.3.1 of “Inflection Classes in Verbs in the Romance Languages,” in this encyclopedia).

  • 21. Save for some phonologically conditioned exceptions.

  • 22. The absence of the expected syncretism of 1sg = 3sg impf/cond present in Ibero-Romance may be explained by an analogical introduction of the 1sg-suffix -i (cf. Field, 2003; Esher, 2017 and references therein).

  • 23. The expected syncretism of 1sg = 3sg prs.sbjv/pst.sbjv encountered in Languedocian Occitan is absent in Gascon due to the analogical spread of the 1sg -suffix -i (cf. Field, 2003 and note 22).