In linguistics, periphrasis is a device by which a grammatical category or grammatical relationship is expressed by a free morpheme (typically one or more function words modifying a content word), instead of being shown by inflection or derivation. For example, the English future tense is periphrastic: it is formed with an auxiliary verb (shall or will) followed by the base form of the main verb. Another example is the comparative and superlative forms of adjectives, when they are formed with the words more and most rather than with the suffixes -er and -est: the forms more beautiful and most beautiful are periphrastic, while lovelier and loveliest are not.[1]

Periphrasis is a characteristic of analytic languages, which tend to avoid inflection. Even synthetic languages, which are highly inflected, sometimes make use of periphrasis to fill out an inflectional paradigm that is missing certain forms.[2] An example is the third person plural of the perfect passive in Ancient Greek:

  • πέπεισται pépeistai "he has been persuaded"
  • πεπεισμένοι εἰσί pepeisménoi eisí "they have been persuaded"

A comparison of some Latin forms with their English translations shows that English uses periphrasis in many instances where Latin uses inflection:

Latin (inflected) English (periphrastic)
stēllae of a star
patientissimus most patient
amāberis you will be loved


The word is adapted from Ancient Greek períphrasis "roundabout speech",[3] which comes from perí "around"[4] and phrásis "expression",[5] from phrázō "tell".[6]

References Edit

  1. Trask, R. L. (1997). A Student's Dictionary of Language and Linguistics. London: Arnold. p. 166. ISBN 0-340-65266-7. 
  2. Stump, Gregory T. (1998). "Inflection". In Andrew Spencer and Arnold M. Zwicky (eds.). The Handbook of Morphology. Oxford: Blackwell. pp. 13–43. ISBN 0-631-18544-5. 
  3. Template:LSJ
  4. Template:LSJ
  5. Template:LSJ
  6. Template:LSJ

See also Edit

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