Crasis (//; from the Greek κρᾶσις, "mixing", "blending") is a type of contraction in which two vowels or diphthongs merge into one new vowel or diphthong, making one word out of two. Crasis occurs in Portuguese, French and Arabic as well as in Ancient Greek, for which it was first described.
|Sound change and alternation|
In some cases, as in the French examples below, crasis involves the grammaticalization of two individual lexical items into one, but in other cases, like in the Greek examples, crasis is the orthographic representation of the encliticization and vowel reduction of one grammatical form with another. The difference between the two is that the Greek examples involve two grammatical words and a single phonological word and the French examples involve a single phonological word and grammatical word.
In both Ancient and Modern Greek, crasis merges a small word and long word closely connected in meaning.
In Ancient Greek, a coronis (κορωνίς korōnís "curved"; plural κορωνίδες korōnídes) marks the vowel from crasis. In ancient times, it was an apostrophe placed after the vowel (τα᾽μά), but it is now written over the vowel τἀμά, and it is identical to smooth breathing in Unicode. (For instance, τἀμά uses the character U+1F00 ἀ GREEK SMALL LETTER ALPHA WITH PSILI; psili means smooth breathing.) Unlike a coronis, smooth breathing never occurs on a vowel in the middle of a word (although it occurs on doubled rho: πύῤῥος pyrrhos).
The article undergoes crasis with nouns and adjectives that start with a vowel:
- τὰ ἐμά → τᾱ̓μά "my (affairs)"
- τὸ ἐναντίον → τοὐναντίον "on the contrary"
- τὸ αὐτό → ταὐτό "the same"
- τὰ αὐτά → ταὐτά (plural of the previous example)
καί undergoes crasis with the first-person singular pronoun and produces a long vowel:
- καὶ ἐγώ → κᾱ̓γώ "and I", "I too"
- καὶ ἐμοί → κᾱ̓μοί "and to me"
In modern monotonic orthography, the coronis is not written.
In French, the contractions of determiners are often the results of a vocalisation and a crasis:
- de le → du, de les → des
- à le → au, à les → aux
- en les → ès (archaic)
The most frequently observed crasis today is the contraction of the preposition a ("to" or "at") with the feminine singular definite article a ("the"), indicated in writing with a grave accent, or the masculine singular definite article o (also "the"). For example, instead of *Vou a a praia ("I go to the beach"), one says Vou à praia ("I go to-the beach"). The contraction turns the clitic a into the stressed word à. Meanwhile, a person going to a bank, a supermarket or a marketplace would say Vou ao banco, Vou ao supermercado or Vou à feira, respectively.
Crasis also occurs between the preposition a and demonstratives: for instance, when the preposition precedes aquele(s), aquela(s) (meaning "that", "those", in different genders), they contract to àquele(s), àquela(s). The accent marks a secondary stress in Portuguese.
In addition, the crasis à is pronounced lower as /a/ than the article or preposition a, as /ɐ/, in the examples in standard European Portuguese, but the qualitative distinction is not made by most speakers in Brazilian Portuguese (some dialects, as Rio de Janeiro's fluminense, are exceptions and make the distinction).
Crasis is very important, as it can change the meaning of a sentence:
- Exposta, a polícia - The police is exposed
- Exposta à polícia - She is exposed to the police
- Glória, a rainha - Glória the queen
- Glória à rainha - Glory to the queen
- Dê a mulher - Give the woman
- Dê à mulher - Give to the woman
These rules determine whether the crasis always apply, or whether one may use the contraction à (with an accent) instead of the preposition a (without an accent):
Replace the preposition a by another preposition, as em ("in") or para ("to"). If, with replacement, the definite article a ("the") is still possible, crasis applies:
- Pedro viajou à Região Nordeste: with a grave accent because it equivalent to "Pedro traveled 'to the' Northeast Region". Here, para a Região Nordeste could also be used.
- O autor dedicou o livro a sua esposa: without a grave accent in Brazilian Portuguese because it is equivalent to "The author dedicated the book 'to' his wife". A consistent use, according to the rules in Brazil would not allow para a sua esposa be used instead. In European Portuguese, nevertheless, rules are different, and it is O autor dedicou o livro à sua esposa, but in English, both sentences have the same meaning.
If the nominal complement is changed, after "a", from a feminine noun to a masculine noun and it is now necessary to use 'ao' (used naturally by native speakers), crasis applies:
- Prestou relevantes serviços à comunidade, He/she paid outstanding services to the community: with a grave accent because if one changes the object to a masculine noun ("Prestou relevantes serviços ao povo" He/she paid outstanding services to the people), one now uses "ao" ("to [masculine] the").
- "Chegarei daqui a uma hora" I will arrive in an hour: without crasis because when the femi one noun is changed to a masculine noun ("Chegarei daqui a um minuto" I will arrive in a minute), there is no "ao" (as "um/uma", indefinite articles, appear instead of "o/a").
The grave accent is never used before masculine words (nouns, pronouns, etc.); verbs; personal pronouns; numerals, plural nouns without the use of the feminine plural definite article as ("the"); city names that do not use a feminine article; the word casa ("house") if it has the meaning of one's own home;/the word terra ("earth") when it has the meaning of soil; and indefinite, personal, relative or demonstrative pronouns (except the third person and aquele(s) or aquela(s)); between identical nouns such as dia a dia "day by day", "everyday", "daily life", gota a gota "dropwise", "drip", and cara a cara "face to face"; and after prepositions. Here are exceptions:
É preciso declarar guerra à guerra! (It is necessary to declare war on war!)
É preciso dar mais vida à vida. (It is necessary to give more life to life.)
The grave accent is optional in the following cases:
- Before a female's first name
Refiro-me [à/a] Fernanda. (I am referring to Fernanda.)
- Before a feminine possessive pronoun
Dirija-se [à/a] sua fazenda. (Go to your [own] farm.)
- After the preposition até'
Dirija-se até [à/a] porta. (Go by that door.)
Eu fui até [à/a] França de carro. (I traveled to France by car.)
Notes and references
- Note on terminology:
Crasis, in English, usually refers to merging of words, but the sense of the word in the original Greek used to be more general and refer to most changes related to vowel contraction, including synaeresis.
- "crasis". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- κρᾶσις. Liddell, Henry George; Scott, Robert; A Greek–English Lexicon at the Perseus Project; cf. κεράννῡμι, "I mix" wine with water; kratēr "mixing-bowl" is related.