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]

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

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]

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]

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:

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

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.