Teachers of Ancient Greek at my university have always been emphasising the importance of being aware of the loss of the intervocalic sigma in the language's history, because it helped to understand some seemingly peculiar inflectional paradigms ( τὸ γένος etc.). Unfortunately they were mostly literature specialist, not linguists, so they only provided us with the most essential information.

What about the dating of that sound change ?Was it during the Proto-Greek period ? Can we find that change in all the dialects ?

Also, what the about the forms that actually have an intervocalic sigma? Such as φύσις, βάσις, στάσις etc. or the sigmatic aorist like ἐτιμήσα, ἐπαιδεύσα. While I can understand the nouns as a post-change creation, this aorist seems quite ancient to me, but I very likely might be wrong here.

  • 1
    The ending -sis is from earlier -tis. In some Greek dialects, including Attic (i.e. Athenian), -t- usually becomes -s- when followed by the vowel i: that is why we have Attic eisí "they are" versus Doric enti. (This change was blocked by a preceding s, which is why you have estí "is" rather than *essi)
    – user8017
    Aug 15, 2015 at 8:11
  • 1
    I am not sure why the aorist marker -s- remains after long-vowel stems like etímē-. It could be partly because of analogy: -s- was recognized as the marker of the aorist (because it appeared with consonant-final stems such as épraksa "I did", égrapsa "I wrote"), so it may have been restored in environments where it would otherwise have dropped out. The same explanation could work for the future tense, which is also often marked by -s- and for which the stem-forming processes are similar to the aorist (as in timēsō "I will honor", etc.).
    – user8017
    Aug 15, 2015 at 8:25
  • Yes, that is very probable. Can you provide any references?
    – czypsu
    Aug 15, 2015 at 8:31
  • I don't remember where (if anywhere) I read this. It is just my own guess.
    – user8017
    Aug 15, 2015 at 8:32
  • I assume that all of that must have happened way before attested Greek. Or maybe are there any indications in Homer or Mycaean ?
    – czypsu
    Aug 15, 2015 at 8:33

1 Answer 1


The loss of intervocalic s is one of the defining features of Proto-Greek: that is, it occurred before the earliest attested Greek and is common to all the Greek dialects. It is thought to have gone through an [h] stage, which seems to be attested in Mycenaean.

Intervocalic [s]'s in Greek have several different sources, e.g.:

  • some come from earlier [t], by the sound change ti > si, e.g. basis from earlier batis
  • some come from earlier [tj], e.g. pa:sa from * pantja
  • a few come regularly from *tw, e.g. se from * twe
  • quite a lot are analogically restored, like in the sigmatic aorists: here the -s- was reintroduced from aorists where it was not intervocalic so had not been lost. Similarly for futures.
  • Why didn't ti > si apply in words ending in -τικός? I notice that a lot of Greek-derived words in English show an alternation between t and s in word-pairs like analysis/analytic, ellipse/elliptic and so on. Aug 16, 2015 at 22:10
  • 2
    @sumelic Because these words are later than the ti > si change: -ικός only becomes a broadly productive suffix in the Classical period.
    – TKR
    Aug 16, 2015 at 23:01
  • 1
    Oh I see, thanks. Looking at Wikipedia's entry for "ἀνάλυσις," none of the forms of the word had a τ in it. So what word or word-form is the stem "analyt-" used in the word "analytic" derived from? Looking up "pathetic," Wiktionary says it is derived from παθητικός < παθητός. So are words like "ἀναλυτικός" derived from some word like "ἀναλυτός" (I don't know if that exists) or is the τ used because of analogy with words like "παθητικός"? I looked up βασικός and it seems to exist, so whether σ or τ is used does not seem to be consistent. Does it just depend on the history of each word? Aug 16, 2015 at 23:44
  • 1
    @sumelic Yes, it depends on each word, because -ikos can be added to various kinds of nominals. One of the large categories of these is deverbal adjectives in -tos, hence the multitude of -tikos words (though some -tikos words are from other types, like nautikos form naute:s 'sailor'), but it can also be added to -sis nouns, like physikos from physis. (I can't find basikos on the Perseus dictionary site, btw.)
    – TKR
    Aug 17, 2015 at 0:23
  • 1
    Maybe βασικός only exists in modern Greek? It gets google hits and a Wiktionary page anyway. But the English "basic" apparently dates only to the 19th century and etymonline says it was coined from English "base" + "-ic," so maybe βασικός is actually modeled on the English word "basic." It was not a good example -- your example of "physikos" is much better. Aug 17, 2015 at 19:38

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.