https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/clitic defines clitic as:

a word that is treated in pronunciation as forming a part of a neighboring word and that is often unaccented or contracted.

Is it correct that a clitic is a stand-alone word, and a suffix isn't?

In Latin, -ce is said to be a clitic, but someone said that

It doesn't exist as a full word in Latin. It's only seen attached to other forms

So why is -ce called a clitic instead of a suffix?

  • 2
    "Is it correct that a clitic is a stand-alone word, and a suffix isn't?" No, the whole point is that clitics don't stand alone. Do you understand what clitics are generally, like why the English possessive -s is considered a clitic rather than a suffix? (Because it attaches at the end of whole phrases rather than the head word, or to every word in a phrase.)
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 11 at 12:17

1 Answer 1


It depends what you mean by word. This is a surprisingly difficult term to define!

One definition is that a "word" is a phonological thing. Various phonological processes and constraints happen only within the boundaries of a "word" and not outside those boundaries, so we can use those boundaries to define what a "word" is.

Or, we can say that a "word" is an orthographic thing. A "word" is a sequence of glyphs that have spaces on either side. This isn't a great definition, because it means the meaning of "word" changes depending what writing system you use, but it tends to roughly align with the phonological definition.

Alternately, we can say that a "word" is a syntactic thing. The rules of morphology combine morphemes together within a "word", and the rules of syntax combine "words" together within a phrase, so a "word" is where morphology ends and syntax begins.

A clitic is a syntactic word but not a phonological word. That is, it doesn't stand alone phonologically—it gets incorporated into an adjacent word—but it's governed by syntax rather than morphology. (As opposed to an affix, which is handled by morphology.)

Personally, I would say -ce is arguably a suffix, but definitely isn't a clitic in Classical Latin. It can only appear attached to a specific small handful of words, which isn't a very clitic-y way to behave. But you could also say it's not even a suffix any more, since it's become opaque: in Classical Latin (as opposed to Old Latin) it's no longer clear that a word like hic consists of two parts, and most people see it as a single indivisible unit.

  • It still pulls the stress backwards in illic and the like, but that's pretty much the only way you can even tell it was ever a clitic within Latin.
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Jun 11 at 21:49

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