I don't remember the technical word for it. I think it's a figure of speech, but I am not sure.

Anyway, here is an example to illustrate what I mean:

He was an apostle!

He was a 'postle!

So what is it called? I am not sure if we can replace any part of the word with an apostrophe, but from memory it's mostly the beginning of the word.

  • 1
    Please note: removing a letter on purpose in writing is not the same thing as pronouncing something without some letter. So, which do you mean? – Lambie Mar 16 at 15:14

When it's dropped as part of a way of speaking (which may eventually change the language as things drift over time), it's clipping. This is almost always losing one or more sounds at the start or end of the world - and it's how we get the word exam - from examination.

When it's done stylistically or for poetry to fit a metre, it's elision.

When it's a regular feature of English, or following the pattern of such a regular feature, and used to combine words, it's forming a contraction - like don't, can't, or Sam's (yes, the last one is a contraction, even when it's for the 'possessive', even though our language has lost the word that the -'s stands for2). Little fragments like -n't and -'s that are used in this way, at the end of a word, are called enclitics1.

1: Sam's might be "Sam is", such as "Sam's busy writing answers on ELL", or "Sam has", such as "Sam's been spending a lot of time on ELL", or the -'s can be a contraction of does or us in some situations. It can also be what's commonly called the possessive, as in "recently, Sam's usual method of procrastination is answering questions on ELL". The later type is referred to as the Saxon genitive as it forms the genitive (which covers possession, as well as a few other things, but we don't use that term as an everyday thing in English) and it comes from Old English (which owed rather a lot to the language brought over by the Saxons), and even then it wasn't a word - just a suffix, -es. In fact, there's some debate as to whether it was ever a separate word, rather than a pattern of inflection like -ing in modern English.

2: Some definitions I have read would exclude -n't from being any sort of clitic because the word it represents is still used separately, while -'s would meet all of the definitions I've seen when it's the Saxon genitive - but not when it's is.

  • The answer covers situations not in the question. which was only about dropping an initial letter. It's fine to explain contractions but it's not really part of the question. Since you are doing "off topic", Sam's could be a restaurant. Many are called by a name with an apostrophe s. – Lambie Mar 16 at 17:32
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    Dropping that initial letter could well be clipping, because it is removing a full sound (indeed, a full syllable) from the word. People often seem to find extra information around the topic helpful, so as to avoid thinking the answer to their question applies to similar but different situations. And Sam's as the name of a restaurant is the Saxon genitive. – SamBC Mar 16 at 17:36

This looks like elision:

1 a : the use of a speech form that lacks a final or initial sound which a variant speech form has (such as 's instead of is in there's)

b : the omission of an unstressed vowel or syllable in a verse to achieve a uniform metrical pattern

(source: Merriam-Webster)

It's omnipresent and often compulsory in French, but also regularly seen in English.

  • In French, the function of it is completely different....It's a grammar rule, among other things, not a style or speech choice. Otherwise,I agree though this is not only a poetry technique. – Lambie Mar 16 at 15:12
  • It could also be called abbreviation. – Jason Bassford Mar 16 at 15:25
  • @JasonBassford I have to disagree, in (casual, maybe not technical) English at least. Abbreviation generally occurs in different contexts and for different reasons than elision or contraction, and is never pronounced (unless you count acronyms), only written. – Hearth Mar 16 at 16:54

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