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In morphosyntax, a clitic is a bound element that is not as fully attached (to its host) as an affix is (to its base). The result of the combination of a clitic with its host is called clitic group.


In French, object pronouns are clitics which are either proclitics, as me and les in (i), or enclitics, as les in (ii):

(i) il me les a donnés
he to-me them has given
'he has given them to me'
(ii) donnez -les -moi
give -them -me
'give them to me'
(iii) il mei lesj a donnés ei ej

In syntax it is usually assumed that a clitic is related to a gap, an empty category (trace or pro). But see clitic doubling. Example (i) is analyzed as in (iii), where e is a gap.



A clitic can thus be regarded as a kind of bound morpheme. A typical clitic will attach itself to a host, that is, a (fully inflected) word or phrase. The observation that they can attach to inflected words distinguishes, among other things, clitics from affixes.


Since Classical Greek and Latin only had enclitics, the term enclitic is older than the general term clitic. This general term was coined by back-formation only in the 20th century.


Utrecht Lexicon of Linguistics

Other languages


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