Types of clitics in the world’s languages





clitic, affix, prosodic deficiency, word-class selectivity, object indexing


This paper offers and discusses a simple definition of the term clitic from a comparative perspective: A clitic is a bound morph that is neither an affix nor a root. It gives examples of several semantic and positional types of clitics from a wide range of languages, and it discusses some typical phonological effects associated with clitics. In the proposed definition, the crucial contrast between affixes and clitics is that affixes are class-selective (occurring always on nouns, on verbs, or on adjectives), while clitics do not exhibit word-class selectivity. In the stereotypical view of clitics, they are “prosodically deficient” in some way, but the phonological effects are quite diverse and cannot serve as a basis for a definition. As clitics are defined as kinds of minimal forms (or morphs), they cannot be nonsegmental, and they cannot interrupt another minimal form (so that there cannot be endoclitics by definition). Finally, I note that the object person indexes of the Romance languages, which have very often been called clitics, are actually affixes in the modern languages, although they must go back to earlier clitics.


Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y. 2002. Typological parameters of clitics, with special reference to Tariana. In R. M. W. Dixon & Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald (eds.), Word: A cross-linguistic typology, 42–78. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Aikhenvald, Alexandra Y., R. M. W. Dixon & Nathan M. White. 2020. The essence of “word”. In Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, R. M. W. Dixon & Nathan M. White (eds.), Phonological word and grammatical word: A cross-linguistic typology, 1–24. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Aissen, Judith. 2017. Special clitics and the right periphery in Tsotsil. In Claire Bowern, Laurence Horn & Raffaella Zanuttini (eds.), On looking into words (and beyond): Structures, relations, analyses, 235–262. Berlin: Language Science Press. (DOI:10.5281/zenodo.495449)

Allison, Sean. 2020. The notion of “word” in Makary Kotoko. In Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, R. M. W. Dixon & Nathan M. White (eds.), Phonological word and grammatical word: A cross-linguistic typology, 260–284. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Anderson, Stephen R. 1992. A-morphous morphology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Anderson, Stephen R. 2005. Aspects of the theory of clitics. New York: Oxford University Press.

Anderson, Stephen R. 2011. Clitics. In Marc Van Oostendorp, Colin J. Ewen, Elizabeth Hume & Keren Rice (eds.), The Blackwell companion to phonology. Wiley Online Library: Wiley. (https://doi.org/10.1002/9781444335262.wbctp0084)

Arcodia, Giorgio F. 2012. Lexical derivation in Mandarin Chinese. Taipei: Crane.

Arkadiev, Peter M. & Yu A. Lander. 2020. Ambifiksy i drugie zveri [Амбификсы и другие звери] (Ambifixes and other beasts). In Andrej A. Kibrik, Ks. P. Semënova, D.V. Sičinava, Sergei G. Tatevosov, A. Ju. Urmančieva (eds.), VAProsy jazykoznanija: Megasbornik nanostatej, 35–42. Moskva: Buki Vedi.

Arkadiev, Peter M. 2016. K voprosu ob èndoklitikax v russkom jazyke [On endoclitics in Russian]. In Anton V. Zimmerling & Ekaterina A. Ljutikova (eds.), Arxitektura klauzy v parametričeskix modeljax: Sintaksis, informacionnaja struktura, porjadok slov, 325–331. Moskva: Jazyki slavjanskix kul’tur.

Avgustinova, Tania. 1994. On Bulgarian verbal clitics. Journal of Slavic Linguistics 2(1). 29–47.

Berghäll, Liisa. 2015. A grammar of Mauwake. Berlin: Language Science Press. (http://langsci-press.org/catalog/book/67)

Bermúdez-Otero, Ricardo & John Payne. 2011. There are no special clitics. In Alexandra Galani, Glyn Hicks & George Tsoulas (eds.), Morphology and its interfaces, 57–69. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Bickel, Balthasar, Goma Banjade, Martin Gaenszle, Elena Lieven, Netra P. Paudyal, Ichchha P. Rai, Manoj Rai, Novel Kishore Rai & Sabine Stoll. 2007. Free prefix ordering in Chintang. Language 83(1). 43–73.

Bickel, Balthasar, Kristine Hildebrandt & René Schiering. 2009. The distribution of phonological word domains: A probabilistic typology.  In Janet Grijzenhout & Barış Kabak (eds.), Phonological domains: Universals and deviations, 47–75. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Bloomfield, Leonard. 1933. Language. New York: H. Holt and Company.

Bonet, Eulalia. 2019. Clitics and clitic clusters in morphology. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Linguistics. (doi:10.1093/acrefore/9780199384655.013.519)

Booij, Geert. 1996. Cliticization as prosodic integration: The case of Dutch. The Linguistic Review 13(3–4). 219–242. (doi:10.1515/tlir.1996.13.3-4.219)

Booij, Geert E. 2012. The grammar of words: An introduction to linguistic morphology (3rd edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Börjars, Kersti & Pauline Harries. 2008. The clitic-affix distinction, historical change, and Scandinavian bound definiteness marking. Journal of Germanic Linguistics 20(4). 289–350. (doi:10.1017/S1470542708000068)

Bošković, Željko. 2016. Second-position clitics cross-linguistically. In  Franc Lanko Marušič & Rok Žaucer (eds.), Formal studies in Slovenian Syntax: In honor of Janez Orešnik, 23–53. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Boye, Kasper & Peter Harder. 2012. A usage-based theory of grammatical status and grammaticalization. Language 88(1). 1–44.

Chae, Hee-Rahk. 2020. Korean morphosyntax: Focusing on clitics and their roles in syntax. Abingdon: Routledge.

Croft, William. 2010. Ten unwarranted assumptions in syntactic argumentation. In Kasper Boye, & Elisabeth Engberg-Pedersen (eds.), Language usage and language structure, 313–350. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Cysouw, Michael. 2005. Morphology in the wrong place: A survey of preposed enclitics. In Wolfgang U. Dressler, Dieter Kastovsky, Oskar E. Pfeiffer & Rainer, Franz (eds.), Morphology and its demarcations: Selected papers from the 11th Morphology Meeting, Vienna, February 2004, 17–37. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Demeke, Girma A. & Ronny Meyer. 2008. The enclitic -mm in Amharic: reassessment of a multifunctional morpheme. Linguistics 46(3). 607–628. (doi:10.1515/LING.2008.020)

Dixon, R. M. W. 2007. Clitics in English. English Studies 88(5). 574–600. (doi:10.1080/00138380701566102)

Dixon, R. M. W. 2020. Words within words: Examples from Yidiñ, Jarawara, and Fijian. In Alexandra Y. Aikhenvald, R. M. W. Dixon & Nathan M. White (eds.), Phonological word and grammatical word: A cross-linguistic typology, 25–38. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Dryer, Matthew S. 2005. Polar questions. In Martin Haspelmath, Matthew S. Dryer, David Gil & Bernard Comrie (eds.), The world atlas of language structures, 470–473. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Elordieta, Gorka. 2014. The word in phonology. In Iraide Ibarretxe-Antuñano & José-Luis Mendívil-Giró (eds.), To be or not to be a word: New reflections on the definition of word, 6–65. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Erdal, Marcel. 2000. Clitics in Turkish. In Aslı Göksel & Celia Kerslake (eds.), Studies on Turkish and Turkic Languages: Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Turkish Linguistics, Lincoln College, Oxford, August 12-14, 1998, 41–48. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Erdal, Marcel. 2007. Group inflexion, morphological ellipsis, affix suspension, clitic sharing. In M.M. Jocelyne Fernandez-Vest (ed.), Combats pour les langues du monde: Hommage à Claude Hagège, 177–189. Paris: L’Harmattan.

Fattier, Dominique. 2013. Haitian Creole structure dataset. In Susanne Maria Michaelis, Philippe Maurer, Martin Haspelmath & Magnus Huber (eds.), Atlas of Pidgin and Creole Language Structures Online. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. (https://apics-online.info/contributions/49)

Fehn, Anne-Maria. 2016. A grammar of Ts’ixa (Kalahari Khoe). Köln: Universität zu Köln. (Doctoral Dissertation.) (http://kups.ub.uni-koeln.de/7062/)

Fortescue, Michael. 1984. West Greenlandic. London: Croom Helm.

Gary, Judith Olmsted & Saad Gamal-Eldin. 1982. Cairene Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Amsterdam: North Holland.

Gerdts, Donna B. & Adam Werle. 2014. Halkomelem clitic types. Morphology 24(3). 245–281. (doi:10.1007/s11525-014-9241-0)

Göksel, Aslı & Celia Kerslake. 2005. Turkish: An essential grammar. London: Routledge.

Gunnink, Hilde. 2022. A grammar of Fwe. Berlin: Language Science Press.

Hall, Tracy A. 1999. The phonological word: A review. In Tracy A. Hall & Ursula Kleinhenz (eds.), Studies on the phonological word, 1–22. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Halpern, Aaron. 1995. On the placement and morphology of clitics. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

Halpern, Aaron. 1998. Clitics. In Andrew Spencer & Arnold M. Zwicky (eds.), The handbook of morphology, 101–122. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hannahs, S. J. & Maggie Tallerman. 2006. At the interface: Selection of the Welsh definite article. Linguistics 44(4). 781–816. (doi:10.1515/LING.2006.025)

Harris, Alice C. 2000. Where in the word Is the Udi clitic? Language 76(3). 593–616.

Harris, Alice C. 2002. Endoclitics and the origins of Udi morphosyntax. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2013. Argument indexing: A conceptual framework for the syntax of bound person forms. In Dik Bakker & Martin Haspelmath (eds.), Languages across boundaries: Studies in memory of Anna Siewierska, 197–226. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2015. Defining vs. diagnosing linguistic categories: A case study of clitic phenomena. In Joanna Błaszczak, Dorota Klimek-Jankowska & Krzysztof Migdalski (eds.), How categorical are categories? New approaches to the old questions of noun, verb, and adjective, 273–304. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Haspelmath, Martin. 2019. Indexing and flagging, and head and dependent marking. Te Reo 62(1). 93–115. (doi:10.17617/2.3168042)

Haspelmath, Martin. 2020. The morph as a minimal linguistic form. Morphology 30(2). 117–134. (doi:10.1007/s11525-020-09355-5)

Haspelmath, Martin. 2021. Bound forms, welded forms, and affixes:  Basic concepts for morphological comparison. Voprosy Jazykoznanija 2021(1). 7–28. (doi:10.31857/0373-658X.2021.1.7-28)

Haspelmath, Martin. 2023. Defining the word. WORD 69(3). 283–297. (doi:10.1080/00437956.2023.2237272)

Hildebrandt, Kristine A. 2015. The prosodic word. In John R. Taylor (ed.), The Oxford handbook of the word, 221–245. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Himmelmann, Nikolaus P. 2014. Asymmetries in the prosodic phrasing of function words: Another look at the suffixing preference. Language 90(4). 927–960.

Hopper, Paul J. & Elizabeth Closs Traugott. 2003. Grammaticalization: 2nd edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hosokawa, Komei. 1991. The Yawuru Language of West Kimberley. A Meaning-Based Description. Canberra: Australian National University.

Hyman, Larry M. 2014. Do all languages have word accent? In Harry Van der Hulst (ed.), Word Stress: Theoretical and typological issues, 56–82. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ionova, A. 2019. The unbearable lightness of clitics. Leiden: Leiden University-LOT. (Doctoral Dissertation.) (https://hdl.handle.net/1887/83258)

Jenks, Peter & Rose, Sharon. 2015. Mobile object markers in Moro: The role of tone. Language 91(2). 269–307. (doi:10.1353/lan.2015.0022)

Joseph, Brian D. 2002. Defining “word” in Modern Greek: A response to Philippaki-Warburton & Spyropoulos 1999. In Geert Booij & Jaap van Marle (eds.), Yearbook of Morphology 2001, 87–114. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands. (doi:10.1007/978-94-017-3726-5_3)

Kaufman, Daniel. 2010. The morphosyntax of Tagalog clitics: a typologically driven approach. Ithaca: Cornell University. (Doctoral Dissertation.)

Kayne, Richard S. 1975. French syntax. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Kazenin, Konstantin I. 2002. Focus in Daghestanian and word order typology. Linguistic Typology 6(3). 289–316. (doi:10.1515/lity.2003.002)

Klavans, Judith L. 1985. The independence of syntax and phonology in cliticization. Language 61(1). 95–120. (doi:10.2307/413422)

Konnerth, Linda. 2020. A grammar of Karbi. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Lowe, John. 2014. Accented clitics in the Ṛgveda. Transactions of the Philological Society 112(1). 5–43. (doi:10.1111/1467-968X.12013)

Luís, Ana R. 2004. Clitics as morphology. Colchester: University of Essex. (Doctoral Dissertation.)

Luís, Ana R. & Georg A. Kaiser. 2016. Clitic pronouns: Phonology, morphology, and syntax. In W. Leo Wetzels, João Costa & Sergio Menuzzi (eds.), The Handbook of Portuguese Linguistics, 210–233. Wiley Online Library: Wiley. (doi:10.1002/9781118791844.ch12)

Maisak, Timur. 2021. Endoclitics in Andi. Folia Linguistica 55(1). 1–34. (doi:10.1515/flin-2020-2069)

Miller, Philip H. & Ivan A. Sag. 1997. French clitic movement without clitics or movement. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 15(3). 573–639. (doi:10.1023/A:1005815413834)

Monachesi, Paola. 2005. The verbal complex in Romance: A case study in grammatical interfaces. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mushin, Ilana. 2012. A grammar of Garrwa. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Nakamura, Wataru. 2018. Case. In Yōko Hasegawa (ed.), The Cambridge handbook of Japanese linguistics, 249–275. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nevis, Joel A. 2000. Clitics. In Geert E. Booij, Christian Lehmann & Joachim Mugdan (eds.), Morphology: An international handbook on inflection and word-formation (Volume 1), 388–404. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. (https://doi.org/10.1515/9783110111286.1.5.360)

Newell, Heather, Máire Noonan, Glyne Piggott, & Lisa deMena Travis (eds.). 2017. The structure of words at the interfaces. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Nida, Eugene A. 1946. Morphology: The descriptive analysis of words (1st edition). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Nordhoff, Sebastian. 2009. A grammar of Upcountry Sri Lanka Malay. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam-LOT. (Doctoral Dissertation.)

Nordlinger, Rachel. 1998. A grammar of Wambaya, Northern Australia. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics. (http://dx.doi.org/10.15144/PL-C140)

Parker, Steve. 1999. On the behavior of definite articles in Chamicuro. Language 75(3). 552–562. (doi:10.2307/417060)

Pescarini, Diego. 2021. Romance object clitics: Microvariation and linguistic change. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Plank, Frans. 2005. The prosodic contribution of clitics: Focus on Latin. Lingue e Linguaggio 4(2). 281–292. (doi:10.1418/20726)

Plungian, Vladimir A. 2000. Obščaja morfologiia: Vvedenie v problematiku. Moskva: URSS.

Raffelsiefen, Renate. 2023. Morpho-phonological asymmetries in affixation. In Peter Ackema, Sabrina Bendjaballah, Eulàlia Bonet & Antonio Fábregas (eds.), The Wiley Blackwell companion to morphology. Wiley Online Library: Wiley. (https://doi.org/10.1002/9781119693604.morphcom050)

Rubach, Jerzy & Booij, Geert E. 1985. A grid theory of stress in Polish. Lingua 66(4). 281–320. (doi:10.1016/0024-3841(85)90032-4)

Ryan, Kevin M. 2010. Variable affix order: Grammar and learning. Language 86(4). 758–791. (doi:10.1353/lan.2010.0032)

Sadock, Jerrold M. 1995. A multi-hierarchy view of clitics. Chicago Linguistic Society 31(2). 258–279.

Samvelian, Pollet & Jesse Tseng. 2010. Persian object clitics and the syntax-morphology interface. In Stefan Müller (ed.), Proceedings of the 17th International Conference on Head-Driven Phrase Structure Grammar. Université Paris Diderot, Paris 7, France, 212–232. Stanford: CSLI.

Samvelian, Pollet. 2007. A (phrasal) affix analysis of the Persian Ezafe. Journal of Linguistics 43(3). 605–645.

Schapper, Antoinette. 2022. A grammar of Bunaq. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Selkirk, Elisabeth O. 1995. The prosodic structure of function words. In Jill N. Beckman, Laura Walsh Dickey & Suzanne Urbanczyk (eds.), Papers in Optimality Theory, 439–469. Amherst: Graduate Linguistic Student Association (GLSA).

Smith, Ian & Steve Johnson. 1985. The syntax of clitic cross-referencing pronouns in Kugu Nganhcara. Anthropological Linguistics 27(1). 102–111.

Spencer, Andrew & Ana R. Luís. 2012. Clitics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Stebbins, Tonya. 2003. On the status of intermediate form classes: Words, clitics, and affixes in Smalgyax (Coast Tsimshian). Linguistic Typology 7(3). 383–415. (doi:10.1515/lity.2003.019)

Stockwell, Robert P., Jean Donald Bowen & John Watson Martin. 1965. The grammatical structures of English and Spanish. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Tallman, Adam J. R. 2020. Beyond grammatical and phonological words. Language and Linguistics Compass 14(2). e12364. (doi:10.1111/lnc3.12364)

Taylor, John R. 1995. Linguistic categorization: Prototypes in linguistic theory (2nd edition). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Toman, Jindřich. 1996. A note on clitics and prosody. In Aaron Halpern & Arnold M. Zwicky (eds.), Approaching second: Second position clitics and related phenomena, 505–510. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

Van de Velde, Mark. 2009. Eton tonology and morphosyntax: A holistic typological approach. In Patience L. Epps & Alexandre Arkhipov (eds.), New challenges in typology: Transcending the borders and refining the distinctions, 35–60. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

van Gijn, Rik & Fernando Zúñiga. 2014. Word and the Americanist perspective. Morphology 24(3). 135–160. (doi:10.1007/s11525-014-9242-z)

van Oostendorp, Marc. 2012. Stress as a proclitic in Modern Greek. Lingua 122(11). 1165–1181. (doi:10.1016/j.lingua.2012.05.006)

Wackernagel, Jacob. 2020 [1892]. On a law of Indo-European word order. Berlin: Language Science Press. (Ed. Walkden, George & Sevdali, Christina & Macleod, Morgan.) (doi:10.5281/zenodo.3978908)

Walkden, George. 2020. Introduction. In George Walkden, Christina Sevdali & Morgan Macleod (eds.), Jacon Wackernagel’s “On a law of Indo-European word order,” 3–19. Berlin: Language Science Press. (doi:10.5281/zenodo.3978908)

Wolfart, H. Christoph. 1996. Sketch of Cree, an Algonquian Language. In Ives Goddard (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 17: Languages. Washington: Smithsonian Institute.

Zingler, Tim. 2020. Wordhood issues: Typology and grammaticalization. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico. (Doctoral Dissertation.) (https://digitalrepository.unm.edu/ling_etds/71)

Zingler, Tim. 2022. Clitics, anti-clitics, and weak words: Towards a typology of prosodic and syntagmatic dependence. Language and Linguistics Compass 16(5–6). e12453. (doi:10.1111/lnc3.12453)

Zúñiga, Fernando. 2014. (Anti-)cliticization in Mapudungun. Morphology 24(3). 161–175. (doi:10.1007/s11525-014-9244-x)

Zwicky, Arnold M. & Geoffrey K. Pullum. 1983. Cliticization vs. inflection: English n’t. Language 59(3). 502–513.

Zwicky, Arnold M. 1977. On clitics. Bloomington: Indiana University Linguistics Club. (doi:10.5281/zenodo.7436775)

Zwicky, Arnold M. 1987. Suppressing the Zs. Journal of Linguistics 23(1). 133–148.

Zwicky, Arnold M. 1994. What is a clitic? In Joel A. Nevis, Brian D. Joseph, Dieter Wanner & Arnold M. Zwicky (eds.), Clitics: a comprehensive bibliography 1892-1991, xii–xx. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.




How to Cite

Haspelmath M. Types of clitics in the world’s languages. LTC [Internet]. 2023 Dec. 27 [cited 2024 Jul. 20];3(2):1-59. Available from: https://typologyatcrossroads.unibo.it/article/view/16057



Research articles