Share quotes from famous books or tips for budding writers.

Mix it Up, Make it Different: Metathesis Explained With Examples

Metathesis Explained With Examples
Metathesis refers to the rearranging of words or sounds in a sentence, i.e., words/sounds that appear in a particular order are flipped/reversed to form another related word form. This Penlighten post explains metathesis with examples.
Buzzle Staff
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
The Origin
The word 'metathesis' has a Classical Greek origin. It takes root from metatithenai, which means, 'to put in a different order'.

Language consists of specific areas of study―the main ones include syntax, pragmatics, phonetics, semantics, morphology, phonology, semiotics, discourse analysis, and stylistics. Every one of these sub-categories encompass a huge array of knowledge that helps create the structure and format of a language.
Phonetics is an area that involves working with the properties of sounds, i.e., the way words sound, while phonology focuses on the study of sounds with respect to the meanings in the speaker's mind. Metathesis is a study that focuses on the changing of sounds/syllables, and consequently, the word. In the paragraphs below, we will try to understand more about metathesis with the help of different examples.
The Concept
  • It is a concept that originated in the ancient Greek language, that roughly meant, 'to transpose'.
  • Metathesis thus, refers to the transposition of words and sounds to form new words with different pronunciations and meanings.
  • Many of the English words have been formed from metathesis, by changing a single letter and altering the spelling and meaning of the word.
  • It is a regular, tried-and-tested linguistic process used in various languages around the globe. A certain section of vocabulary though, has, to a small extent, blemished the process and made it appear substandard.
  • Nevertheless, it is widely used and a large number of words have been created and identified due to metathesis.
  • In many cases, metathesis used to be, and still sometimes is, considered as a slip of tongue. For instance, asterisk is pronounced as asteriks.
  • Back in the previous centuries, metathesis is said to have been dominant in England. Over time, it became more popular in America and today, is a mandatory part of American English.
  • The process occurs with any kind of minor alteration in the letters or sounds or a part of the word to form new words.
  • The perspective of the word changes when the spelling and the pronunciation is altered.


Example I

The word 'ask' is one of the most common and controversial examples of metathesis in the English language. The original word is an Old English verb, called 'áscian'. Overtime, the verb underwent metathesis to form 'ask', now mispronounced and spoken of as 'aks'.
Example II

The word 'foliage' was originally from a Latin root, called 'folium', meaning, leaf. Undergoing metathesis, the word later changed to 'foillage', which later became 'foliage'. The same process took place in the French language, when the word 'foille' became 'feuille', and later, 'foliage'.
Miscellaneous Examples in English
  1. Nuclear from 'nucular'
  2. Cavalry from 'calvary'
  3. Comfortable from 'comfterble'
  4. Prescription from 'perscription'
  5. Pretty from 'purty'
  6. Relevant from 'revelant'
  7. Horse from 'fros'
  8. Bird from 'bryd'
  9. Bright from 'beorht'
  10. Third from 'thrid'
  11. Clasp from 'clapse'
  12. Introduce from 'interduce'

Examples in Spanish
  1. Croqueta from 'cocreta'
  2. Dentífrico from 'dentrífico'
  3. Criba from 'brica'

Examples in French
  1. Arabe from 'rebeucité'
  2. Cité from 'téci'
  3. Français from 'céfran'

Examples in Finnish
  1. Valhe from 'vale'
  2. Orhi from 'ori'
  3. Venhe from 'vene'
  4. Auhu from 'savu'
Metathesis is a fascinating theory in linguistics. The concept of reversing sounds and syllables to form new words is amazingly enthralling. And of course, there is no end to it. The study of language, like every significant other, welcomes periodic additions. Metathesis is also popularly used in a figure of speech. Newer sounds, newer words, newer syntax―there is a vast sea of knowledge out there.