Elision is a process where one or more phonemes are ‘dropped’, usually in order to simplify the pronunciation. It may occur for both vowels and consonants, although it is much more common for consonants. Where it occurs for vowels, we have extreme cases of vowel reduction or weakening to the point that the vowel is no longer pronounced at all, such as in words like police, correct or suppose being realised as [pliːs], [kɹɛkt] or [spəʊz]. In rare cases, such as in some realisations of the word perhaps, both consonant and vowel elision may even occur at the same time, e.g. yielding [pɹaps].


As we have already heard, the dropping of initial <h> is a feature that is very common in many accents of (especially English or English-influenced) English. Unstressed pronouns – as in give her/give him, [gɪvə]/[gɪvɪm] or tell her/tell him, [tɛlə]/[tɛlɪm] –, or forms of the auxiliary have – as in would have, [wʊdəv], should have, [ʃʊdəv], etc. – exihibit h-dropping even in the standard reference accents.

Cluster Reduction

When two or more consonants, often of a similar nature, come together, there is a tendency in English to simplify such a cluster by eliding one of them. The longer the cluster, the more of a chance there is of elision occurring. Cluster reduction can occur in between, as well as inside, words and mainly involves the deletion of voiceless oral plosives where it would otherwise be more difficult to produce two plosives in a row as this would require two closure phases. If a reduction occurs inside a word, it may also lead to a reduction in the number of syllables, such as in the examples given in the introductory section above, which have become mono-syllabic.

The following table illustrates the phenomenon of elision using common combinations of two- or three-word bundles. Please note, too, that at least some of the examples also illustrate cases where ‘stringing together’ words in this way may lead to the occurrence of weak forms where the individual dictionary pronunciations would contain strong ones.

word/combination no elision elision
asked [ɑːskt] [ɑːst]
lecture [ˈlɛktʃə] [ˈlɛkʃə]
desktop [ˈdɛskˌtɒp] [ˈdɛsˌtɒp]
hard disk [ˌhɑːdˈdɪsk] [ˌhɑːˈdɪsk]
kept quiet [ˌkɛptˈkwaɪət] [ˌkɛpˈkwaɪət]
kept calling [ˌkɛptˈkoːlɪŋ] [ˌkɛpˈkoːlɪŋ]
kept talking [ˌkɛptˈtoːkɪŋ] [ˌkɛpˈtoːkɪŋ]
at least twice [əˌtliːstˈtwaɪs] [əˌtliːsˈtwaɪs]
straight towards [ˌstɹeɪtˈtʊwoːdz] [ˌstɹeɪˈtəwoːdz]
next to [ˈnɛkstˌtʊ] [ˈnɛksˌtə]
want to [ˈwɒntˌtʊ] [ˈwɒnˌtə] or [ˈwɒnə]
seemed not to notice [ˈsiːmdˌnɒttəˈnəʊtɪs] [ˈsiːmˌnɒtəˈnəʊtɪs]
for the first time [foːðəˌfɜːstˈtaɪm] [fəðəˌfɜːsˈtaɪm]

Elision itself is often a precursor to, or occurs in conjunction with, assimilation, which we’ll discuss after talking about a special case of elision, contraction.

Sources & Further Reading:

Knowles, G. (1987). Patterns of Spoken English: an Introduction to English Phonetics. London: Longman.

Roach, P. (2009). English Phonetics and Phonology: a Practical Course (4th ed.). Cambridge: CUP.