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Up until the 18th century, written Spanish used many contractions of prepositions:

But the only ones that appear to have survived into modern use are del and al.1

Is there any reason the others fell out of use?

  • I'd like to point out that some of them are actually "used" in spoken language, but nobody would ever write them. We tend to rejoin them in casual speech, but we do know that they are written separately and it would be a shame if someone discovered we wrote them together haha. – FGSUZ Dec 28 '18 at 22:10
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One thing that all of them —except for na— have in common is that in modern Spanish, the element after the preposition is tonic, that is, it has a stress. In the case of del and al, there are two separate unstressed elements, one of which ends in a vowel and the second of which begins with one. That heavily favors combining1 as that happens naturally in spoken Spanish with unstressed vowels anyways (tengo que escribir will probably have a normal length /e/ for most speakers in normal speech, but que eche algo will more likely feature distinct vowels via lengthening and volume change because the second is stressed).

So when the changes started happening that favored distinct vowel sounds in most combinations, in the double unstressed vowel cases (which are basically just del and al, the distinction never occurred, and although today a el wouldn't end up al in speech (probably more likely /ajl/), it remained fossilized.


1. Based on some other peninsular languages, I wouldn't be surprised if the vowel in el was epinthetical for some period. In Mirandese it's literally just l (l gato = el gato) and in Asturian and Aragonese around vowels the tendencies is to reduce it to l’– or –’l (l’asturianu, l’aragonés, diome’l llibru).

  • Note that when de is followed by e- there's no written contraction, but the vowels actually merge in speech unless the speaker makes an effort not to do so, so deste, dese y desdel do exist in speech. – pablodf76 Dec 28 '18 at 21:01
  • @pablodf76 they probably fully merge in very fast speech, but at least for me, there is a clear rising volume (and for dé el libro a falling) that indicates the double vowel. YMMV though – user0721090601 Dec 28 '18 at 21:03
  • To be clear, with deste and dese I'm talking about adjectival use (i.e. demonstrative followed by a noun: deste hombre, desa calle, etc.) – pablodf76 Dec 28 '18 at 21:04

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