Chapter 5: Turning Latin Nouns into Adjectives

§33. The Process of Affixation

In all languages, a simple word may be expanded and changed in meaning by the attachment or insertion of one or more units of meaning called MORPHEMES. This is a process that often turns the word into a new part of speech. Consider, for example, the English adjective true, which can be converted into the noun truth by the addition of the morpheme –th. Truth, in turn, may become the adjective truthful, or its negative untruthful; similarly, the new adjective truthful may be expanded into the adverbs truthfully and untruthfully, or the new nouns truthfulness and untruthfulness.

So far in this course, we have been dealing only with simple nouns and adjectives. Now we’ll discover how Latin nouns were converted by various morphemes into adjectives; or conversely (in Chapter 6), how simple adjectives were expanded to become nouns. Whatever changes of form occurred originally in Latin are sure to be reflected in English words derived from Latin. Eventually you will understand how a simple Latin noun like via (“way,” “road”) could give rise to English words like impervious [im-per-vi-ous], “not allowing a way through” or deviation [de-vi-at-ion] “a going off the road.” It is at this more complex level of morphology that the study of word derivation becomes really interesting.

The process of adding a morpheme in order to modify the meaning of a word is given the name of AFFIXATION. Depending on its placement in relation to the original word, an AFFIX can be identified as a PREFIX, INFIX, or SUFFIX[1]. We’ll be dealing mainly with prefixes and suffixes, which are both extremely common in Latin. In this chapter, we are going to see how Latin used a variety of SUFFIXES to turn simple nouns into new and related adjective forms. In linguistic jargon, these new forms are called DERIVED adjectives. Do notice that the terms “derived” and “derivative” can be applied not only to new words in a different language, but also to new words in the same language. This chapter could have been entitled “Derived Adjectives in Latin.”[2]


  1. These terms are derived from the Latin verb figere, fixus (“fix,” “fasten,” “attach”), and the Latin prefixes prae- (“before”), in- (“in”), and sub- (“under”).
  2. One label that should not be applied to these derived adjectives is “compound,” a term that is misused in several standard etymology textbooks. A compound adjective is one that has two or more base elements, like English red-hot, down-to-earth, vociferous, or multifarious (the last two derived from Latin).


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Greek and Latin Roots: Part I - Latin Copyright © 2016 by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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