Chapter 9: The Latin Verb System

§67. Interesting Words

You will need a little help in becoming acquainted with the verbs capere (“take”) and facere (“make,” “do”). You can remember their perfect participles by caption, captor, capture, and fact, faction, factor, manufacture (“making by hand”). When prefixes are added, phonetic changes produce forms like concept, deception, exception, perception, interceptor, receptive, contraceptive; and affect, effect—don’t confuse those two in English—defect, infection, prefecture, perfection. The perfect (“completed”) tense in grammar is a doublet of that cold confection known as a parfait (it must be “thoroughly made”). The present bases of capere and facere appear in recipient, incipient, efficient, and sufficient. There are many interesting derivatives from these two verbs that have been disguised by transmission through French. Observe, for instance, all the English verbs ending in -ceive that are semantic parallels to nouns ending in -ception. Deceit and receipt are closely akin to deception and reception—and note their inconsistency in spelling. The word recipe is a Latin command, meaning “Take it!”—or maybe “Take it back,” if you don’t admire the cook.[1] There are English synonyms like receiver and receptor, where one word comes from French and the other from Latin. The English nouns fact and feat are doublets; each is a “thing done,” in French a fait accompli. Similarly, defect and defeat are both derived from defectus. A surfeit is something “overdone” (< *superfactum).

Almost all the derivatives from jacere (“throw”) contain Latin prefixes: think of abject, eject, interject, project, reject, and subject. For practical purposes, -ject is the only base you need to remember.

With such obvious derivatives as audience, audition, auditor, auditory, and auditorium, the verb audire, auditus is not likely to cause any problem. The audio portion of our television set does for the ears what the video does for the eyes. Those of us who find television the ideal soporific (“sleep-maker”) may especially appreciate the dormio virtues of tv entertainment, whenever we are feeling somnolent.

The verb salire, saltus has some interesting English derivatives: in its root form, salire is related to words ranging from salmon to Sault Sainte Marie. As we’ll see in Chapter 12, §80, the present participle salient means “leaping”; a salient fact is one that comes jumping out to hit you. Something resilient comes “leaping back” (resilire, resultus), with an obvious result. To insult is to jump upon someone—etymologically, at least. To exult is to leap out. There was an ancient circus rider called a desultor, who “leapt down” from horse to horse; hence desultory (“leaping about”). English somersault is derived from supra (“above”) and saltus, probably through Spanish. Assail, assailant, and assault have come from ad and saltus, by French transmission.

Because sentire is a general verb of “feeling,” it can be applied to any of the five senses. A sentient being (more correctly pronounced “sen-shunt” than “sen-tee-ent”) is one who has feeling. Sentimental and sensational are related words. A strong divergence of opinion may cause dissension (“feeling apart”), whereas a convergence of belief is consensus (“feeling together”)—a pure Latin word that is often misspelled in English, because it is confused with the unrelated noun census (“a reckoning”).

A 1st conjugation verb not included on Table 9.1 is spirare, spiratus (“breathe”), which is obviously related to the noun spiritus (“breath”). Aspire (< ad-spirare[2] ) is “to breathe towards”—to desire eagerly—a verb that gave rise to the noun aspiration. In phonetics, the letter H is described as an “aspirate.” To conspire is “to breathe together,” and to expire (ex-spirare) is to exhale (ex-halare) one’s last breath. It should be easy enough to work out the etymological meanings of inspiration, perspiration, and respiration.

If you recall our exercise with cedere and currere in §65, you can perform similar feats of wizardry with the important verb venire (“come”). These forms will get you started: advent, circumvene, circumvention, convene, convent, convention, contravene, event, intervene, prevention, subvention. Another basic verb of motion is gradi, gressus. What is the difference, if any, between a congress and a convention? Between a regression and a recession? Would you consider them both retrograde? Is a digression likely to be discursive? And why is an egress not the opposite of an invention? (It is the same as an exit, which comes from an irregular verb of motion that we haven’t met.)

These reflections suggest both the advantages and shortcomings of knowing Latin etymologies. Once you even partially realize the etymological history of complex English words, your control over their use will be enormously improved. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to think that knowing an etymological meaning will provide a guaranteed understanding of any English word. Occasionally it may be actually misleading to know what an English word should mean, from the Latin point of view. In most cases, however, the verb root and the prefix, when considered together, will present a correct general image of the word. It will then be necessary to learn its precise connotations and typical usage by observing it in a good spoken or written context.

There are no formal EXERCISES included with this chapter. Spend any available time studying the four tables of verb vocabulary, along with the earlier chart of prefixes.

  1. The pharmaceutical symbol of a letter R with a cross on the downstroke is the medieval druggist’s abbreviation for recipe, the command to take a prescription.
  2. The Latin prefix ad- will normally lose its -d- before the combination of initial s- and a consonant stop. Compare ascribere (< ad-scribere), E ascribe, ascription, and aspicere (< ad-spicere), E aspect.


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

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