Chapter 11: Turning Latin Nouns into Latin Verbs

§76. What is a Denominative Verb?

Despite its fancy label, the denominative verb is among the easiest and most predictable forms in the Latin language. From the English point of view, it is also one of the most useful. In this short chapter, you will discover the key to hundreds of English words—words that might otherwise be somewhat obscure, if not totally mystifying.

A DENOMINATIVE VERB is, quite logically, a verb that is derived from a noun (L nomen, nominis). In its etymology, denominative (de-nomin-are, de-nomin-atus) means “taken from a noun”; and the word is a perfect example of the principle that it describes. At the heart of every Latin denominative verb should lie a NOUN BASE, upon which the verb has been constructed. Thus radi-are, radi-atus (E radiate) is clearly formed on the base of radi-us, “rod,” “spoke,” etc. This is in contrast to standard verbs, where the word root expresses an action: curr-, vid-, ven- (“run,” “see,” “come”).

To the ancient Roman grammarians, the class of nouns (nomina) included both nouns and adjectives, in our modern terminology.[1] That historical detail is of no great importance, but it can explain why the denominative label is applied also to verbs that are formed from adjective bases. They are a far less numerous group, but they include verbs like medi-are, medi-atus (E mediate), from the adjective medi-us, -a, -um: “to play a middle role.” In this chapter, we’ll focus mainly upon denominatives that have noun bases, in our modern sense of the word.

  1. What we refer to today as a “noun” or “pronoun” was a nomen substantivum; an “adjective,” a nomen adjectivum.


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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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