Chapter 11: Turning Latin Nouns into Latin Verbs

§77. Denominative Verbs in -ARE, -ATUS, and their nouns in -AT -IO

For the sake of illustration, let us begin with a simple noun concept, like forma, “shape.” The base of this 1st declension noun, as we learned in Chapter 2 (§10, Table 2.1), is form-. Let us assume, then, that you want to express the action concept “to give something a shape,” “to shape.” In Latin, this idea can be easily conveyed by inventing a 1st conjugation verb—form-are, form-atus. It’s as simple as that. Now, if you want to express the notion “to shape again,” add a common prefix so as to get re-form-are, re-form-atus. Attach a suffix, and in three steps we have arrived at the Reformation (L re-form-at-io), a “re-shaping” that was one of the most profoundly important events in European history.

Notice some of the delightfully regular features of the Latin denominative and its English descendants. A cause for rejoicing is the fact that the vast majority of these verbs belong to the FIRST CONJUGATION, a pattern that we know to be straightforward and predictable. What we’re dealing with, in effect, is the addition of -are, -atus to a vast number of Latin nouns. “To get into a mask” (L persona) is im-person-are, im-person-atus: to impersonate. As in this particular example, a great many of the English derivative verbs will end in -ate; that is to say, they will be derived from the 1st conjugation Latin perfect participle in -atus. Furthermore, as we saw in Chapter 10 (§71), it will be an incredibly easy step to turn that perfect participle into a noun: “the act of getting into a mask” is an im-person-at-io, English impersonation. Because the Latin noun that meant “wheel” was rota, the verb “to wheel” is rot-are, rot-atus, and we can fully understand the etymology of rotate and rotation (rot-at-io). You will likely be amazed at the number of English words that can be explained by those few obvious principles.

Here are a few examples that use familiar noun vocabulary from Chapters 2 and 3:

 tabula (“list”)  tabulare, tabulatus  tabulate  tabulation
 locus (“place”)  locare, locatus  locate  location
 populus (“people)  populare, populatus  populate  population
 stimulus (“spur”)  stimulare, stimulatus  stimulate  stimulation
 terminus (“end”)  terminare, terminatus  terminate  termination
 officium (“duty”)  officiare, officiatus  officiate
 vitium (“fault”)  vitiare, vitiatus  vitiate
 labor (“work”)  e-laborare, e-laboratus  elaborate  elaboration
 milit– (“soldier)  militare, militatus  militate
 origin– (“source”)  originare, originatus  originate  origination
 capit- (“head”)  de-capitare, de-capitatus  decapitate  decapitation
 lumin– (“light”)  il-luminare, il-luminatus  illuminate  illumination
 opus, oper– (“work”)  operare, operatus  operate  operation
 gradu– (“step”)  graduare, graduatus  graduate  graduation
 situ- (“position”)  situare, situatus  situate  situation

The English nouns in the fourth column, of course, all come from Latin nouns of the type tabulatio, tabulation-is; locatio, location-is, etc. Not every -io word of this kind actually existed in real Latin use, at any time in history; many of them were created in modern English (or French) as the result of inventiveness and analogy. (It is a curious and paradoxical fact of English that our language has more Latin derivatives than the sum total of all known Latin words!) In addition to producing the -io type nouns, Latin denominative verbs could be the source of AGENT NOUNS like terminator, originator, and operator, which maintain their exact Latin form in English. (§73).

We could devise another long list of denominative verbs from familiar Latin adjectives. Firmus is the source of the verb con-firm-are, con-firm-atus and its derived noun con-firm-at-io (E confirmation); compare ad-firm-at-io > affirmation. Acceleration is derived from ad-celer-at-io (< celer, “fast”), and abbreviation from ad-brevi-at-io (< brevis, “short”). Alleviate (ad-levi-are) and aggravate (ad-grav-are) are etymological opposites, from levis (“light”) and gravis (“heavy”). These last few examples illustrate the principle of assimilation (< ad-simil-at-io). From longus come e-long-at-io and pro-long-at-io, (E elongation and prolongation.). The adjectival base of infatuated is fatu-us (“silly”); of desiccated, sicc-us (“dry”); and of extenuated, tenu-is (“thin”).


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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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