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16.10: The Suffixes -able and -ible

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12
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The Suffixes -able and -ible

1. The main function of the suffixes -able and -ible, as in considerable and corruptible, is to change verbs and bound stems into adjectives. The suffixes -able and -ible are two of the most troublesome homophones: When is it \begin{align*}<\text{a}>\end{align*} and when is it \begin{align*}<\text{i}>\end{align*}. Unfortunately, the answer to that simple question is extremely complicated. If we did answer it, we would be left with a rule too long and complex to remember and use.Pronunciation is no help because in normal speech they are pronounced the same, [əbəl]. But there are three things that can help:

First, since we are dealing with suffixes, they come late enough in the word that if you can spell the rest of the word, you can find the correct form in the dictionary. So they are easy to look up.

However, second, if you are stranded without a dictionary, -able is about six times more common than -ible, so if you have to guess, guess -able.

Third, as the next four lessons will show, there are some patterns that can be quite helpful.

2. In the following table fill in the unshaded blanks. Then answer the question at the end of the table:

3. Do verbs that form nouns with -ation form adjectives with -ible or with -able? ___________.

That leads to our first useful generalization: Stems that form nouns with <ation> take -able to form adjectives

Teaching Notes. The complications that we are trying to sort out here arise from a number of complications that occurred hundreds of years ago when words with -able and -ible were brought into the English language, usually from French and Latin. In general, the forms with -ible came directly from Latin, while those with -able came by way of French. But -able became the preferred form in English so that some words originally with -ible were respelled with -able, and -able was used with new adjectives based on native verbs, like unspeakable.

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Date Created:
Feb 23, 2012
Last Modified:
Jan 16, 2015
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