Lesson 7: Verbal Affixes Follow-Up (an -ate problem)


Beth Keyser’s astute students may have noticed when making this fine chart that there were some inconsistencies with the -ate suffixes. In other lessons we have seen that, in general, affixes attach to one part of speech and result in another part of speech. -Ate, however, complicates that claim.


Let’s see what they found. They discovered that -ate attaches to adjectives and results in verbs.


activate: active (A) + ate = activate (V)

validate: valid (A) + ate = validate (V)


Oh, but -ate also seems to attach to nouns to make verbs.


motivate: motive (N) + ate = motivate (V)

originate: origin (N) + ate = originate (V)


And mostly, it seems to attach to non-words (bound roots) to make verbs.










And then there are these which are all adjectives, not verbs. And the -ate in this set attaches to nouns (fortune), verbs (consider), and bound roots:








Notice the pronunciation of the -ate is different in these, with a reduced, schwa vowel.


So what’s going on? Dictionary.com has this to say about the affix –ate:


a suffix occurring in loanwords from Latin. The form originated as a suffix added to a certain class of Latin verbs to form adjectives (fortunate). The resulting word could also be used independently as a nouns (advocate) and came to be used as a stem on which a could be formed (separate, advocate, agitate). In English the use as a verbal suffix has been extended to stems of non-Latin origin: calibrate.


But try to have your students figure out the various patterns first. A rough lesson plan for this is here with some answers provided here. It includes heading to the dictionary to find out more about the history of this suffix. The Online Etymology Dictionary has this to say about -ate: 

a word-forming element used in forming nouns from Latin words ending in -atus, -atum (e.g. estate, primate, senate). Those that came to English via Old and Middle French often arrived with -at, but an -e was added after c.1400 to indicate the long vowel. The suffix also can mark adjectives, formed from Latin past participles in -atus, -ata (e.g. desolate, moderate, separate), again, they often were adopted in Middle English as -at, with an -e appended after c.1400



So, many of those that attach to roots were just a past participial marker on a word, like these (all from Online Etymology Dictionary):


educate: from Latin educatus, past participle of educare "bring up, rear, educate".


confiscate: from Latin confiscatus, past participle of confiscare, from com- "together" (see com-) + fiscus "public treasury," literally "money basket".


saturate: from Latin saturatus, past participle of saturare "to fill full, sate, drench," from satur "sated, full," from PIE root *sa- "to satisfy".


And some are faux suffixes, such as legislate, which is a backformation from legislation.


An investigation of this affix is a good example of why we should trust our instincts and when they tip us off that something is up, we should be prepared to conduct some analysis. That is, when there are differing answers and students express doubt about their choices (about a part of speech or something else), that’s a superb indicator that there is something to be investigated. When Beth’s students were going through this, perhaps they hesitated on labeling the part of speech of valid (which they labeled as a noun) because motive was the word preceding, which they had correctly labeled as a noun. They were working under the assumption that affixes always attach to the same part of speech, so they labeled valid as a noun as well. But I’d bet that there was some hesitation in doing so. And that’s because it’s in fact an adjective, and that, as we’ve seen above, -ate attaches to all kinds of things.