Inchoative verb

An inchoative verb, sometimes called an "inceptive" verb, shows a process of beginning or becoming. Productive inchoative affixes exist in several languages, including the suffixes present in Latin and Ancient Greek, and consequently some Romance languages. Not all verbs with inchoative suffixes have retained their inceptive meaning. In Italian, for example, present indicative finisco 'I finish' contains the form of the suffix, while present indicative finiamo 'we finish' does not, yet the only difference in meaning is that of person subject; the suffix is now semantically inert.

Latin and Romance Languages

The Latin language uses the suffix -sc- to show inchoative force. The suffix is normally seen in the present tense stem, and is not present in the third and fourth principal parts.

  • apiscor, apiscī, aptus sum reach
  • crescō, crescere, crēvī, crētus come into being, grow up
  • convalescō, convalescere, convaluī recover, grow strong
  • discō, discere, didicī learn
  • īrascor, īrascī, īrātus sum be in a rage
  • lapidescō, lapidescere become stone
  • nanciscor, nanciscī, nactus/nanctus sum to meet with, stumble upon
  • nascor, nasci, natus sum to be begotten, to be generated, to be born, as nascent life
  • noscō, noscere, nōvī, nōtus get to know
  • obdormiscō, obdormiscere, obdormīvī, obdormītus sum fall asleep
  • poscō, poscere, poposcī demand
  • proficiscor, proficiscī, profectus sum set out
  • rubescō, rubescere, rubuī to grow red, redden


In Catalan, the 3rd verb category (verbs ending in ‘-ir’) is divided into 2 sub-categories: ‘pure’ and ‘inchoative’. The vast majority of 3rd category verbs are inchoative and are marked by the addition of the affix ‘-esc-, -eix-‘, with less than only 15 to 20 of all 3rd category verbs falling into the ‘pure’ sub-category.

Inchoative verbs are affected in only their first, second, third and third person plural conjugations. This can be seen below in the table below comparing the present indicative conjugations of the pure verb ‘dormir’ (to sleep) with the inchoative verb ‘servir’ (to serve):

Person Dormir (pure) Servir (inchoative)
1st dorm servesc
2nd dorms serveixes
3rd dorm serveix
1st pl. dormim servim
2nd pl. dormiu serviu
3rd pl. dormen serveixen


It is important to note that as nearly all of the 3rd category verbs are inchoative. There is very little, if any, relationship between the inchoative verbs of Catalan and the traditional inceptive meaning and function of inchoative verbs; it is most likely that this verb sub-category is named ‘inchoative’ because the associated morpheme ‘-eix-‘ stems directly from the Latin inchoative morpheme ‘-sc-‘, despite its function and usage having disappeared.

Ancient Greek

Greek also uses the inchoative suffix -sk-, although it does not always indicate inchoative meaning. -sk- is added to verb-stems ending in vowels, -isk- to consonant stems.[2]

Past iterative verb forms in Homer and Herodotus use the same suffix.


Finnish inchoatives may be marked with -nt- (which undergoes consonant gradation to -nn- in weak form).

  • vaalentua "to go paler" < vaalea "pale"
  • hiljentyä "to go silent" < hiljainen "silent"

An alternative form is of this vaaleta, hiljetä, etc.

Not all inchoatives are marked like this, however, e.g.

  • kuolla "to die"

The translative case marks "becoming something" on the noun. Thus, if a target state is specific, it is placed in the translative case (-ksi), e.g. lehti vaalenee keltaiseksi "the leaf pales to yellow". The transformation from a state is marked with the elative case (-sta). For example, lehti vaalenee tummanvihreästä keltaiseksi "the leaf pales from dark green to yellow". In eastern Karelian dialects the exessive case (-nta) is found; it specifically refers to inchoative changes.

Germanic languages

The Germanic languages historically formed inchoative verbs with the suffix -n-. Verbs derived with this suffix belonged to the distinct fourth class of weak verbs in Gothic, while in most other Germanic languages they belonged to the second weak class.

The suffix survives in English as -en, and is still somewhat productive although there are other suffixes such as -ify which compete with it. However, verbs with this suffix are now primarily ergatives, and also have a causative sense ("to cause to become") when used transitively. Some examples:

  • dark > darken
  • white > whiten
  • hard > harden
  • thick > thicken

Swedish also retains use of the suffix, which is still somewhat productive. Some examples:

  • blek "pale" > blekna "to go pale"
  • tyst "quiet" > tystna "to fall silent"
  • fast "firm, fastened" > fastna "to get stuck"
  • hård "hard" > hårdna "to be hardened"
  • kall "cold" > kallna "to become cold"
  • rutten "rotten" > ruttna "to rot"

See also


  1. "Verb incoatiu". Viquipèdia, l'enciclopèdia lliure (in Catalan). 2017-09-02.
  2. Smyth, Greek Grammar, par. 526: suffix of fifth type of present stem
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