Inchoative verb

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


The Latin language uses the infix -sc- to show inchoative force. The infix 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 get
  • 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

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.[1]

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"


  1. Smyth, Greek Grammar, par. 526: suffix of fifth type of present stem

See also