a Brief Guide to


of English words which derive from Latin

MANY words in English are derived from Latin words. Sometimes the words come by way of French words which originally came from Latin, and sometimes the words are coined (by poets or scientists, for example) directly from Latin words. In many cases, just one Latin word (or group of related words) can provide a dozen or more slightly different English words.
  On this page we shall look at how just two verbs which mean “carry” in Latin have, with the addition of some Latin prepositions, enriched English vocabulary to a great extent. Of course, once an English word has been invented from some Latin terms, that word then provides many other words. The word provide, for instance, derives from the latin for “foresee,” from pro- (meaning “before”) and videre (meaning “to see”): from the notion of foreseeing someone’s requirements comes the meaning of actually attending to those requirements; other related words are provider, provision, provisional, and providence.

  In Latin, the verb portare means “to carry.” Porto means “I carry” in English, portavit, means “he carried,” and portati sumus means “we were carried.”
  The verb ferre also means “to carry” (and sometimes “to bear” or “to bring”) but it is not as regular as portare: even more irregular than such English verbs as “bring,” which changes to “brought”, or the verb “to be,” which has irregular forms such as “am,” “was,” and “were,” fero means “I carry” but tulit means “he carried,” and lati sumus means “we were carried.”
  Since the Latin verb ferre has this irregular passive form, there are slight differences in some of the English words which derive therefrom. As you will see below, in a similar way to the English verb “see” which, with the addition of one prefix, gives us both “foresee” and “foresight” and thus makes (or, at least, ought to make) words of different meanings, so ferre, with the addition of one preposition, cum, gives us both confer and collate.

some English words which derive from portare and ferre:

ablation is the taking away of something, particularly the surgical removal of body tissue or the removal of snow and ice by melting or evaporation (typically from a glacier or iceberg).
  Those who learn Latin will know the grammatical case, the ablative, which indicates separation, or agency, or location: it is also known as the “by, with or from” case. The ablative case, for example is used to translate the expression “by land and by sea” in Latin as terrâ marique. Both ablative and ablation derive from ab- “away from”) and -latus (“brought”), from ferre.

the circumference of something is what it bears around it; and it comes from circum- (“around”) and ferre.

to comport yourself is how you bear with something; it comes from com- (“with”) and portare.
  An English synonym for comportment, “bearing,” uses the same idea of of a man’s carrying himself in a particular way.

to confer is to bring something together; it comes from con- (“together”) and ferre.

to collate something, such as the pages of a book or some sets of figures, is to bring them together in proper order; it comes from con- (“together”) and ferre.
  A collation is not only a bringing together of something but also a light meal; the word for the meal, however, is derived not from the bringing together of food to the table but from the practice in medieval times of Benedictine monks who would confer to hear a reading from a famous book, John Cassian’s Collationes Patrum in Scetica Eremo Commorantium prior to a light repast.

to defer something is to put it aside; it comes from de- (“away”) and ferre.
  A similarly derived archaic word is delate.

to deport a man from a country is force him to leave or, in other words, to carry him away; it comes, by way of the French, from de- (“away”) and portare.

to differ is to be unlike or dissimilar; it comes from dis- (“from” or “away”) and ferre.
  Knowing that this word and its relatives derive in part from the Latin for “from” may help you to remember that when you have two dissimilar things, the first thing differs from, or is different from (and NOT to or than), the other.

you will surely feel great happiness or exhilaration when you know that this word comes from ex- (“out”) and ferre.
  A related verb, elate, is not commonly used.

to export something is to carry it out of the country; it comes from ex- (“out”) and portare.

to import something is to bring that thing into the country; it comes from in- (“into”) and portare.
  Used as a noun, one meaning of import is very close to importance, and derives from the notion that important things are weighty.

to infer something is to draw a conclusion, or bring in a meaning, from in- (“into”) and ferre.
  A rare word which also comes from in- and ferre is illation; it has virtually the same meaning as inference.

an oblate is a person dedicated to a religious life, from the medieval Latin oblatus, from ob- (“in the way of”) and ferre; oblate is also an adjective, in geometry, which describes a spheroid flattened at the poles—the earth is an oblate spheroid—; it comes from the modern Latin oblatus, ob- (“inversely”) and ferre.

offering something to someone may involve putting something in front of that person, it comes from ob- (“in the way of”) and ferre.

this word for a person who carries luggage comes from portare.

these days this word usually means “stout” but it originally referred to the stately bearing that a person might display; it too comes from portare.

if you prefer something you put what you like before something else—I, for instance like eating ice cream far more than I like eating mud, and I should always place ice cream before mud on any list of nice things to eat or, more to the point, in my dessert bowl; in other words, I prefer ice cream to mud—; the word comes from prae- (“before”) and ferre.

a bishop or other high ecclesiastical dignitary was placed before others in esteem; it comes, by way of Old French, from the medieval Latin praelatus, (“civil dignitary”) from prae- (“before”) and ferre.

to proffer something is to hold it out to someone for acceptance; it comes (by way of the Anglo-Norman French proffrir) from pro- (“before”) and offerre (“to offer.”)

an adjective, in geometry, which describes a spheroid lengthened in the direction of a polar diameter; it comes from pro- (“before”) and ferre.

the purport of something is the meaning which it carries forth; it comes from pro- (“forth”) and portare.

to refer something is to carry back a message; it comes from re- (“back”) and ferre.

to relate something is to carry back a message; it comes from re- (“back”) and ferre.

to report something is to carry back a message; it comes from re- (“back”) and portare.

the very important English word sport comes from disport, an archaic or humorous word for frolic—something which carries you away from less interesting business—and it comes, like deport, from deportare, by way of the Old French verb desporter.

to suffer something is to bear it, or tolerate it; it comes from sub- (“from below”) and ferre.

a superlative is an adjective of the highest quality or degree, such as “best,” “tallest,” “most excellent,” or “unique;” it comes from superlatus (“carried beyond”), from super- (“beyond”) and ferre.
  You cannot go beyond a superlative: by definition, there is nobody taller than the tallest person, and if something be unique (which means that it is one of a kind), it is silly to say that it is more unique or rather unique; after all, you cannot have something more one-of-a-kind than one-of-a-kind, now, can you?

to support something is to hold it up from below; it comes from sub- (“from below”) and portare.

to transfer something is to carry it from one place across to another; it comes from trans- (“across”) and ferre.

to translate something is to carry the meaning of it from one language across to another; it comes from trans- (“across”) and ferre.

to transport something is to carry it from one place across to another; it comes from trans- (“across”) and portare.

  There are many other words which are related to those in the above list, and there are also a few other rare words not listed which come from ferre and portare, such as the physiological terms afferent and efferent or the philosophical term sublation, which derive from ad- (meaning “towards”), ex- (“away from”), sub- (“under”) and ferre; and, if you want to know what they mean, you can find them in a good dictionary.

  There is a brief guide to Latin prepositions, and how they change their forms when prefixed to other words, here.

factus est Informale