Real Spellers

English Makes Sense!

I just received great spelling questions about the words <opportunity> <enthusiastically> and <responsibility> from a friend in the mail. Instead of responding by mail, I decided to post the question and a response here so that I too can get help from our little community of scholars.

I will add that the questioner who I know has worked hard at studying orthography for some time. They felt they should be able to sort this one out on their own, and  expressed some frustration at needing help.

I’d like to publicly share that I’m supposed to be an “expert” and I didn’t feel comfortable with a quick resolution to these questions without consulting our Real Spellers community. Personally, I’d love to see more “simple” question on Real Spellers so that more of our community feels confident in offering spelling hypotheses. Don’t be shy!

(Before we get to this investigation let me plug a great discussion of the spelling <publicly> in this amazing post at Dan Allen’s Grade 5 blog  and the discussion that follows here.)

Heres’ the question:

Hey, Pete—

I am working on some word sums that I need some feedback on:

responsibility / re + sponse (no e) +ibility

opportunity / op + port +un (no e) + ity

What is <une> another suffix for part of the base?

I can’t find it as in independent suffix is many of  resources I have checked, so that makes me think it could be part of the base, but <port> is an independent base.

enthusiastic  / enthuse (no e) + iast +ic

What is <iast> another suffix or part of the base?


I agree with the structure as presented for <responsibility>. I presume that the question here is about the rather long suffix <-ibililty>. The fact is, despite many efforts, I have never been able to find a coherent analysis that gets any deeper than <-ibility> so, even if it is long, it must be a suffix until someone provides an analysis that goes deeper. (See this discussion on this point, and this teaching resource that addressed this question in a session investigating the word <sustainability> with a school in Sumatra.)


I’m going to seek help in this one too. I need evidence of a <-une> suffix before I can accept this word sum. (Reminding myself ‘don’t go deeper than you can prove!)

This information for Etymonline needs investigating:

opportune pastedGraphic.pdf

c.1400, from L. opportunus "favorable," from the phrase ob portum veniens "coming toward a port," in reference to the wind, from ob "to, toward" + portus "harbor."

The root portus for “harbor” makes me inclined towards the conclusion that <port> is the base of <opportune>, but the Latin root opportunus may signal this structure:

opportune/ +ity → opportunity.


I was so unhappy with leaving that <op> as if it were part of the base that I checked <portune> in the word searcher and found these 7 matches:








The word <importune> lets me analyze one level deeper as I know <im-> and <op-> are attested prefixes. So now I can offer this analysis:

 op + portune/ + ity → opportunity

If we don’t find evidence of a <-une> suffix, I would conclude that <portune> is a bound base that has grown from the same root as <port>. By the way there is a bound base <une> (as in <une/ + ity>) but I have dismissed it as relevant here due to the lack of an apparent meaning connection.


Another great word! It turns out the word <enthuse> is a ‘backformation’ from the word <enthusiasm>. I’m going to share the notes on Usage from my Mactionary that I really like:

USAGE The verb enthuse is formed as a back-formation from the noun enthusiasm and, like many verbs formed from nouns in this way, it is regarded by traditionalists as unacceptable. It is difficult to see why: it is a perfectly established means for creating new words in the language (verbs like classify, commentate, and edit were also formed as back-formations from nouns, for example). Enthuse itself has been in the language for more than 150 years.

But what of the word sum offered:

enthuse/ + iast +ic 

The questioner sees the problem of proving a suffix <-iast>. I could offer the possibility of a connecting vowel letter <-i-> and a suffix <-astic> or <-ast> and <-ic>. For that analysis I need evidence of a suffix <-ast> or <-astic>.


I just checked for a final <astic> in the word searcher and came up with this:



















I see the possibility of <bomb + astic> and <gymn +astic>.

That sparked the idea of <bomb +ast> and <gymn + ast>!

(I have evidence of the bound base <gymn> from Kennedy’s Word Stems which cites <gymn> from the Greek gymnos for ‘naked’ with the citation gymnasium (a place where men exercise more or less naked.) I get a kick out of that ‘more or less’!)

So I would like to offer up my own new hypothesis for the structure of <enthusiastic> with this word sum:

enthuse/ + i + ast + ic → enthusiastic

I’d appreciate and evidence to confirm or contradict this hypothesis. If it holds up, it will help me with this suffix <-ast> that I have not seen attested by my references -- but by this little investigation!

And by the way, I think we can agree that my friend had no reason to feel sheepish about not being able to resolve these interesting questions on her own. And by the way, why would we want to do this on our own. It’s so much more fun with the support of our colleagues!

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