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<*tion> Is Not an English Suffix

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Is Not an English Suffix

<*tion> is not an English suffix. I repeat: <*tion> is not an English suffix.

I previously wrote a post entitled The -ion Suffix, Connecting Vowel <i>, and Phonological Markers in which I explain the reason that only <ion> is a suffix. To avoid repeating myself again, I suggest reading my original post first before continuing here.

I am writing on the topic of the <ion> suffix again in response to a blog post and series of tweets from a Greg Ashman (@greg_ashman). According to his Twitter bio at the time of this writing, he is a teacher and PhD candidate. He wrote a blog post entitled “The sophisticated world of Structured Word Inquiry” and linked to one of my tweets in which I state “<*tion> is not a suffix.”:

In the blog post, Ashman brings up my statement that “<*tion> is not a suffix.” He then follows up by stating “I could not possibly comment on the validity of such a claim. I am not a linguist and so I am happy to defer.” (I am including a screenshot of the relevant section of the post in case of future edits or deletions.) So, to begin my criticism, here is a person who admits to not being a linguist and not possibly being able to comment on the validity of “<*tion> is not a suffix” who is nonetheless commenting on the validity of “<*tion> is not a suffix.”

I could not possibly comment on the validity of such a claim. I am not a linguist and so I am happy to defer.

His next argument is that “all the dictionaries appear to be wrong.” He links to the <*tion> page on Dictionary.com. To pull out my own dictionary, the word all means “used to refer to the whole quantity or extent of a particular group or thing.” One dictionary is not all. Not by any stretch of the word. Unless there is only one dictionary out there. A quick search beyond one <*tion> entry in a single dictionary also reveals <ion> listed as a suffix in more than one dictionary including Dictionary.com, Lexico, and Merriam-Webster, among others. Clearly the assertion about “all dictionaries” is wrong. Furthermore, people write dictionaries. People makes mistakes. I make mistakes. You make mistakes. We all make mistakes. Making mistakes is not a problem. Failing to learn from mistakes is.

The <ion> suffix of Modern English, which is a common suffix forming abstract nouns from verbs, comes from French <ion> and directly from Latin <ionem> (nominative <io>, genitive <ionis>). Another definition of <ion> is a suffix that forms a noun of verbal action.

Now, had you asked me a little over a year ago, I would have agreed that <*tion> was a suffix because I had been taught <*tion> is a suffix. I was grossly mistaught as many of us were. I published a post just the other day in which I show another way in which my phonics miseducation phailed me. I will never claim to always be right. I make mistakes. I am still unlearning the lies that I learned as a young reading and spelling student. But I now know how to look for evidence to support claims about the English spelling system. I therefore put out a challenge to show me a word in which <*tion> is a suffix and the <t> does not belong to the base.

I later amended my statement to “Show me a word in which -*tion is a suffix and the <t> does not belong to the base or another suffix.” Because my initial statement was incomplete. Because I make mistakes. And I am not afraid to admit my mistakes. In any case, all the examples offered to me included <ion> suffixed onto a base that ended with a <to> or were <ation> which is two suffixes: <ate + ion>.

The first list of words offered to me from a Michael Salter (@mikesalter74) ended with the question “Want more?” Ashman offered <absolve> and <absolution>. Despite the efforts of both tweeter, I showed that each word contained <ion>.

Revolve~Revolution

<revolve> and <revolution> both come from Latin <revolvere>, which is a complex word consisting of the prefix <re> “back, again” and the verb <volvere> “to roll.” Twin bases derive from the 2nd and 4th principal parts of a Latin verb. The 2nd part of <volvere> is <volvere> and the 4th part <volutus>. Twin bases therefore come from Latin <volvere>. <volve> is the base of <revolve> and <volute> of <revolution>. The following are word sums that provide evidence of both <volve> and <volute>.

re + Volve -> revolve
re + Volve + er -> revolver
re + Volve + ing -> revolving
de + Volve -> devolve
e + Volve -> evolve
re + Volute + ion -> revolution
e + Volute + ion -> evolution
in + Volute + ion -> involution
in + Volute + ing -> involuting
con + Volute + ed -> convoluted

Solve~Solution

The very first word study that my oldest and I attempted over a year ago was on <solve> and <solute>. I published a <solve> word matrix already. I need to finish up the <solute> post.

<solve> and <solution> both come from Latin <solvere> “loosen, divide, cut apart.” The 2nd part of <solvere> is <solvere> and the 4th part <solutus>. Twin bases therefore come from Latin <solvere>. <solve> is the base of <solve> and <solute> of <solution> (and <solute>, which is ” the minor component in a solution, dissolved in the solvent”). The following are word sums that provide evidence of both <solve> and <solute>.

Solve + s -> solves
Solve + ed -> solved
Solve + ing -> solving
Solve + ate -> solvate
Solve + ate + ion -> solvation
Solve + ent -> solvent
ab + Solve -> absolve
dis + Solve -> dissolve
in + Solve + ence + y -> insolvency
Solute + ion -> solution
ab + Solute -> absolute
ab + Solute + ion -> absolution
ab + Solute + ist -> absolutist
dis + Solute + ion -> dissolution
dis + Solute + ness + es -> dissolutenesses

Approve~Approbation

<approve> comes from Latin <approbare>, which is a complex word consisting of the prefix <ap> “to” and the verb <provare> “to try, test something (to find if it is good).” <provare> comes from Latin <probus> “honest, genuine.” The bases <prove> and <probe> comes from <provare> and <probus>. The following are word sums that provide evidence of both <prove> and <probe>.

Prove + en -> proven
ap + Prove -> approve
ap + Prove + al -> approval
dis + Prove -> disprove
Probe + ate -> probate
Probe + ate + ion -> probation
Probe + ate + or + y -> probatory
ap + Probe + ate + ion -> approbation
im + Probe + i + ty -> improbity

Cite~Citation

<cite> comes from Latin <citare>. <citation> is the base <cite> plus the suffixes <ate> and <ion>. The following are word sums that provide evidence of <cite>.

Cite + ed -> cited
Cite + ing -> citing
Cite + able -> citable
Cite + ate + ion -> citation
in + Cite -> incite
re + Cite -> recite
re + Cite + ate + ion -> recitation
Os + Cite + ant -> oscitant
Os + Cite + ate + ion -> oscitation

Organise~Organisation

<organise> and <organisation> are the British spellings of the American <organize> and <organization>. Both come from Latin <organum> “instrument, organ.” The base is <organ(e)>, literally “that with which one works.”

Organ(e) + ize -> organize
Organ(e) + ize + ate + ion -> organization
Organ(e) + ic -> organic
Organ(e) + ism -> organism
Organ(e) + elle -> organelle

Absolve~Absolution

See Solve~Solution above. <solve> and <solute> from Latin <solvere> are the bases of <absolve> and <absolution>.

So far, not a <*tion> suffix in sight. Every instance of a word containing an <ion> is an example of the <ion> suffix. Some also include the <ate> suffix, which forms the complex <ation> suffix construction.

Some other tweeters then chimed in with some suggestions, all of which contain <ion> or <ate + ion>.

Corona~Coronation

<corona> comes from Latin <corona> “a crown, a garland.” The base is <corone>.

Corone + a -> corona
Corone + al -> coronal
Corone + ar + y -> coronary
Corone + ate -> coronate
Corone + ate + ion -> coronation
Corone + ate + ed -> coronated

Divide~Division

<division> and <divide> come from Latin <dividere> “to separate”, which is a complex word consisting of the prefix <di> “apart” and the verb <videre> “to “seem, appear, be seen see, look at.” The 2nd part of <videre> is <videre> and the 4th part <visus>. Twin bases therefore come from Latin <videre>. <vide> is the base of <divide> and <vise> of <division>. The following are word sums that provide evidence of both <vide> and <vise>.

di + vide -> divide
e + Vide + ent -> evident
pro + Vide -> provide
Vise + ion -> vision
Vise + age -> visage
Vise + or -> visor
de + Vise -> devise
di + Vise + ion -> division
Vise + ible -> visible
di + Vise + ible -> divisible
pro + Vise + ion -> provision
super + Vise -> supervise
super + Vise + ion -> supervision

Satisfaction

<satisfaction> comes from Latin <satisfactionem> (nominative <satisfaction>), a noun of action from past participle stem of <satisfacere>. <satisfacere> is complex, consisting of <satis> “enough” and <facere> “to make, do, perform.” The bases <fact>, <fice>, and <fy> all come from Latin <facere>.

Satis + Fact + ion -> satisfaction
Satis + Fact + or + y -> satisfactory
Ol + Fact + ion -> olfaction
Petr + i + Fact + ion -> petrifaction
Satis + Fy -> satisfy
Un(e) + i + Fice + ate + ion -> unification
Code + i + Fice + ate + ion -> codification

Still, not a <*tion> suffix in sight. Every example offered to me contains an <ion> or <ate + ion>.

Salter then told me to try googling “allomorph.” For those not familiar with the term, an allomorph is a variant form of a morpheme. In other words, an allomorph is a morpheme that varies in sound without changing the meaning. The third person singular simple present <s> and <es> suffixes, the plural <s> and <es> suffixes, and the simple present/past participle <ed> suffix in English are examples of allomorphs. But <*tion> is not an allomorph of the <ion> suffix. Every single example of a <t> followed by an <ion> is an example of the <t(e)> on the end of word or in the suffix <ate>. Here is another list of word sums that provide evidence of <ion>:

act + ion -> action
act + ive + ate + ion -> activation
ac + Cess + ion -> accession
con + Cess + ion -> concession
sec + Cess + ion -> secession
suc + Cess + ion -> succession
co + Erce + ion -> coercion
Fix + ate + ion -> fixation
af + Fix + ion -> affixion
af + Fix + ate + ion -> affixation
pre + Fix + ate + ion -> prefixation
suf + Fix + ate + ion -> suffixation
Flex + ion -> flexion
Found + ate + ion -> foundation
Fuse + ion -> fusion
di + Late + ion -> dilation
ob + Late + ion -> oblation
Note + ion -> notion
Note + ate + ion -> notation
Opt + ion -> option
Quale + i + Fice + ate + ion -> qualification
e + Rupt + ion -> eruption
Tense + ion -> tension

Claiming that <*tion> is a suffix or even an allomorph fails to stand up against the evidence. If <*tion> were a suffix, then <*sion>, <*xion>, and <*cion> would also be suffixes. But even if all four were suffixes, none pass the word sum test: <*act + tion -> acttion>, <*fuse + sion -> fussion/fusesion>, <*flex + xion -> flexxion>, <*coerce + cion -> coercecion/coerccion>.

An inelegant analysis claims that “<*tion>, <*sion>, <*xion>, <*cion>, and <ation> suffixes and the <t>, <s>, <x>, and <c> overlaps with another <t>, <s>, <x>, or <c> to make one <t>, <s>, <x>, or <c>.”

An elegant analysis supported by the evidence is that English has an <ion> suffix and an <ate> suffix. The evidence is in the spelling system.

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Written by Heather Johnson

Heather is a writer, librarian, linguist, wife, and mother who loves her husband, daughter, son, dogs, and cat. She writes The Parenting Patch, which is a parenting blog, information, and news plus reviews, recipes, crafts, homeschooling, and more.

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