-ble

-ble
var. of -able (soluble); occurring first in words of Latin origin that came into English through French, later in words taken directly from Latin.
[ME < OF < L -bilem, acc. of -bilis (masc. and fem.) or < -bile (neut.) adj. suffix]

* * *

-ble
a. OF. -ble:—L. -bilem, nom. -bili-s, suffix forming verbal adjs., with the sense ‘given to, tending to, like to, fit to, able to’; as in sta-bili- ‘like, fit to stand.’ After consonant stems, -ibili-, as vend-i-bili-, vinc-i-bili-; after stems ending in a, e, i, o, u, -ābili-, -ēbili-, -ībili-, -ōbili-, -ūbili-, as honōrā-bili-, delē-bili-, sepelī-bili-, nō-bili-, volū-bili-. Some of these L. words lived on into OFr., e.g. noble, amable, fleble, meuble; later, these became models for the extensive adoption of others from the Latin of literature. Many of both sorts were from 12th to 15th c. adopted in Eng. from Fr., and here served as models for the direct adoption or formation of others from Latin, a process which has gone on to the present day. By far the most numerous of the -ble words are those in -able. In L., -ābili- adjs. arose only from verbs in -āre; but, in Fr., all pres. pples. in -ant may give rise to an adj. in -able, and as -ant is now the universal form of pres. pple., -able is the universal form of the adj. suffix as a living element; -ible being only a fossil survival in words from L. like horrible, possible, visible, not directly attached to a living Fr. verb. When the verb lives in Fr., a modern adj. in -able has always taken the place of the earlier -ible form, as in vendable, croyable, préférable, for L. vendibilis, credibilis, *præferibilis. But in Eng. there is a prevalent feeling for retaining -ible wherever there was or might be a L. -ibilis; while -able is used for words of distinctly Fr. or Eng. origin, as conceivable, movable, speakable. Hence, where there is a verb in French and English, as well as in Latin, English usage is distracted by conflicting and irreconcileable analogies. Thus in the compounds of -fer, L. fero, Latin analogy requires preferible, referible (Walker, Rhym. Dict.), sufferible; French example gives preferable, referable; Fr. and Eng. analogy sufferable (cf. suffering); Eng. analogy (cf. refer-ring) gives referrable (Bailey), conferrable, deferrable; there is also a mongrel spelling referrible, sanctioned by Dr. Johnson, but defensible on no analogy. So with the variant spellings admittable, -ible, tractable, contractible, partable, -ible. These discrepancies no mere etymological grounds can settle; though their number might be lessened by following French precedent, and extending -able to all words having a verb (with the same accent) in Eng., thus admittable, contractable, corruptable, exhaustable, vendable, etc., leaving -ible in credible, intelligible, legible, possible, etc. See -able, -ible. The omission or retention of a final e mute before -able is also to a certain extent optional. In words directly from L. it is etymologically absent, as in excusable, declinable; in words from Eng. (beside cases where it must be orthographically retained after c, g, as peaceable, changeable, chargeable, the latter also in Fr.), there is a prevalent feeling for retaining the e in monosyllables, as tameable, nameable, saleable, which otherwise would have their meaning obscured (e.g. tamable, namable, salable). This produces ambiguity of form in such words as blamable (F. blâmable,) blameable, movable, moveable, lovable, loveable, sizable, sizeable, etc. As much reason can be given and as much authority cited for one spelling as for the other, and until a reform of Eng. spelling is made, the double form of these words must continue. In words of English formation, a final consonant is usually doubled before -able, when doubled in the pres. pple., as clubbable, biddable, deferrable. As to the meaning, Palsgrave (1530) says (p. 302):
‘Of every adjectyve partyciple..in ant may be formed an adjectyve by chaungynge of ant into able, as of muant, muable; honorant, honorable;..whose signifycacion may serve bothe actyvely and passively, as muable, apte or mete or able to chaunge, or..to be chaunged; honorable apte or mete or able to honour or..to be honoured..In this thyng the french tonge is moche more parfyte than our tonge is, for where as they may forme of every partyciple in their tonge an adjectyve endyng in ble, in our tonge we have none suche, but must nedes use circumlocution by..apte, mete, or able, and our infinityve mode; save that we have admitted as well adjectyves of the frenche tonge endyng in able and ible, as commendable, visible,’ etc.
As here stated, adjs. in -bili-, -ble, were originally active (and neuter) as well as passive. Many of the former exist in Eng., e.g. capable, comfortable, suitable, agreeable, conformable, companionable, durable, equable; but the majority have become obsolete or remain only with a passive force, as in credible, audible, flexible, which is also the only use of -able as a living formative, e.g. bearable, eatable, likeable, preferable, insufferable, saleable. (For exhaustive treatment of these words see F. Hall Eng. Adjectives in -able; London 1877.)

Useful english dictionary. 2012.

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