In modern linguistic terminology there are grammatical cases named essive and adessive. However, from a Latinate point of view those formations look abnormal: Usually, the ending -ivus is attached to the supine stem (past participle) that is missing for the Latin verb esse.

I tried this query to Perseus and found some matches for words ending in -essivus, but none of them is derived from esse. Thus, the formation of essive is post-classical.

When were the terms like essive created and how are they motivated?

  • The OED dates it in English from 1890, but derives it from Finnish essiivi, formed from the Latin; but I don't know when it was created in Finnish. As for the motivation, that seems pretty obvious: once Latinate grammarians were let loose on Finnish, they had to make up Latinate names for all the "cases", and most of them ended in -ive.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 17:22

1 Answer 1


Esse is a wonderfully common and useful verb, but also a somewhat defective one: it's missing various forms that other verbs have. Some of these missing forms were stolen from unrelated verbs, like the whole perfect system, taken from an older verb "to become". Others remained as gaps all through the Classical period.

For example, esse has no present participle ("being"). This became a problem when translating philosophical works from Greek: the common philosophical term οὐσία "essence" was built off the Greek present participle, but Latin didn't have an equivalent form to use. So Classical translators compensated by replacing the missing form with ess- and continuing from there: *ess-ent- > essentia.

When post-classical grammarians and linguists needed to make new case names, they ran into an equivalent problem. Names of cases are generally built off the supine stem, but all the best verbs for "to be present" are compounds of esse, which has no supine. So they used the same solution: replacing the missing participle stem with ess-, and going from there: *ad-ess-iv- > "adessive".

  • 2
    This is reminiscent of the way esse is got reanalyzed in some Romance languages. Consider the Italian essere.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Sep 24, 2019 at 19:41
  • It’s a great answer but I am worried that you may be chasing the wrong fox when you talk about present participles. Surely the “present participle” direction is a description of the word ens? Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 6:49
  • 4
    @MartinKochanski As I understand it, esse actually had three present participles over the years! Sōns ~ sēns drifted semantically until its original meaning was lost (but see absēns etc); *essens was created by Classical authors as an intermediate stage in translating Greek ousía (from the Greek present participle of the copula), and ēns was created in Mediaeval Latin by analogy with Greek (because the AGrk participle of the copula looks like a bare ending with no stem). I don't think any two of these ever coexisted.
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 15:30
  • 1
    @MartinKochanski …though now that I think of it that might be a good question in its own right; feel free to ask, if you don't, I'll do it later
    – Draconis
    Commented Sep 25, 2019 at 15:31

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.