Assuming that (i) the meanings of vir and femina are indeed opposite and (ii) the meaning of the prefix ex- is quite transparent, why are the verbs evirare and effeminare then synonymous? Are there further similar pairs/examples of verbs in Latin?

NB: one could say that these two verbs are not really synonymous. Properly speaking, evirare means 'to deprive of manhood' and effeminare means 'to make feminine'. Fine, but why does evirare not mean 'to make masculine'? Here I'm interested in how semantics/meaning is related to the morphological structure.

  • I wonder if the duplication of the -f- in effemino isn't perhaps a hint to a different etymology, namely that it is derived from ad + femina (i.e. via *affemino)?
    – gmvh
    May 2, 2021 at 18:44
  • @gmvh I don't think so but it is interesting to point out that both *affeminare and effeminare can be posited in order to explain Spanish "afeminar" and Catalan "efeminar", respectively. Note that the source prefix ex- involved in effeminare is the same one involved in efferare (cf. Cat. "fer (algú) sortir ferotge"; 'to make (someone) to become fierce'). The prefix ad- is not involved in their formation.
    – Mitomino
    May 3, 2021 at 0:54

2 Answers 2


The praefix ex/e/ec- has an 'original' meaning of "out, away" (emitto, evanesco), which also developed into a more general idea of privation or even negation, like "un-" (exonero).

Another later sense is "throughout, to the end", which additionally developed into "thoroughly, completely" (evinco, enarro) in turn.

I suspect eviro "to unman" has the sense of privation, like emasculo "to unman"; but it is not entirely clear in which sense the praefix was used to form effemino.

None of the dictionaries I consulted seem to provide conclusive evidence. I think it may have been the sense of "thoroughly, completely", resulting in "to become utterly feminine".

Alternatively, it may have been formed by some sort of inverted (sloppy?) analogy with eviro and emasculo. It would be an odd analogy, almost the opposite of those verbs, but etymology works in strange ways.

Lewis & Short suggest ec- in effemino has the sense "out of (a former nature)", but I find their reasoning somewhat inconsistent:

Primarily and most freq. of place, out or forth: exeo, elabor, educo, evado, etc.; and in an upward direction: emineo, effervesco, effero, erigo, exsurgo, exsulto, extollo, everto, etc.—

Hence also, trop., out of (a former nature), as in effeminare, qs. to change out of his own nature into that of a woman: effero, are, to render wild; thus ex comes to denote privation or negation, Engl. un-: exanimare, excusare, enodare, exonerare, effrenare, egelidus, I., elinguis, elumbis, etc.—

While effero (efferare), "to make wild", works in the same direction as effemino, their other examples do not: exanimare does not mean "to deprive someone out of his nature into an anima", but rather "to deprive someone of his anima". The root word is the thing one is deprived of, not the thing one is turned into.

Both effero and effemino could be explained based on the sense "thoroughly, completely".

The Oxford Latin Dictionary doesn't tell us much about any of this. De Vaan doesn't mention effemino nor effero, nor yet this specific sense of ex/e/ec, under neither femina nor ferus, nor yet under ex/e/ec, so he probably doesn't have any specific information either.

  • Many thanks for your interesting answer. I'm not convinced by your proposal that the prefix of the verb effeminare has an intensive meaning ('thoroughly/completely'). Rather my intuition is that the prefix here maintains its original meaning (it expresses a source). In my opinion, the paraphrase put forward by Lewis & Short is very appropriate: 'to change out of his own nature into that of a woman'. It seems that the nominal root of evirare specifies the source (vir) but not the goal, whereas the root of effeminare specifies the goal (femina) but not the source.
    – Mitomino
    May 5, 2021 at 14:14
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    @Mitomino: Don't you think it's odd how a verb with ec- should specify the goal as its direct object? None of the other verbs do this, with the possible exception of effero. Why not simply femino instead? That would already mean "to change into a woman" without the praefix. So what does it really add?
    – Cerberus
    May 5, 2021 at 16:04
  • In Catalan (and in other Romance languages) the verb sortir (lit. 'to exit/to go-out') can be used to express change of state without mentioning the source (which is implicit): e.g., cf. the satellite-framed Lat. efferare with the verb-framed transl. in Cat. 'fer sortir ferotge': i.e., 'to cause someone to become (lit. go-out) fierce'. Cf. also Cat. estovar (< ex- tou ('mollis')), i.e., 'fer sortir tou'. Note also that in Latin there are motion verbs with a source prefix (e.g. e(x)-) that can be followed only by a goal PP (e.g. ad/in +NP), the source being implicit.
    – Mitomino
    May 5, 2021 at 17:00
  • As for your invented denominal verb feminare, my intuition is that it would mean something like 'to provide X with femina/feminis', i.e., it would be a locatum verb. Cf. latin.stackexchange.com/questions/13310/… By the way, you mention the verb exanimare in your answer. Note that this verb is ambiguous: it can have a (dis)locatum reading (cf. also exoculare: the nominal root is the Figure) or a (dis)locatio reading (cf. also eliminare: the root is the Ground). In contrast, as predicted, animare can only have the locatum reading.
    – Mitomino
    May 5, 2021 at 17:48
  • @Mitomino Do you have a specific comparison to your derivation of effeminare?
    – cmw
    May 5, 2021 at 19:56

Here's my initial takeaway:

According to the Wiktionary links you included, evirare is a contraction of ex-virare, so something like "to take out of a man". In Greek (maybe sometimes in Latin too), this use of ex- (Greek εξ-) would take the genitive as a genitive of separation (as in "he came out of the woods, he walked out of the house" in English). From what I've encountered, this use is usually soaked up by the ablative case in Latin which Greek does not have.

Neither in Wiktionary nor in Lewis and Short is effeminare described as a contraction with ex-. For now, I assume it's just a simple verb-ization of feminare with the e maybe a vocal affect (I'm thinking of Spanish "espiritu" from spiritu, or "estar" from stare).

If we do take effeminare to be a contraction with ex-, it would be comparable to the Greek genitive of accompaniment, which, despite using the same case and form, does hold the opposite meaning. We do this in modern English too: "out of curiosity" would probably be more sensible as "in curiosity", "out of sheer force of will" as "in sheer force of will". Meanwhile, the word "out" holds perhaps an opposite meaning in phrases such as "out of line" or "out of order". Particularly in the second phrase, "out" holds the opposite meaning to "in", but "out of curiosity" and "in curiosity" are synonyms.

The other classical language example I can think of where a prefix/preposition can hold opposite meanings is the distinction between the Greek alpha privative and the copulative alpha. Both consist of the prefix α-, but while the alpha privative negates the following word (think modern English "atypical", "asexual", "apolitical"), the copulative expresses sameness as in the Greek word for brother, αδελφος, meaning literally "of the same womb".

In summary, I don't think effeminare is a contraction with ex-. But if it is, that's okay, because ex can have either an inclusive or an exclusive meaning.

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    Spanish estar etc come from a phonological change: Latin allowed certain types of initial consonant clusters, but Western Romance didn't, so a vowel got attached to remedy that. But Latin had no issue with initial f, as seen in the word femina itself.
    – Draconis
    Apr 6, 2020 at 18:52
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    Welcome to the site, Isidoritas! The last point about ex- having both inclusive and exclusive meaning is very interesting. Can you expand upon it with an example of both?
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Apr 6, 2020 at 19:10
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    @JoonasIlmavirta here's the link: perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/…
    – Isidoritas
    Apr 6, 2020 at 19:25
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    I fully agree with Joonas's comment above. Your last point, Isidoritas, seems to be very interesting. By the way, cf. the following information by the end of the link you've provided in your last comment above: "B. Signification. 1 (...) .—Hence also, trop., out of (a former nature), as in effeminare, qs. to change out of his own nature into that of a woman; effero, are, to render wild". So perhaps you would like to modify your answer above accordingly.
    – Mitomino
    Apr 7, 2020 at 0:08
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    @Mitomino Jeez! That sure is embarrassing. Thank you for correcting me. What's your take on the role of ex- in this word (and in general)? By the way, when I was describing an "inclusive ex-", I was thinking of phrases like ex animo.
    – Isidoritas
    Apr 7, 2020 at 2:40

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