There are ways in Latin of expressing less-than-completeness, but I'm intrigued by the strange-ish (!) and allegedly related etymologies given in English dictionaries for these two endings, which are claimed to be derived from Latin and earlier sources.

I recently came upon the phrase 'a goodish way', for which I used the comparative longius, in the (alternative) sense of 'rather' or 'somewhat'. Almost immediately afterwards the word 'yellowish' occurred, and for this there is an adjective fulvaster. And today I have come upon novellaster, 'newish' or 'rather new'.

This has all set me reflecting that -ish is a useful modifier for English adjectives, and that in French -âtre has a similar use in, for example, verdâtre, 'greenish' (though I do not think it so freely used as our English -ish). The -aster ending is seen in the English 'poetaster' in the same sense while, Chambers' Dictionary attributes the same ending in 'disaster' (via French) to — I quote — [O Fr . . . . from des (L dis-) with evil sense, and astre a star, destiny, from L astrum, Gr astron star].

Although I've found the above examples, I don't remember any rule for modifying Latin nouns and adjectives in analogous ways — except that, in some cases, the prefix sub- can be used as in, for instance, subruber and subraucus. The whole business seems quite haphazard. It would be very convenient if there were a proper rule: is there any such?

2 Answers 2


I don't think there is anything quite like the English -ish in Latin. The closest thing I know is the diminutive. Here are some examples of diminutive adjectives where the diminutive means lesser extent instead of smaller size:

The diminutive is mostly translated as "somewhat" in the linked dictionary entries.

Such adjectives are not very common, but still common enough to see a pattern and feel confident about using the suffix productively.

How to exactly form the diminutive is another question (and worth separate questions), but it is often fairly simple. I asked about one aspect of forming diminutives just a moment ago.

  • Let me know if you want more examples. I can extend the list.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 14:59
  • 2
    Note that Priscian considers -aster to be a diminutive too.
    – brianpck
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 15:32
  • @brianpck Interesting! That fits pretty well with my answer. That would make the "Latin -ish" more uniformly similar to the familiar diminutive of nouns.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 15:40

I think that the prefix sub-, as you yourself have mentioned, fits the bill quite well. Lewis and Short list subabsurdus, subagrestis, subalbus, subaccusare, subirascor, etc., to which I could add subfuscus, a favorite of Patrick O'Brian.

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