The verbs derived from habere usually have an 'i' in the stem rather than an 'a'. For example, adhibere, exhibere, inhibere, and prohibere, leading to the modern English verbs adhibit, exhibit, inhibit, and prohibit.

Why did the stem vowel change when prefixes were added to habere to form new verbs?

This is mostly a matter of curiosity for me, since this seemingly arbitrary change, which nevertheless occurs in all of the verbs derived from habere by adding prefixes, except for antehabere and posthabere for some reason, makes the etymology of words like exhibition or inhibition more difficult to deduce (since there is no Latin word hibitio).


It's usual to attribute it to a point in time when Latin had a strong stress accent on the first syllable, so interior vowels in open syllables weakened to i or (depending on the environment) u. So, we posit something like: *in+'habere -> *'inhabere -> 'inhibere -> inhi'bere.

(IPA: [ɪn+ˈhɑbeːrɛ] -> [ˈɪnhɑbeːrɛ] -> [ˈɪnhɪbeːrɛ] -> [ɪnhɪˈbeːrɛ])

(As a side remark, I think this phenomenon provides additional support for the accepted view that short i was lax vowel [ɪ] rather than a tense vowel [i].)

  • 1
    So is that kind of like how someone might say "int'rest" instead of "in-ter-est", or "re-uh-bilitate" instead of "re-ha-bilitate"? Jun 20 '17 at 19:18
  • 5
    Yes, something quite similar happens in English where unaccented vowels get reduced to shwas.
    – varro
    Jun 20 '17 at 19:20
  • 1
    This is essentially correct, but it might be interesting to add that the hypothetical "strong stress accent on the first syllable" was replaced by the classical accent type before most of our written sources were initially written down, i.e. 3rd century BC at the very latest.
    – blagae
    Jun 20 '17 at 19:33
  • 3
    Another possible outcome of vowel reduction was "e", in certain contexts.
    – Asteroides
    Jun 20 '17 at 20:30
  • 4
    Right, in particular when the interior syllable was closed rather than open, e.g, infectus.
    – varro
    Jun 20 '17 at 20:35

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