How did the Latin past participle suffix -atus develop into modern French -é?

Considering the two following examples: modern French état ("state; status") and été ("been"). Both derives ultimately from the Latin past participle status. But while the former, as a noun, retains a somewhat faithful representation of the root word, the latter deviates for some reason. Compare cognates in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish which have perfect parallels: Italian stato, Portuguese and Spanish estado are the single form of both the noun and past participle.

On another note, considering the suffix -té of the unrelated noun été ("summer") which is on the other hand, regular, as it derives from the Latin suffix -tas.

Basically, the most straightforward routes would be Latin -atus > French -at, -as > . Yet the past participle ending doesn't follow these routes. Why?

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    Remember that the Latin suffix "-tas" also had an accusative form "-tatem". I don't remember enough of the details of how case evolved in French to say for sure which is the origin of "-té", but you should not assume it comes from the nominative.
    – Asteroides
    Jun 26, 2017 at 4:47
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    @sumelic Indeed, I thought it came from the accusative.
    – cmw
    Jun 26, 2017 at 6:24
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    Interesting point. There are indeed Portuguese "-idade" and Spanish "-idad". It's more logical that they evolved from Latin "-itatem". And Romance nouns do derive from non-"straightforward" (non-nominative) case forms of Latin nouns. French "-t/-n", Italian "-to/-no", Portuguese/Spanish "-do/-no" could be the results of Latin "-tum/-num" rather than "-tus/-nus" Jun 26, 2017 at 8:42
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    The identified pattern of deriving Romance substantives from oblique cases is correct, and is especially obvious in Lat. -tio, which regularly turns into endings like Fr. -tion, Sp. -ción, It. -zione, Po. -ção (nasalisation !)
    – blagae
    Jun 26, 2017 at 12:27
  • -1 for heavy cross-posting. See this answer on French Language: french.stackexchange.com/questions/26289/… Jun 27, 2017 at 15:48

1 Answer 1


There is a regular sound change by which Latin a (long or short), when stressed and in an open syllable, became [e] or [ε]. A few examples out of many:

  • mare > mer
  • amāre > aimer
  • nāsum > nez

The past participle suffix is simply another case of this change: -ātum > -é. (It's conventional to cite Latin nouns in the accusative when talking about Romance changes because, as several commenters pointed out, Romance noun forms are mostly based on the Latin oblique cases, not the nominative.)

As for état and many other words in -at (avocat, sénat, etc.), these are not directly inherited from Latin but are later learned borrowings.

  • Oh, so they're later borrowings, hence their minor nativization. It makes sense now. Jun 28, 2017 at 1:32

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