Wiktionary shows that both premō and imprimō can mean (among other things) "I press."

Looking at the formation of the latter word, the prefix im-, can negate the root word. How this applies to this particular word (even in the sense of "imprint") isn't clear to me.

What is the difference in meaning or nuance between these words in the sense of "I press"? Example sentences would be a great addition.

2 Answers 2


Officially, imprimo means I mark/stamp (hence English impression), where premo just means I press.

The nuances of Latin prefixes have long fascinated me, and it took me forever to realize that they’re basically equivalent to English verbs that contain prepositions. So here it‘s a case of to press vs. to press in. Other examples are:

  • rideo = I laugh; inrideo = I laugh at.
  • lumino = I shine; illumino = I shine onto [something].

It gets a little more complicated when there aren‘t English equivalents:

  • lacrimo = I cry; illacrimo = I burst into tears.
  • amplexor = I hug [someone]; complexor = I give [someone] a hug.

But you can usually figure it out with some thought. Nevertheless, it seems very strange to me that this principle isn’t taught as part of standard Latin instruction. When you think about it this way, it’s not difficult, but I’ve never seen it explained anywhere.

Wait, actually, that’s not true. In fact, Alfonso Traina, Professor Emeritus at the University of Bologna, has written about this, but unfortunately 1) he writes in Italian and 2) I only have photocopies of a few sections of his work, and they don’t contain the title of the books they’re from, so I’m unable to point you to specific references. :(

Some example sentences:

  1. Nam et vipera et caecilia saepe cum in pascuo bos improvide supercubuit, lacessita onere morsum imprimit. (Columella, Res Rustica, 6.17.1)

    For the cow when in the field often lies down on the viper and the lizard; provoked by its weight, [the viper or the lizard] impresses its bite [on the cow].

  2. Simulque alteram fasciam minister attollit, alteram premit medicus. (Celsus, De Medicina, 8.10.2b)

    And at the same time the assistant lifts one loop up while the doctor presses on the other. (In a discussion about setting broken bones.)

  • complexor tibi for this great answer :D
    – anon
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 22:09
  • Gaudeó tuá in complexú! Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 10:57

There are two entirely unrelated prefixes in-: one is the negation; the other is simply like the preposition in meaning "in, on, into, onto, to". In this case, it looks like onto, since you're pressing on a surface.

In practice, premo and imprimo often seem to be used interchangeably, but I'm sure there are some subtle differences.

  • The two prefixes in- are cognate with English "un-" and "in" respectively.
    – fdb
    Commented Aug 4, 2016 at 23:51

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