What are the etymologies of the adjective latus ("wide") and the participle latus ("carried")? I had assumed that they are the same and the participle just started a new life as an adjective after a semantic shift. However, fdb commented on my earlier question and told that these two words are etymologically distinct. So, what are these etymologies and what evidence has lead to accepting that they are distinct?

(I will leave the noun latus to the side, as it seems to be unrelated to these two with a long a.)

  • have you looked at: en.wiktionary.org/wiki/latus#Latin ? They seem to be making a distinction between *stlātus/*stelh₃- and *tlātus (from Proto-Italic *tlātos) from the PIE *tl̥h₂tós, from the root *telh₂-
    – DukeZhou
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 20:11
  • *telh₂ makes me think of "hill", but the roots for "tel" תֵּל‎, تَلّ‎ indicate Proto-Semitic *tall- (“hill”), and I haven't yet run down *telh₂ in any of the alternate online PIE dictionaries...
    – DukeZhou
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 20:18
  • @DukeZhou I took a look at that, but the lack of citations in Wiktionary is a little disturbing. There is a list of references at the end, but I don't know where the PIE roots were pulled from. With some digging the Wiktionary article could be turned into a nice answer. It would also be nice to see a more explicit comparison: why do we think the two words are distinct if there are no distinct attested predecessors in Latin?
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Commented May 11, 2018 at 20:44

2 Answers 2


Latin lātus 'having been carried' (originally from tollo, already in Old Latin a suppletive participle form of fero) < PIt. *tlātos > PIE *tl̩h2tós, an adjective from the PIE verb *telh2- (aorist), since the reconstructed present form is *tl̩-neh2- (LIV).

The sound changes/correspondences are well-known: PIE lH > Latin lā; zero-grade.

Latin lātus 'broad' > PIt. *slātos > PIE *stl̩hxtós, an adjective from the PIE verb *stel(hx)- 'spread' (at least, according to Weiss 2009/2011: 292), the more usual notation is PIE *stl̩Htós. The sound change is also known, cf. "stl- is retained into the OL period but is normally simplified to just l-" (Weiss 2009/2011: 177), cf. locus < stlocus.

However, de Vaan adopts the LIV reconstruction of that root, *stel-, i.e. without the laryngeal, which would make this etymological connection problematic.


Partial answer while I search for a copy of De Vaan…

These two words were distinct in Old Latin. The word for "wide" was originally stlātus, while "borne" was tlātus.

Stlātus, according to Lewis and Short, is connected to Sanskrit strnāmi, Greek stórnymi and stratós, Latin sternō and stratus, and English strew. The st- is still visible in the archaic word stlāt(t)a, "barge". All of these come from PIE *sterh₃- "extend, stretch". Unfortunately, L&S don't specify how the *r turned into l, but d turning into l is well-attested (see lacrima, lingua), and this might be a similar process?

Tlātus, on the other hand, was originally the fourth principal part of tollō, tollere, tulī, tlātus, cognate with Greek tlētos "steadfast". (In Classical times the third and fourth parts were stolen by the unrelated verb ferō, so tollō needed to add prefixes to keep them distinct.) This verb came from the PIE root *telh₂ "bear". The varying vowels go back to the patterns of PIE ablaut: tlātus in particular is from the zero-grade *tlh₂, with the laryngeal turning into the ā, while the other parts come from a full grade. The present stem gets its extra l from a nasal infix that assimilated.

Both of these words then got simplified when Latin stopped allowing the combination tl, and ended up looking the same by pure coincidence. As Alex B points out in his own answer, this is a known sound change: locus comes from stlocus.

  • "These two words were distinct in Old Latin." Most likely it was so, but still this is not a fact since there is no textual/epigraphic evidence.
    – Alex B.
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 3:19
  • @AlexB. L&S cite "Paul. ex Fest. p. 313" for Old Latin stlātus, and the cognate stlāt(t)a is attested in a few places. Unfortunately I haven't found any evidence cited for tlātus except comparison with the other principal parts and the Greek cognate (nothing in other Italic languages even).
    – Draconis
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 4:03
  • Hannah Rosén (Rosén 1988) writes that "Stlat(t)a itself is attested, evidently referring to a vessel of some kind or another, in various sources from the second century A.D. onwards" (p. 117; emphasis mine - Alex B.), CIL VIII 27790 (dubia) is the 3rd century AD. Festus most likely lived in the second century AD as well, a period that can be hardly called Old Latin.
    – Alex B.
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 4:31
  • @AlexB. Ah! Very interesting; I wonder why these forms appeared so late? (Probably deserves its own question.)
    – Draconis
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 4:33
  • @Draconis Did this question ever get asked? I'd also like to know the story behind this.
    – cmw
    Commented Sep 18, 2022 at 17:09

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