The verb īnsum has the prefix in-. Prefixing in/in- to words, changes their meaning to ‘in’, ‘on’ et sim., or ‘un-’, ‘non’ et sim. (ɔ:¹ negation).² However, according to Wiktionary, the pronunciation of in changes in some context; this supported by Lewis.

At first, my understanding was that this pronunciation change – ɔ: from [ɪ] to [ĩː] – only occurs where the prefix is not the preposition in, but the actual prefix in-. Even though sounding the same, they have different roots: When meaning ‘in(side)’, it is merely the preposition prefixed; when meaning ‘not’/‘[negation]’, it has the Indo-European origin [*n̥-].5 As it turns out, the pronunciation change is merely a matter of morpheme interaction.

Non of my grammars, however, even the very detailed grammar by Nils Sjöstrand (Gleerups forlag, Malmö/Lund 1960) has any details on these two differences. The only thing I can find that is mildly relevant, is in Sjöstrand § 6.2, explaining the enlonging [I’m sorry, I am not sure what the correct linguistic term is] and nasalisation of vowels in front of ns and nf.


This means that pronunciation alone is not a clue as to whether or not one is dealing with in prefixed, or the prefix in-, as they both will have their pronunciations changed based on which morphemes follow. How can you know whether you are dealing with the preposition or the prefix, and thus the correct meaning of the word?

Somewhat Related


¹ This is not a smiley; it is the symbol meaning ‘that is’, ‘may be read as’ and similar.

² Egil Kraggerud & Bjørg Tosterud: Latinsk ordbok, Cappelen, Oslo 1998: ‘in i sammensetning’.

I have added the negation tag, but am unsure as to its relevance. Advice on this is appreciated. It could very well be that the tag details should be updated to include questions such as this one.

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    I have never seen "ɔ:" meaning "that is" - where did you get it from? – varro Nov 5 '18 at 21:52
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    I grew up with it. My granddad’s old dictionaries, printed in fraktur, were amongst those that often used it, and it is commonly known in stenography. Realising it was not common knowledge, was surprising to me. AFAIK, it was most commonly used in areas influenced by germanic typographical tradition (such as Scandinavia); it seems to be gaining a resurgence now, with more and more people interested in typography and traditions lost. Some links: typografi.org/forklaringstegn/forklaringstegn.html macbasics.wordpress.com/2015/02/22/… – Canned Man Nov 6 '18 at 9:56
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    Given that you're writing in English, for an audience familiar with Latin, why not use a convention commonly used in English (for example "i.e.", short for "id est")? Unfortunately, using "ɔ:" is confusing, especially in a site with a linguistics flavour, because readers are far more likely to interpret it as an IPA vowel than your intended meaning - certainly I was confused on my first reading :) – psmears Nov 6 '18 at 11:34
  • Two reasons in particular: 1) Realising that the current young students do not have knowledge of it, appears to be a matter of age. 2) Spreading the knowledge. When re-entering uni, I thought it was common knowledge – after all, I had known about it since I was a tiny kid – but soon realised it was not. I assumed this was a matter of age, as people of my own age (in their 30s) were familiar with it. Being that this is a classicist’s site, I assumed this way of spreading knowledge would be appreciated; I hope this was the case. – Canned Man Nov 7 '18 at 11:34

The negative prefix typically attaches to an adjective, while the prepositional prefix typically attaches to a verb.

The distribution is complicated by the existence of adjectives derived from verbs (or at least, participle forms that look very similar to adjectives) and nouns derived from adjectives or from verbs. But if you're looking at a finite verb form such as "īnsum", you can be fairly confident that the prefix in- does not express negation.

It's been surprisingly difficult for me to find a source that says that in- is not used to negate verbs in Latin, but here is a quote discussing the (non-)use of in- to negate verbal participles specifically in Classical Latin:

in Classical Latin the synchronic negative of e.g. patiens ‘enduring’ is non patiens, whereas participles with a negative prefix are synchronically non-participial adjectives, e.g. impatiens ‘impatient’.

(p. 30, "Negated Participles in Rgvedic Sanskrit and Proto-Indo-European," by John J. Lowe, Indo-Iranian Journal 54 (2011) 19-38)

As far as I know, you can never determine which prefix is present in a word just from its phonetic form. The vowel would be long before ns or nf for either prefix.

  • This is a very interesting answer. Given this be true, you could in fact with some a priori knowledge – as you explain: is the latter part of the word a verb or adjective – tell whether we are dealing with in- or in. Do you have any sources? – Canned Man Nov 6 '18 at 9:59
  • With regards to knowing what you are dealing with by pronunciation, I specifically mention this is not possible in the question. – Canned Man Nov 6 '18 at 10:01
  • Ah, thanks. I will have a read and try to correct my phrasing. The question was rewritten a couple of times. – Canned Man Nov 6 '18 at 10:33
  • I have updated my question to reflect that which is stated under the questions heading. I apologise for inconsistency. – Canned Man Nov 6 '18 at 10:58

I don't think it's possible to distinguish in meaning "in" from PIE *en and in- meaning "not" from PIE *n̥ from pronunciation alone. It's well known that the /i/ in in- lengthens when followed by certain consonsant combinations such as "ns" and "nf", but as far as I know, that is purely phonetically determined and has nothing to do with the ancestral morpheme.

So, basically, there is no a priori way of distinguishing the two cases.

  • The vowel lengthening is supported by multiple grammars (e.g. Sjöstrand § 6.2.2), so I agree with you on that. But I would find it surprising if there are no grammarians who ever commented on this seeming (unless having knowledge of PIE, which they didn’t) incongruency. Could there perhaps be anything to gather from ancient sources? Your answer still deserves upvotes, for noting the lengthening in front of ns and nf, which learned about after reading your answer. – Canned Man Nov 5 '18 at 21:54
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    @CannedMan: what incongruency are you referring to? That the I in in can be short in some phonetic environments and long in others? – varro Nov 5 '18 at 22:05
  • The inconsistency I am talking about, is the (theoretical?) possibility of words that are both homographs and homophones having different meanings. One could for instances think of a word such as inesse existing in two forms, both written and pronounced the same way, but one meaning ‘be in’ and the other ‘un-be’, ɔ: either ‘not to be’ or ‘cause to cease to exist’. – Canned Man Nov 6 '18 at 11:03

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