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Etymolonline states that the word "suffix" is of Latin Origin. However, the Hebrew word for "end" is sof (סוף) pronounced like in "sofa".

Since a suffix comes at the end of the word, I often thought that it may be the actual origin.

Or is it just a coincidence?

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up vote 14 down vote accepted

It is pure coincidence, I’m afraid.

‘Suffix’ is a Latin word, and it can be split up into sub- ‘under, after’ and fixus, the passive perfect participle of figō ‘fix, fasten, stick to, bore through’. Literally, it just means ‘[something] stuck to the bottom/end (of …)’. Similarly, ‘prefix’ means ‘[something] stuck to the beginning (of …)’, ‘infix’ means ‘[something] stuck inside (of …)’, ‘affix’ means ‘[something] stuck to (…)’, and ‘circumfix’ means ‘[something] stuck around (…)’.

Even a connection between Latin sub- and Hebrew sof is not likely, because Latin sub- is quite simply the non-transparent result of an earlier compound preposition exupo- ‘out from under’ (made up of ex- ‘from’ and upo- ‘under’) in very early pre-Italic. The preposition upo was lost as a standalone preposition and prefix very early on in Italic languages, but exupo survived and took its place. By aphaeresis, regular syncope, and semi-regular prefix lenition, *exupo- became *’ksupo- > *’supo- (aphaeresis), then *sup- (syncope), and finally *sub- (prefix lenition).

So in the case of ‘suffix’ specifically, the f comes from the verb meaning ‘fasten’ and is not connected to the prefix sub-; while in the case of sub- itself, the s comes from a different word than the ub.

Unless Hebrew sof ‘end’ happens to be a borrowing from an Italic language (which I think would be quite odd, considering that sub- only occasionally means ‘after’, its basic meaning being ‘under’—I do not know the etymology of sof, however), there really is no way that the two words can be related.

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Should "adfix" be "affix"? – psmears Oct 26 '15 at 14:24
@psmears Yes, it should! Thanks. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 26 '15 at 14:27
Even today there are two ways to pronounce b and v/w (v in certain pronunciations not that far from f) sounds in Hebrew. The Ashkenazi and Sephardic ways, so I honestly think there is a fair argument for a connection to Hebrew through Latin. Noting that languages develop primarily by sound (euphonics) and then by spelling. – McGafter Jan 25 at 8:58
@JanusBahsJacquet, thank you for that glimpse of early Italic. – David Garner Jan 25 at 17:33

I gotta say, given affix, prefix, and infix, it would be a huge coincidence if they all came from Latin but suffix were Hebrew.

It might be that there's a PIE root for "end" or "under" that sounded like "su-".

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Latin and English are members of a completely different family of languages (Indogermanic/Indoeuropean) than Hebrew (Semitic). Suffix has nothing to do with Hebrew, Janus explained it correctly. Imperium also has nothing to do with Hebrew. It is Latin and derives from impero, -as, -are which means "to order or to command" and which itself consists of im- ("in") + parare ("to prepare or to order"). "Syfer" in Afrikaans (also Indogerm./Indoeurop.) or "Ziffer" in German are loanwords (via Italian) from Arabic "sifr" which itself seems to be a loanword or adaptation from Middle Greek or Old Indic, but I'd have to look that up.

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I would not discount the possibility suggested by the OP, seeing that Ancient/Classical/Biblical Hebrew is much older than Latin. In view of many more of these 'coincidences' all over English, I would advance that Latin-based languages has borrowed greatly from Hebrew especially when it comes to prefixes and suffixes.

Like the ad (He: towards) in ad hoc and ad infinitum. This is also present in English words like advent.

The em/im prefix of empire (La: imperium [with[along]-perimeter]) where the Hebrew has the self standing word im (He: with) also seen in the beautiful title of the Lord Jesus, Em-[m]anu-el (with-us-God). This is also seen in words like empathy.

The short sounding o (He: or) is or in English.

Adereth (He:glory/cloak) to English adore along with Adi-ir (He:majestic).

And I can think of one more in Afrikaans: soferah (He: counting) -> syfer (numbers used for counting).

And of course the a ending in feminine names like America, Brittanica, Russia might even have a relation to the general feminine ending of -a in Hebrew.


Even today there are two ways to pronounce b and v/w (v in certain pronunciations not that far from f) sounds in Hebrew. The Ashkenazi and Sephardic ways, so I honestly think there is a fair argument for a connection to Hebrew through Latin. Noting that languages develop primarily by sound (euphonics) and then by spelling.

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This is not scientifically valid using any method of historical linguistics that we have. You can find chance resemblances between any two languages on the planet, especially if you are as flexible with sound and semantic correspondences as you are being here. – siride Jan 22 at 21:47
@siride I think if one casts aside political bias the connection and logic is not that hard to see. Latin is not nearly as old as Hebrew, and it is pretty fair to say that Latin must have gotten a lot from earlier languages, among others, Hebrew. – McGafter Jan 25 at 8:54
But you don't posit any mechanism by which Hebrew words may have arrived in Italy in the early first millenium BCE, when Old Latin was evolving from proto-Latin. – mikeagg Jan 25 at 10:52
@McGafter: Latin is just as old as Hebrew. Languages don't spring out of nowhere. In any case, your proposed word connections ignore a great deal. You say the "im" prefix looks like a Hebrew word meaning "with". Except, the Latin prefix is well-documented as meaning not that, and is already explained as coming from either the preposition "in" (for some words) or the negative particle "ne" (for others). This is also born out by other IE languages. How would a Hebrew explanation be better than that? – siride Jan 25 at 14:36
Same with "sofa". Latin already has a prefix "sub" and a verb root "fig" and the meaning of those two combined is very clear. You see "sub" prefixes all over the place in Latin. Now you want to propose that it's actually a root meaning "end" (with no explanation for the "fix" part at the end). You also want me to believe that the Romans, with so little contact with the Hebrew-speaking people, borrowed such an inconsequential word to make another inconsequential word. That just doesn't happen. Even Greek, which was spoken among the Roman elite and common people alike, left only a few traces. – siride Jan 25 at 14:39

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