Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I basically learnt that words that start with a 'm' or 'p' get 'im' as a negative prefix, whilst words starting with 'r' get 'ir' in such a case (irreverent, irrelevant).

However, I stumbled upon 'realistic'. I'm almost sure it is 'unrealistic'. A quick search on Google revealed 13 million hits for 'unrealistic'; 'irrealistic' on the contrary only results in 14.000 hits.

Therefore, is 'unrealistic' an exception to this rule?

share|improve this question
7  
The rule is bogus. You have to take the etymology into account. You would never say irready or irruly, either. –  RegDwigнt Mar 22 '11 at 19:06
2  
Do you say "unready"? New one to me... ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard Mar 22 '11 at 19:10
6  
Ever hear of King Æthelred (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%86thelred_the_Unready)? –  Kelly Hess Mar 22 '11 at 19:12
2  
@jae: you miss the point. As does Kelly, actually, as Æthelred's name has nothing to do with not being ready, and everything with being ill-advised (cf. German Rat, "counsel"). My point was that whether or not unready, unround, unright, and unrude exist, you would prefer them over irready, irround, irright, and irrude any time. –  RegDwigнt Mar 22 '11 at 20:00
1  
"She was young and unready for motherhood." –  kiamlaluno Mar 23 '11 at 9:22
show 3 more comments

2 Answers

up vote 14 down vote accepted

The word realistic is negated with the prefix un-, which is not the same as in-/im-/ir-, and is not subject to the rule regarding in-/im-/ir-. The rule that you cited is correct, but only for words that take the negative prefix in-/im-/ir- (e.g. intractable, impossible, irresponsible). Words that are negated with un- always use un- (e.g. untreatable, unbearable, unready), and never vary the second letter of the prefix.

There is no general rule that will allow you to know which words take the negative prefix un- and which take the negative prefix in-.

The forms that you find on the net with the word irrealistic are either mistakes by non-native speakers, people being clever with word-play, or possibly people creating derivations off of the specialized linguistic term irrealis.

share|improve this answer
1  
So, basically, "Theorem: A holds whenever A holds."? –  Jürgen A. Erhard Mar 22 '11 at 19:09
3  
@jae, kind of. If you know that the word is negated with one of in-/im-/ir-, then you can use the OP's rule to predict which version of the prefix to use. But if you don't know whether to negate with un- or in-, then you're pretty much hosed. –  JSBձոգչ Mar 22 '11 at 19:15
3  
+1 — excellent answer! More examples of un + r: unreasonable, unreadable, unrelated, unrated, unrhymed –  PLL Mar 22 '11 at 20:47
add comment

Yes.

Never heard of such a rule. Or I may have forgotten about it. Never been a fan of rules about language anyway: you learn the rule and the myriad of exceptions (depending on rule and language in question)- Why not just learn the words, and be done with it?

share|improve this answer
2  
When rules often apply, it is a good idea in my opinion to learn those instead of each single word. Of course there are exceptions, but it's useful to fall back on. –  pimvdb Mar 22 '11 at 19:13
    
Yes, and why not just learn all the sentences, instead of bothering with grammar? Patterns are for the birds. –  Jason Orendorff Mar 22 '11 at 19:25
    
They think differently about that at my school :o) –  pimvdb Mar 22 '11 at 19:48
    
I didn't learned rules (or grammer, which is rules), I just learnt the language. Just like I learn not German, I just learndit. Seriously (no, seriously seriously), I never bothered much with grammar in school (and my grades were as one would expect ;-)). We had a German-teacher who was all about comma rules; she had a catalog of rules for where to put commas, and most of the class learned those rules slavishly -- I didn't bother. I learn by... osmosis, if you will. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Mar 22 '11 at 19:59
1  
To put it in context: I know it's "unruly", and "not ready" and "irrelevant"... but I don't see, nor do I need, any rules behind that. So, I don't bother with them anymore. Not for the actual activity of speaking/writing. As an academic/intellectual exercise, grammar (and "rules") can be fun... but mostly by amusing oneself with the exceptions. But that's MVPO (my very personal opinion). –  Jürgen A. Erhard Mar 22 '11 at 20:05
show 1 more comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.