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In doing research for the question Is it “close-minded” or “closed-minded”?, which was in turn prompted by the discussion under this answer to another question, I realized that some of the confusion around the word close had to do with its versatility (it can be an adverb, adjective, noun or verb).

We have two primary pronunciations of close (klōz and klōs) that help us distinguish how the word is being used. I thought at first that this was fairly straightforward. When the 'z' sound is used, it is usually a verb:

I close the door.

The 'z' ending is also used in the following noun form:

I'll bring my argument to a close.

When the 's' ending is used, it is usually either an adjective in these ways,

The hotel is close to the sea.
My brother and I are very close.

or an adverb in these ways:

Please sit close to me.
I'll keep your secret close.

But as I read through the lengthy entries on close in my New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, things started to get confusing. I found close (klōs) listed as a noun meaning a closed place and close (klōs) also listed as an adjective meaning closed, shut as well as secretive, stingy, and hidden.

Questions:

  1. How and when did the different uses of close take on different pronunciations?
  2. Are close (klōs) as a noun and close (klōs) = closed familiar to others?
  3. If these rarer uses of close (klōs) were once common, when and why did they fall out of favor?
  4. Etymologically, what overlap exists between close (klōs) = near and close (klōz) = shut?
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I'm getting Semantic Satiation... –  Thursagen Jun 22 '11 at 3:23

2 Answers 2

Well, let's work from the basics on Etymonline. All senses of the word derive ultimately from Latin clausus, the past participle of the verb claudere. The verb form made its way to English from the past participle stem clos- of Old French clore /klor/, to shut or cut off from. The adjective form meaning strictly confined or secret is from the related Old French clos, and while /s/ is usually voiced in French, Old French had unvoiced final consonants.

So that was the original source of the difference, and it stuck and developed over time. The adjectival meaning of near is from the 15th century, by way of closing a gap.

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+1 for the closing a gap missing link. –  Callithumpian Jun 22 '11 at 3:58
  1. They always had different pronunciations. Verb close (which the noun was derived from) used to have the "e" pronounced, which caused the voicing of the "s", while adjective close never did — the "e" was only to indicate the long vowel.

  2. From glancing at the OED, this meaning appears to be used in the English Midlands and maybe Scotland (though to what extent I don't know). I think this would be unfamiliar to most Americans at least.

  3. I'm not sure that it was ever particularly common, or that there is an answer for why it isn't used more.

  4. Both of these words came from the same Latin root, but were borrowed into English at different times. Verb close came from Latin claud-ĕre via the Old French present subjunctive stem (clos-), first cited in 1275. The adjective close came from Latin claus-um, past participle of claud-ĕre, via French clos, first cited around 1400.

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