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The suffix ‑erior is used in many words that seem to indicate position:

  • superior
  • inferior
  • anterior
  • posterior

However, with my Google-fu, I can’t find a real definition or etymology.

What does ‑erior mean? From what language does it come?

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There's nothing eerier than finding that the thing you wanted to ask about doesn't even exist! – ErikE Sep 29 '10 at 21:41
up vote 16 down vote accepted

Your Google-fu probably fails because the suffix is "-ior", not -"erior". For example, there are the words "excelsior", "senior", "junior".

The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology says:

-ior formerly also -iour — F. -ieur, † -iour — L. iōrem, nom. -ior, suffix of compar. of adj., as in anterior, exterior, inferior, interior, junior, posterior, senior, ulterior. In warrior the ending has another origin.

So, it comes from Latin via French.

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However, in Latin I think it is justifiable to refer to a suffix "-erior", because that group of words (including "interior" and "exterior") are all positional, but the "-er" is etymological only for some of them. I suspect that apart from "superior", where the root is "super" (cf Greek "hyper", English "over") most of them include the I-E suffix "-tor/ter" meaning "one of two" (Lat "alter" = "one or other", "dexter" = "right hand"; Gk "heteros" = "other", "deuteros" = "second"; Russian "vtoroi" = second, English "other", "either"). "Inferior" and "ulterior" I suspect arose by analogy. – Colin Fine Dec 5 '10 at 0:14
@ColinFine, the positive *ulter(us) is not attested in Latin, but it is the basis from which many derivations are formed, and it is indeed formed with the regular contrastive suffix *-(t)ero-, which is also the basis for the English comparative in -er (without the t). The same is true of inferus, which also has -er- in the root. I don’t think you can really posit an -erior suffix in Latin—all the words that end in -erior are fairly transparently a combination of *-(t)ero- + -ior. (Superior and inferior perhaps less so, synchronically.) – Janus Bahs Jacquet Mar 4 '14 at 13:28
If there is a form of the -ter suffix without a 't', then presumably it underlies the Latin comparative -ior as well. – Colin Fine Mar 4 '14 at 19:08

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