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Comparing the words indemnify and condemn:

  • Both contain demn as a root
  • Both are transitive verbs

Why is one spelled differently from the other – why not indemn, or condemnify?

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Just as an FYI, you are confusing affix with root. There are three types of affixes: prefixes (attached to beginning of the root), suffixes (attached to end of root) and infixes (attached inside a root). – Mark T Aug 23 '11 at 20:03
up vote 10 down vote accepted

Because the root words are, respectively, Latin indemnis (adj.), and Latin condemnare (v.). So condemn (con = "with", demn = "hurt") in Latin is the base of the verb, and needs only an ending to become a complete verb. When a word is transliterated to English, any ending is dropped, in this case resulting in condemn. (Note that the process involves a Latin verb becoming an English verb.)

However, the base indemn (in = "not", demn = "hurt") was apparently (for reasons unknown to me) not chosen from a verb but from an adjective. When this happens, an English adjective-to-verb ending is appended to the word (indemn); in this case, -ify was chosen to turn the adjective into a verb - hence indemnify. (Here, note that the process involves a Latin adjective becoming an English verb.)

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Very nice! There's also indemnity, making it a noun. – Richard Aug 23 '11 at 20:13
drɱ65 δ: Excellent, thanks. Next I'll have to read up on the relation between affixes and root. Embarrasingly, I wasn't aware of root before. Thus, double thanks. – Henrik Aug 23 '11 at 23:00

Indemnify comes from the Latin indemnus, indemnum; the -nus and -num depend on the case of the word, so -nify is actually an ending, and not part of the regular -mn spelling or pronunciation. Though they both have been derived from damnus (to penalize), indemnify is taken from the noun indemnity, and condemn is a verb.

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