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Verbed color names and “-en”

It just sounds right, but why is brown its own verb when "to make Black" turns into blacken?

I assume it's something to do with the -n ending of brown. Is it so?

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marked as duplicate by Mr. Shiny and New 安宇, Jim, Matt E. Эллен, jwpat7, kiamlaluno Feb 13 '12 at 17:09

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Yes, and you can whiten, but you can't bluen, yellowen, etc. –  Julia Feb 10 '12 at 17:56
Not forgetting that 'black' itself can also be a verb. –  Barrie England Feb 10 '12 at 18:46
related: Verbed color names and “-en” –  Matt E. Эллен Feb 10 '12 at 19:39

1 Answer 1

The old -en Causative/Inchoative suffix is no longer productive in Modern English, but it's still part of quite a few verbs, including redden, blacken, whiten, darken, lighten, weaken, broaden, gladden, madden, and sadden, among others.

But it doesn't attach to other colors or adjectives, as you note for brown; consider also the awesomely wrong verbs *purplen, *orangen, *greenen, and *bluen.

Interestingly, there is also an en- prefix with the same meaning -- cause to be or come to be -- as in encourage, enlarge, enable, ennoble, embody, emblazon, etc. These can occasionally be found together, as in enlighten, embolden, enliven, and enhearten.

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+1: But you didn't account for embiggen. –  Robusto Feb 10 '12 at 18:25
I also didn't give every example of every usage. Embiggen falls into the last category, and that's why we understand it. And the fact that it's not a productive affix is what makes it a joke on the statue quotation, which is an ultra-formal register. –  John Lawler Feb 10 '12 at 18:32
Nice observations. It's kind of like "got / gotten". Where AE still uses the older form of the verb, i.e. "gotten", while BE has dropped the "-en" suffix. Further, beget, begot, begotten. Or, "prove, proved, proved/proven", bespoke/bespoken. Sweet, sweeten, nice, nicen. Seems the "-en" suffix fell into disuse in the course of the modernization / simplification of English grammar over the past 100 years or so. –  Jack Robbin Feb 10 '12 at 19:00
Wide/widen, deep/deepen. Wise/wisen, (as in "Let me wisen you up.") –  Jack Robbin Feb 10 '12 at 19:09
There was an increase in usage of causative/inchoative -ize over the same period, I think. English is full of former causative suffixes, like the old Indo-European Yodated Causative suffix -j- like OE drinkan 'drink' ~ drinkjan 'cause to drink', later palatalized down to drench. –  John Lawler Feb 10 '12 at 19:17

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