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Can anybody tell me whether the 're' in 'return'and 'repeat' is a prefix?

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up vote 8 down vote accepted

It depends on what you allow as derivation.

Synchronically, that is in English itself, the re- in return is surely a prefix, as there is also turn in English, from which to derive it, 're-turn'. But English has no verb 'peat' to derive 're-peat', so it can't be a product of synchronic derivation.

Taking the words' etymology, on the other hand, the re- in 'repeat' is also a prefix, as this verb comes from Latin repeto, repetĕre 'to strike again', derived from a simplex peto, petĕre 'to fall, to attack'.

Both verbs came to English via Old French, and not directly from Latin. Sometimes the sound changes from Latin to Old French make the original words less recognizable, like Latin canto, cantāre 'to sing', Old French chanter 'id.', English to chant.

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I don't know if re- in return is so clearly a prefix. The Latin tornāre much more strongly implied turning in a circle, to give return a meaning of "come back" which isn't captured by re-turn, "turn again." – rdhs Feb 11 '12 at 7:02
Well, I was just thinking about the morphology of the word. The meaning of compound verbs tend to drift a lot even in Latin itself. You will surely remember verbs like respicio, -ĕre, invideo, -ēre... from 'to see again' to 'to respect', or 'to look into(?)' to 'to envy' the distance is considerable. – Parjánya Feb 11 '12 at 7:11
Small correction: every dictionary I reference (three so far), gives petere to mean "seek" instead of "strike" ... – Robusto Feb 11 '12 at 13:00
Ooops, you're right. Thanks, Robusto! – Parjánya Feb 11 '12 at 16:23

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