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When to drop the 'e' when ending in -able?

Both are correct for these words:

But these words are incorrect:

Are there rules for this?

The case for keeping the "e" seems to be that the "ga" in "acknowledgable" would be read as "gall" rather than "germ", but "minglable" shouldn't cause that problem.

I'm also not sure why we couldn't keep the "e" in words like "storable" or "makable".

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marked as duplicate by jwpat7, waiwai933 Aug 19 '12 at 4:54

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

    
To a native English speaker, "arbitrary" has a slightly negative connotation. Additionally, in the context of a sentence passing judgment, using the qualifier "pretty" with a negative adjective expresses mild contempt and conveys a pejorative tone. That aside, in regard to the question, yes, human languages in general are pretty arbitrary. –  Pantalones Jul 27 '12 at 4:44
    
possible duplicate of When to drop the 'e' when ending in -able?, a question that also links to Creating words with "-able" suffix, –  jwpat7 Jul 27 '12 at 5:01
    
@Pantalones English is my native tongue, actually. I didn't intend to ridicule the language in contrast to any other language, but you're right, I can see why it could seem that way coming someone whose name doesn't suggest that they're natively anglophone. Thanks, I'll change it. –  Rei Miyasaka Jul 27 '12 at 6:00
    
@jwpat7 Thanks, didn't see that when I searched the site earlier. –  Rei Miyasaka Jul 27 '12 at 6:01
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1 Answer 1

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The general rule is that you drop the ‑e, provided that it’s actually a silent one rather than forming part of an ee digraph as with agreeable, decreeable, disagreeable, foreseeable, and seeable.

You only otherwise have to keep a final silent ‑e when adding ‑able if it would (1) either change the pronunciation, or (2) it would cause a collision with an existing word that already means something else altogether different.

The first case, pronunciation shift, is for things like raceable or purgeable, where losing the ‑e would make the ‑ce or ‑ge switch from the “soft” version to the “hard” version due to the resulting ‑g‑ or ‑c‑ now being followed by an a rather than by an e, and ‑cable and ‑gable are pronounced quite differently.

The second case, a collision with an existing word, occurs with such pairs as pareable / parable, placeable / placable, probeable / probable, and spareable / sparable. Notice how placeable also has the first factor in play, as too would singeable / singable.

Beyond that, there is some slight variation in acceptable forms, such as both microwaveable / microwavable being attested. Normally however, you lose the ‑e. The OED2 attests 1555 words than end in ‑able but not in ‑eable, while only 123 that do actually end in ‑eable. That’s ration of nearly 13 to 1 in favor of more ‑able words without a preceding e.

Not excluding duplicates with alternate spellings, here are the ‑eable words from the OED2 plus quarterly supplements since 2000:

acknowledgeable  decreeable       haveable         mingleable       salvageable
acreable         defaceable       hireable         mortgageable     scribbleable
activeable       delineable       holeable         nameable         seeable
adduceable       derangeable      hopeable         negligeable      serviceable
advanceable      disagreeable     imageable        noticeable       shakeable
agreeable        dischargeable    immalleable      packageable      shapeable
allegeable       discourageable   impermeable      pareable         shareable
arrangeable      displaceable     inassuageable    passageable      sizeable
balanceable      divorceable      indulgeable      peaceable        skateable
batheable        dyeable          ineffaceable     permeable        sliceable
biteable         effaceable       influenceable    pierceable       spareable
blameable        embraceable      interchangeable  placeable        stageable
bounceable       enforceable      irremeable       pledgeable       strangleable
bridgeable       exchangeable     irreplaceable    policeable       swindleable
carriageable     experienceable   irretraceable    poseable         takeable
challengeable    eyeable          judgeable        probeable        tallageable
chanceable       fleeceable       knowledgeable    pronounceable    tameable
changeable       foreseeable      likeable         purgeable        tasteable
chargeable       forgeable        liveable         raceable         throttleable
chaseable        garbleable       lodgeable        rateable         traceable
chooseable       gaugeable        malleable        reable           vengeable
commenceable     giveable         manageable       rebukeable       voyageable
cuddleable       gorgeable        marriageable     replaceable      whistleable
damageable       grazeable        microwaveable    ropeable         
danceable        hateable         mineable         saleable        

As you see, there is also some tendancy to preserve the final e if in the original it’s there to make a so-called “long” vowel long. However, this doesn’t happen consistently enough to make a rule for them. However, for those cases there are a lot of alternate “sans”-e forms for those, like ropeable / ropable.

Perhaps a more interesting question — and certainly one with a more complicated answer — is how to know which words instead take ‑ible forms. There are 275 of these in the OED2, more than twice as many as ‑eable words. There are actual rules there, although they are a bit complicated for some people. That one I’ll leave for when it actually gets asked. :)

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Thanks for the very clear answer. And yeah, I was tempted to ask about "-ible" too, but I figured I'd stick with just one for now, since there would probably be a completely different reason for "-ible". –  Rei Miyasaka Jul 27 '12 at 6:10
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