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What is the correct order for combinations of suffixes -less and -ness?

Are they combined in any order, or is there any rule governing a proper usage?




A side point; not sure if it is related to above. Although the suffixes -less makes an adjective while -ness makes a noun, it seems that people treat -nessless words as nouns:

What am I missing?

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I would say that you're missing the fact that weaknessless, eventfulnessless, timelinessless are not real words. –  Peter Shor Nov 19 '12 at 1:17
This is a debated point. There are linguistics papers on this topic, e.g., Parsing is not weaknessless: suffix ordering revisited // And the two other examples you give are specious. The first is in someone's blog, and the second is from an illiterate comment about a neurologist. –  user21497 Nov 19 '12 at 1:20
@BillFranke I found a 1970 paper that investigates why productive -less is blocked on nominalizations ending not only in -ness, but also those ending in -ity and -ment. You can't have something that is *continuitiless, *probabilitiless, *investmentless, or *measurementless, either. –  tchrist Nov 19 '12 at 4:10
@tchrist: That's a good find! Have you got a link for it? I don't think that words like "weaknessless" are reasonable, but I'd like to see some linguistic arguments against them beyond their extreme awkwardness. My objections are intuitive and probably primarily stylistic, which aren't good enough, I'm sure. –  user21497 Nov 19 '12 at 4:24
I'm not sure that "Eventfulnessless" in your first example is used as a noun; in English we can use many parts of speech as titles. –  Mark Beadles Nov 19 '12 at 16:25

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

All existing English words having both -less and -ness endings are of the XXXlessness sort; there are none of the *XXXnessless variety.

For example:

affectlessness, agelessness, aimlessness, airlessness, artlessness, awelessness, baselessness, beardlessness, blamelessness, bonelessness, bootlessness, breathlessness, carelessness, causelessness, cheerlessness, childlessness, classlessness, colourlessness, comfortlessness, curelessness, dreamlessness, effortlessness, emotionlessness, endlessness, expressness, factlessness, faithlessness, faultlessness, fearlessness, gracelessness, groundlessness, guiltlessness, haplessness, harmlessness, heartlessness, heedlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, lawlessness, leglessness, lessness, listlessness, mannerlessness, mercilessness, needlessness, nervelessness, noiselessness, normlessness, presciencelessness, recklessness, regardlessness, relentlessness, remedilessness, remorselessness, restlessness, ruthlessness, senselessness, shamelessness, sightlessness, sinlessness, sleeplessness, songlessness, speechlessness, spiritlessness, spotlessness, tastelessness, thanklessness, thoughtlessness, uselessness, voicelessness, warlessness, watchlessness, worthlessness, wretchlessness.

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This was my belief, too, but I failed to find any resources to cite. –  bytebuster Nov 19 '12 at 7:44
Well what about about harnessless? –  donothingsuccessfully Nov 19 '12 at 8:47
Another example is witnessless. Here witness indeed etymologically has the suffix -ness, although the meaning has now drifted away from the original, so that this isn't apparent to English speakers. –  Peter Shor Nov 19 '12 at 10:50
@bytebuster Well, there’s something about it here, but I can’t read more of the paper. –  tchrist Nov 19 '12 at 12:52

The -ness suffix makes an abstract noun out of a word. The -less suffix means being without something. So [root]-less-ness is the abstract condition of being without the root. [root]-ness-less is being without the abstract condition based on the root.

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It took me a while to parse this, and I'm guessing whoever downvoted just found this answer too difficult to understand (or difficult enough not to be useful). I will say that I get and agree with the gist of this (ultimately, it says what I would have said if I bothered to answer this question), but I think it would be more effective and accessible if it used real examples (such as weaknessless in the OP's question). –  John Y Apr 29 '14 at 4:28
Well, my answer does contradict the accepted answer that the -nessless ending is "impossible," but personally I found neither that contention nor the cited source to be convincing, especially given the counterexamples people found. –  Chris Sunami Apr 29 '14 at 12:59

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