A few nouns can be transformed into an adjective meaning "made of that noun (also: being like that noun)" by adding -en.

golden, wooden, oaken, stonen

  • Are those remnants of an old noun inflection of the Genitive case?
  • If so are there other remnants of that?
  • Would it be possible to interpret "the maiden gown" as such a Genitive?
  • 2
    Stonen? I don't believe that's a word. – Marthaª Dec 19 '13 at 23:01
  • @Marthaª Sure it is: see the excerpt below. The OED says it is now only found in certain dialects. – tchrist Dec 19 '13 at 23:06
  • @Marthaª it is though. Merriam Webster knows it. I'd post a link but they just now changed to making me sign up for a 14 day trial including the credit card info to which I have to say "no thanks" – Emanuel Dec 19 '13 at 23:06

In most cases, they are not. English has at least a half-dozen completely different -en suffixes.

The one you are thinking of is the one that the OED says is

added to noun-stems to form adjs. with sense ‘pertaining to, of the nature of’. In Teut. the adjs. so formed chiefly indicate the material of which a thing is composed. Of the many words of this formation which existed in OE. scarcely any survive in mod. use; but the suffix was extensively applied in ME. to form new derivatives. Some of these took the place of OE. words, from which they formally differ only by the absence of umlaut; compare OE. gylden with mod.Eng. golden, OE. stǽnen (early ME. stenen) with ME. and dial. stonen, made of stone. From 16th c. onwards there has been in literary English a growing tendency to discard these adjs. for the attrib. use of the sb., as in ‘a gold watch’; hence many of them have become wholly obs., and others (as golden, silvern) are seldom used except metaphorically, or with rhetorical emphasis. It is only in a few cases (e.g. wooden, woollen, earthen, wheaten) that these words are still familiarly used in their lit. sense.

However, there are quite a few other -en suffixes, none of which are really productive any longer:

  • Create diminutives like chicken, kitten, maiden.
  • Create feminines like vixen.
  • Create plurals like oxen, brethren, children, kine.
  • Create verbs from adjectives, like darken, deepen, harden, madden, moisten, widen. This one is moderately productive insofar as words like lengthen, strengthen, hearten are of relatively recent vintage.
  • Create past participles like broken, spoken, sunken.
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  • Any idea if the ones of the OED quote are in fact Genitives? My mother tongue is German and there we still have this -en being productive plus there is an old fashioned Genitive noun inflection with -en that is independent of the idea in question. That's why I feel like there could be a conncetion. – Emanuel Dec 19 '13 at 22:59
  • @Emanuel It says “-en, suffix[entry#4] (reduced to -n after r in unstressed syllables), corresponds to OS. -in, OHG. -în (Ger. -en), ON. -in, Goth. -eina-:-OTeut -īno-, = Gr. -ῑνο-, L. -īno- (see -ine), added to noun-stems to form adjs. with sense ‘pertaining to, of the nature of’.” I can see why you see that as making a genitive noun, although I always remember the archaic Brahms formulation of “Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand”. – tchrist Dec 19 '13 at 23:02
  • @tchr: That's very interesting. The Greek/Latin suffix was definitely not a genitive ending— not in the classical age, at least. And I don't believe there ever was an -n- in any Proto-Indo-European genitive, at least not in the singular. So I am inclined to say that the suffix was never originally genitival. It is possible, however, that the Germanic genitive ending -en came from the same suffix, evolving from an adjectival suffix into a case ending; it is said that all inflection originates in suffixes, which again originate in enclitics, and separate words (possibly of an adverbial nature). – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 19 '13 at 23:26
  • But it is also very well possible, and perhaps more likely, that Germanic genitive -en came from a different suffix entirely. Consider also, @Emanuel, that German words like Herr and Student have -(e)n in many other cases, and that adjectives that come after dem/den/etc. also get -en. There are a ton of different (and possibly unrelated) suffixes -(e)n in the Germanic languages... – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Dec 19 '13 at 23:33

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