Is there any dictionary that shows the decomposition of each word into these three parts, if application at all? For instance, "incapable" is divided into prefix "in", root "cap", and suffix "able". Thanks in advance.

  • Incomprehensible! (That's a joke, by the way - My point is that many words have multiple prefixes and suffixes, and may have evolved in such a way that the prefixes and suffixes have ceased to have meaning distinct from the word as a whole. What do you want to use this dictionary for?)
    – user867
    Feb 4, 2014 at 5:44
  • 1
    @user867 the example given is a good example of that, since incapable doesn't mean "that which cannot be understood or obtained" in English, but breaking it down gives us that meaning again.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 4, 2014 at 10:22
  • 4
    This question appears to be off-topic because it's a request for resources. Feb 4, 2014 at 14:30
  • @user867 English is my second language. I want to expand my vocabulary by breaking words into these three distinct parts. My hope is that I can derive the meaning of a word by knowing its prefix, root, and suffix, whose number are much less than that of all words. Feb 4, 2014 at 16:56

2 Answers 2


Most of them if they give an etymology.

Taking your examples, the OED gives:

medieval Latin incapābilis, < in- (in- prefix3) + capābilis capable adj. and n. (French incapable is known from 1517 (Hatzfeld & Darmesteter); capable in English from c1560.)

The looking up capable

French capable (= Provençal capable), < late Latin capābil-em (in early theological use: see Du Cange), irregularly < Latin capĕre to take. The regular formation would have been capibilis; perhaps capābilis was influenced by capax: Beda Lib. de Orthogr. has ‘capax, qui facile capit; capabilis, qui facile capitur’ (Du Cange); so Augustine, but Cassiodorus c575 has it in the active sense = capax, as in the modern languages.

merriam-webster.com Gives:

Middle French, from in- + capable capable

Then looking up capable

Middle French or Late Latin; Middle French capable, from Late Latin capabilis, irregular from Latin capere to take.

So we can see, in‑ + (capere + ‑bilis) with ‑bilis / -abilis being the source of the ‑ble / ‑able suffixes.

Now, this does not break things down quite as neatly as in‑ + cap + ‑able, or even in‑ capere + ‑able but that's because the English word incapable is not in‑ + cap + ‑able.

Latin capabilis means comprehensible or intelligent, or being able to be received (in Christian theological use, God and specifically the Holy Spirit is described as capabilis).

This is not what the English word capable means, and nor did capere come into English with it. Hence not only is there no capere root (you suggest cap, but on what evidence?) in English, (the closest in English would be have and heave), but the English word capable does not mean the same thing as its source.

So while the dictionaries don't give as neat a breakdown as you ask for, that's because the reality they are describing does not have such a neat breakdown, and giving it would be an error.

  • I had expected a clear-cut easy answer, but turns out there is none because none exists. Thanks. Feb 11, 2014 at 20:59
  • It's a matter of the language not being so clear-cut, which is frustrating or fascinating or both, to different people.
    – Jon Hanna
    Feb 11, 2014 at 21:14

Most etymological dictionaries explain the formation of a word. See etymonline: incapable.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.