Years ago read­ing J R R Tolkien’s Sil­mar­il­lion, I learned the de­light­ful suffixes ‑ence and ‑ither used in this three­fold set of paired words with these mean­ings:

  1. hence: from this nearby place
  2. hither: toward this nearby place
  3. thence: from that far place
  4. thither: toward that far place
  5. whence: from which place
  6. whither: toward which place

Recently, as a joke to use such words, I sent a friend an SMS message:

Later I’ll arrive at your place. I will go hence thither, and return thence hither. Haha.

Now in cre­at­ing this ques­tion, I’ve re­al­ized that there is at least one more suffix that com­bines this way, ‑ere:

  1. here
  2. there
  3. where

I had­n’t thought about it as a mem­ber of a set of three un­til to­day, be­cause it’s in ev­ery­day use. But ‑ence and ‑ither have all but van­ished from ca­sual ev­ery­day speech, and so when some­one uses these it makes a spo­ken or writ­ten sen­tence more in­ter­est­ing.

So we have the set of three prefixes h‑, th-, and wh‑ that all com­bine with an­other set of three suffixes ‑ere, ‑ence, and ‑ither to make nine dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions of de­rived words we can use as loca­tive and di­rec­tional ‘ad­verbs’:

           ‑ere    ‑ence    ‑ither
   h‑  ┃   here    hence    hither
  th-  ┃  there   thence   thither
  wh‑  ┃  where   whence   whither

Or grouped the other direction:

          h‑      th-      wh‑
  ‑ere ┃  here    there    where
 ‑ence ┃  hence   thence   whence
‑ither ┃  hither  thither  whither

Do other such suffixes ex­ist that com­bine with that same three­fold prefix-set of [h‑, th-, wh‑] to make more “h‑/th‑/wh‑ words” like these?

Do other such prefixes ex­ist that com­bine with the same three­fold suffix-set of [‑ere, ‑ence, ‑ither] to make more “‑ere/‑ence/‑ither words” like these?

Is there some es­say or dis­cus­sion about these and re­lated el­e­ments some­where out there that ex­plains all this a lit­tle?

Ex­tra thought: con­sider ‑at as some sort of suffix, as in:

  1. what
  2. that
  3. While I’m not sure if there’s ever been a word start­ing with h‑ for ‘near­by’, ev­ery­one knows the id­iom this, that, the other, so I could sug­gest this in­stead of ✻hat which ap­pears not to ex­ist. Right?

Another ex­tra thought: also con­sider ‑en as some sort of suffix, as in:

  1. when
  2. then
  3. Why is ✻hen also miss­ing here like ✻hat is miss­ing from the set of three ‑at words just given above?
  • 1
    I believe this th- is from Proto-Indo-European *to-, a pronominal stem, and h- from a Proto-Indo-European pronominal stem so-. And I believe wh- is from a Proto-Indo-European interrogative stem somewhat like *k(h)ʷ-. Cf. he, her, they, then, when, who, which. – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Apr 6 '14 at 4:54
  • 2
    There are/were hereto, hereunto, thereat. – Edwin Ashworth Apr 6 '14 at 7:41
  • @EdwinAshworth This is mind boggling!! – Tom Pace Apr 6 '14 at 7:50
  • Wherefore (art thou Romeo), therefore – Mynamite Apr 6 '14 at 10:41
  • Hereabout, thereabout, whereabouts. There's no end to them! – Mynamite Apr 6 '14 at 11:18

What an interesting phenomenon, thanks for asking the question. In trying to find similar instances, it occurred* to me that there's a relationship between the prefixes of the 5 W's; although not locative or directional, their is a narrative relationship: 'who, what, where, when, why'.

I originally thought of this in Spanish: who = quien, what = que, when = cuando, and (por) que (what for). The qu and c's are basically equivalent because of their k sound (in Italian the words are also mixed between qu, c and che, a hard k sound, and why is also 'what for'.) This may just be coincidence, since the words for where--donde in Spanish, dove in Italian--while obviously related to each other, have no Latin root (that I can find), and the Latin for where, quo, would create 5, rather than 4 q/c/ch/k's.

I'd be interested in any thoughts on the Spanish/Italian equivalents to the English counterparts, and their relationships to each other (not to mention the missing where--well, you'd need a 'where' to find out where the where is, wouldn't you?!

Thanks to all for the interesting posts.

*(I understand the double r in the past tense, but why the double c in occur?)

| improve this answer | |
  • 1
    Found the Latin origins of donde: (de) unde = (from) whence, and dove: (de) ubi = where! – user71804 Apr 12 '14 at 0:47
  • That is amazing work! I have read your answer and comment 2-3 times and gone looking now myself based on your thoughts. The do- in spanish and italian appears, at least to me, as a general localization tweak (must be some term for that) on the unde/ubi latin bases. I wonder if there are from (-ence) and toward (-ither) suggestive parts in latin, or other languages. – Tom Pace Apr 12 '14 at 1:29

"-wards" can be locative suffixes that turn a noun into an adverb: viz. homewards, onwards, upwards, downwards, inwards.

| improve this answer | |

"-wise" is another, as in clockwise, counterclockwise (or anticlockwise) and the less-common edgewise, lengthwise, leftwise, and rightwise. Wiktionary has a long list under "Derived terms."

| improve this answer | |

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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