Prerogative, derogative, and interrogative all seem to have the root "rogative" (or perhaps it's not a root at all) and I'm wondering what it means. I was having trouble seeing a connection between the three words. For assistance, here are their dictionary definitions:

Prerogative: A right or privilege exclusive to a particular individual or class.

Derogative: Intended to make a person or thing seem of little importance or value.

Interrogative: Having or conveying the force of a question.

The Latin root rog means "ask" (as in the Latin rogare), but that seems to explain only interrogative and not the other two. Is there a connection between all three them involving "rogative," or is it just a coincidence that they have the same pattern?

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    There is a word in the OED, 'rogative', which is a 'prayer or supplication'. 'Rogation' in the Anglican calendar is the three days before Ascension when the Litany of Saints is chanted. Could it be that your three examples, somewhere in their etymology, all employ a notion about prayer? All have their origins in Latin and are present in the Romance languages, and seem to have come to English via Norman French. – WS2 May 16 '14 at 22:47
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    Prerogative is "one person one vote" taken to an distorted extreme: the person with the prerogative is asked first and then nobody else is asked. – Henry May 16 '14 at 22:48
  • @Henry well, that is one of the four meanings listed in the OED. the others are more general, but Latin (principal parts) rogo, rogare, rogavi, rogatus all relate to 'ask', 'invite', or 'introduce'. – WS2 May 16 '14 at 22:56
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    @medica It’s not in the OED2. Running oedgrep '\brogate\b' turns up only these four headwords: derogate, erogate, erogate, supererogate. I’m a man of patterns you see, using them like cookie-cutters against the chaos to stamp out reason from nonsense. The OED Online doesn’t let you use sufficiently sophisticated patterns for doing much of anything interesting, so I always roll my own. But it seems that my \S+ was silly, and should have been \w* instead. If so, that raises the tally by these: rogal, rogament, rogation, roveison. – tchrist May 16 '14 at 23:10
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    Look in the right places: etymonline.com/index.php?search=Rogatory wordinfo.info/units/view/1865 – Kris May 17 '14 at 6:43

Yes: the root is ultmately rogare, "ask".

Interrogative: asking at intervals, or between people.

Prerogative: this comes from Latin, "to be asked first" and connotes privilege.

Derogative: this means partial abrogation. Abrogation comes directly from a Latin root abrogare "to repeal, to disregard, ignore, repudiate, to cancel, revoke, to take away" (OED). This is how [for example] the UK can implement a derogation from European Union law: it disregards the undesirable part of it.

The meaning of derogative in the sense of "belittling" is an extension of this, detracting from or disregarding reputation.

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    Ah, good answer. So "derogative" literally means "to ask away." That's cool. – Jeff Grimes May 16 '14 at 22:54
  • From this page, which gives the Latin etymologies of grammatical terms: Interrogative = inter + rogō, rogāre, rogāvī, rogātus (First [thematic long -ā- stem] conjugation verb) 'ask'. You can see where the variant forms came from for tchrist's comments above. – John Lawler May 16 '14 at 23:06
  • And, presumably, derogatory. – Erik Kowal May 17 '14 at 1:20

Their roots are all in the Latin word, rogāre, to ask. They all have to do with asking.

Prerogative, meaning to have a right, is from Latin praerogātīvus, meaning asked first, to ask before anyone else. (prae-, pre- + rogāre, to ask.)

Derogative is from Latin dērogāre, meaning to repeal some part of a law, modify it. It is from Latin de- + rogāre to ask; sort of like asking back.

Interrogative's root in rogare is clear, to ask between (another in conversation), ask someone else.

Other words with a [prefix + rogare] as a root:

rogation (a prayer - to ask [?])
arrogate: claim for oneself; presume (to ask to/for/towards)
arrogant: proud; presuming. (ask/claim for oneself)
abrogate: do away with; annual; (ask away from)
interrogate: (obvious)
surrogate : (ask in place of, in substitution)

There are more, mostly used in Law. But you can see they are all about asking


Etymology seems to comferm the 'rogare' thesis .

derogative (adj.) late 15c., from Middle French derogatif, from Latin *derogativus, from past participle stem of derogare (see derogatory).

interrogative (adj.) c.1500, from Late Latin interrogativus "pertaining to a question," from Latin interrogat-, past participle stem of interrogare "to ask, question" (see interrogation) + -ive.

prerogative (n.) "special right or privilege granted to someone," late 14c. (in Anglo-Latin from late 13c.), from Old French prerogative (14c.), Medieval Latin prerogativa "special right," from Latin praerogativa "prerogative, previous choice or election," originally (with tribus, centuria) "unit of 100 voters who by lot voted first in the Roman comita," noun use of fem. of praerogativus (adj.) "chosen to vote first," from praerogere "ask before others," from prae- "before" (see pre-) + rogare "to ask" (see rogation).


There is a connection between the three words indeed and the common element is the verb "rogare". This verb means "ask for, plead", but it also means "propose a law". If you consider also this second meaning you can easily explain why the three words are connected. "Prerogativus" in latin indicates a person who votes before the others, or better, a person who "is asked to vote for first" (=praerogare). "Derogative" comes from the verb "derogate", which in its transitive form means "diparage, insult"; but as an intransitive verb "derogate" means to "take away a part so as to impair, to detract". Here what the Merriam-Webster say about the origin of DEROGATE: "Middle English, from Late Latin derogatus, past participle of derogare, from Latin, to annul (a law), detract, from de- + rogare to ask, propose (a law)"

  • Hi, and welcome to EL&U. Your answer is excellent. Rogāre means to ask, make supplication, not to propose a law. That sense would have come from asking for such a law in the Senate or whatever PTB. – anongoodnurse May 16 '14 at 23:13

It turns out that they do all come from rogare, but the prefixes' meanings have stretched a bit over the years.

If we consider "prerogative," it comes from the Latin praerogativa, itself the feminine nominalization of rogare, with prae- as a prefix. Praerogativa referred to "the verdict of the political division that was chosen to vote first in the assembly". So the word always contained a notion of exclusive power or ability, and came pretty easily into English.

"Derogative" comes from the Latin derogare. It turns out the Latin de- referred to a motion aside. It became synonymous with abrogare, or our word "abrogate," which refers to a repealing or a "doing away with". From that, we get the notion of putting something down or looking down on something - we're kind of repealing or rejecting that which we are derogatory towards.

  • As I understand it, praerogativa is, at root, a substantive use of the adjective that eventually became widespread enough to 'become' a noun; it is not directly a feminine nominalization of the verb (prae)rogare, but an adjective that was used in (often implicit) agreement with nouns like centuria. – jon May 16 '14 at 23:25

"Rogative" as a complete word is used in the English translation of Isabel Allende's wonderful historical novel "Inés of my Soul" (originally written in Spanish) in the sense of a repetitive supplication or prayer. Apparently (according to one of the responses above) this is in the OED (to which unfortunately I don't have access) although I note the Macquarie (Australian) dictionary lists "rogation" in this sense, but not "rogative". Perhaps the translator lifted this word almost directly from Spanish?

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    In Spanish rogar means to ask, and from this the word (el) ruego means .*prayer* in general, and rogativa is a prayer of petition, frequently used in connection with a prayer for rain. – frank May 13 '16 at 13:20

The complete etymology of "rogare" is "ask, question; propose," apparently a figurative use of a PIE verb meaning literally "to stretch out (the hand)," from root *reg- "move in a straight line." So, in that case, same meaning for three of "rogatives" is "to create a direction."

See the Online Etymology Dictionary on prerogative.

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