Its etymology confirms that the en- is the same prefix as in enshrine, encourage, encircle, etc., which would normally suggest a causative sense. But rather than "to give joy to", the predominant sense is "to take joy in", opposite from the supposed direction. To be sure, besides the idiomatic to enjoy oneself in, I can't come up with any current causative usages of enjoy.

Stranger still, at least to me, to joy without the prefix does (or used to) have the causative sense of "to gladden":

It joys me to see that he is safe.

So I'm not sure why the following is unacceptable:

*It enjoys me to see that he is safe.

What's the story behind enjoy? Did it undergo some semantic change long ago? And if so, why, when en- seems to be such a strong causative marker?

2 Answers 2


The book Word Origins (by John Ayto) states that the verb enjoy was used intransitively in the past but it is predominantly used in transitive sense today. Also, it mentions the Yiddish influence on the verb:

Originally, enjoy was used intransitively in English, rather as in the modern American Yiddish-influenced injunction 'Enjoy!': 'Yet he never enjoyed after, but in conclusion pitifully wasted his painful life', Robert Laneham 1549. However, by the end of the 16th century the transitive sense 'take pleasure in' had virtually taken over the field. The word probably comes from Old French enjoïr, a compound formed from the prefix en-'in' and joir ‘rejoice', which in turn came from Latin gaudēre (ultimate source of English joy). Old French did have another, similar verb, however, enjoier (formed from the noun joie), which probably also played a part in the English acquisition.

Then, I did some research about the Yiddish influence on the verb and found this New York Times article that explains the origin of the absolute use of "Enjoy!":

In his 1986 book, "Yiddish and English," Random House lexicographer Sol Steinmetz cites this 1968 quotation of furrier Jacques Kaplan by Marylin Bender in The New York Times: "It's a dancing over the volcano attitude, an enjoy-enjoy philosophy." That reduplication is typical of Yiddish -- Es, es means "Eat, eat" -- and the friendly command of Enjoy! comes from Hob anoe , a Yiddish phrase derived from the German hob , "have," and the Hebrew hanoe , "enjoyment."


The earliest example of the absolute use of the transitive enjoy comes from an essay by English author John Ruskin in "The Eagle's Nest," in 1872: "It is appointed for all men to enjoy, but for few to achieve."

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    Considering only the transitive usage of enjoy, then, it would seem that the "take pleasure in" enjoïr and the "give joy to" enjoier could've merged, and then the former sense won out. Interesting. Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 17:19

OED lists the causative sense but as obsolete:

†2.a. trans. To put into a joyous condition; to make happy, give pleasure to. Obs.

?1488 Caxton tr. Laurent Ryal Bk. sig. Cj, For to gladde and enjoye the people.

c1500 Melusine (1895) 150 Whos taryeng enjoyed her moche.

1502 tr. Ordynarye of Crysten Men (de Worde) iv. xxvii. sig. ii.iiiv, That it hym may enioye and recomforte in his spyryte.

1610 G. Markham Maister-peece ii. li. 107 No meat will enioy or do good vnto him.

  • I suspected as much, but I still find it strange, as en- appears to be such a strong causative marker; I don't think I know of any other en- verbs that have subverted their causative sense, so I was wondering if there's a unique story behind enjoy in particular. Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 16:34

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