A recent EL&U question about the word inception led me to look into discussions of the (theoretical but not actual) verb inceive, which turned up a discussion in Harry Bochner, Simplicity in Generative Morphology (1992), of words that follow the pattern conception/conceive, deception/deceive, perception/perceive, and reception/receive. As Bochner observes, the gap at inception/inceive may hold some interest, but a more challenging issue for a person trying to identify predictable patterns of back formation involves the existence of interception/intercept where a person seeking regular and relatively uncomplicated patterns might have expected to find interception/interceive.

Bochner attempts to formulate relevant morphological rules for various word pattern families, but (as he says) "The less regular the rule is, the more expensive it is to learn words that exemplify it." (Unfortunately, his discussion is made harder to follow by the omission of several pages from the relevant section of the book that is available in Google Books.) Eventually, Bochner concludes that "while it remains true that we can predict the form of the -ion noun given the root, we cannot predict the form of the root given the -ion noun." He also argues that, absent a special-case grammatical rule to handle -ceive/cept words consistently, "we get the result that it is cheaper to learn the word intercept than interceive."

Analytically this argument may make sense, but I don't think that it satisfactorily explains why English adopted interception/intercept in the first place; perhaps it (the argument) doesn't attempt to do so. In any event, my question remains:

Why does English have interception/intercept instead of interception/interceive?

  • Basically, despite all attempts, there are no rules. (Or is it "laws"?) The only really valid answer is "Because!"
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 2, 2015 at 23:41

2 Answers 2


Because some English speakers who felt the need to use the Latin word interceptus in English, did so, creating intercept (Interception came later in a similar manner).

Conceive, deceive, and perceive have similar Latin origins in their -ipere/-eptus (depending on conjugation) endings, but came into English from Old French at an earlier stage, and after they had already been altered to fit Old French.


I thought the verbal form of 'interception' may have once been 'interceive', but in American Football, commentators used 'intercept' and 'intercepted' erroneously and it caught on and just stuck. 'Interception', 'Conception', and 'Reception' come from the Latin word 'capere' (to take). It would only make sense that they would all translate to the same suffix in English.

  • 4
    While this is a fair guess, according to the OED "intercept" comes from the 16th century, long before football commentators applied the term to their sport. Example: "1548 Hall's Vnion: Henry VII f. xxviijv Which goyng preuely out..roade about the walles to viewe and se their strength, was sodeynly intercepted and taken of hys enemies." May 29, 2019 at 20:20

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