The suffixes -ist, and -er are added to a base word to name a person who does an action: pitch, pitcher.

Some more examples:

carpenter      artist
painter        nationalist
banker         dentist

These all seem to be professions, but is there a conceptual difference between names ending with "-ist" and those ending with "-er"? Any history behind it?

  • Please go through previous related posts. This (and/ or similar) question(s) already dealt with on these pages earlier. To start with, see the box "RELATED" at the right hand bottom of this page. Especially, english.stackexchange.com/questions/112826/… – Kris Mar 27 '15 at 12:54
  • 2
    The French say charpentier, peintre, banquier, artiste, nationaliste, and dentiste, so ask them. We just borrowed the words. – Peter Shor Mar 27 '15 at 12:57
  • @Kris: that post does not answer this question. – Peter Shor Mar 27 '15 at 13:01
  • 1
    Looking at etymonline, in Old English, -ere was the suffix for this, in Classical Latin, -or was the suffix, and in Classical Greek, -istes was the suffix. Some words come straight from these sources (fisher, actor, dogmatist). But Late Latin borrowed -ist from Greek and started forming words with -ist. So the suffix depends on where and when the words were coined. (There is also some regularity in that -isms turn into -ists.) – Peter Shor Mar 27 '15 at 13:31
  • 2
    @PeterShor: your last comment answers my question. Regarding your previous comment: I asked the French, but they told me to ask the Romans. – multigoodverse Mar 27 '15 at 13:32
up vote 2 down vote accepted

From Wiktionary :

-ist

Added to words to form nouns denoting:

a person with a particular creative or academic role;

one who subscribes to a particular theological doctrine or religious denomination;

one who owns or manages something;

And :

-er

(added to verbs) Person or thing that does an action indicated by the root verb; used to form an agent noun.

(added to a noun denoting an occupation) Person whose occupation is (the noun).


The etymology part says that :

  • -ist comes from Latin -ista from Ancient Greek -ιστής (-istḗs), from -ισ (-is) + agent suffix -τής (-tḗs)...

    • one who practises or believes.
  • -er comes from Middle English -er, -ere, from Old English -ere (agent suffix), from Proto-Germanic *-ārijaz (agent suffix). Usually thought to have been borrowed from Latin -ārius from Proto-Indo-European relational adjectival suffix *yo- (“belonging to”)...

    • Used to form adjectives from nouns or numerals.

    • (masculine only) -er; Used to form nouns denoting an agent of use, such as a dealer or artisan, from other nouns.

  • @Peter: Nor do I, so in a rare display of public-spiritedness I've just made my first ever edit to a Wiktionary page, and replaced it by subscribe. – FumbleFingers Mar 27 '15 at 14:23
  • @FumbleFingers Thanks and Congratulations ! ;) I read 'subscribe' on the first reading... damn those eyes – Yohann V. Mar 27 '15 at 14:24
  • It says -ist applies to "one who owns or manages something", but isn't the term for that, y'know... "owner"? Or "manager"? At best it's "administrator". I feel like that wiktionary article might need some editing... – Parthian Shot Mar 27 '15 at 22:35
  • You misunderstood, the definition. Examples with one who owns or manages something are capitalist; industrialist. We talk about nouns possessed not the fact of owning. (Someone who earn a capital -money or good- is a capitalist. Same for industry) – Yohann V. Mar 28 '15 at 9:38

This is helpful. Fwiw- IST is generally added to Latin rooted words. ER added to Anglo words. Absurd Example: dog is Anglo. Canine is Latin. This one is a Dog-er or a canine-ist Simplifying but generally single syllable words are more likely to be Anglo when they have a multi syllabic synonym. Cat/ feline.. car/ automobile etc. I originally thought there was a meaning difference between ER and IST but doesn’t seem to be a substantive difference. Happy to hear if opinions differ.

  • 1
    Do you have a source for this? – Rand al'Thor Apr 7 at 21:27

Your Answer

 
discard

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

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