As far as I can find, there's this set of words for burying things and digging them up:

inhume and inter, both meaning put into earth

disinter (and apparently disinhume) meaning unput into earth

exhume, meaning take out of earth

But exter is missing, which I find peculiar. After all, it's all just putting things in and taking things ex of terra or humus, so you would expect a full complement, but this does not happen. The same pattern may emerge in other words as well, though none come to mind at the moment. Is there a subtle linguistic reason for which constructions pass into usage, or is it just an accident of history?

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    My guess would be to look at the etymology between inter and inhume. inter comes from Latin, but more specifically Old French, while inhume comes specifically from Latin. This would lend to your "accident of history" idea.
    – ebwb
    May 13, 2015 at 16:21
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    Exter does exist according to the OED, though it is marked as ‘rare’. May 13, 2015 at 16:37
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    This is not English morphology. This is Latin morphology. English borrowed a lot of Latin words, but not all of them; some got left behind and aren't English words (though some of them might have been, briefly). Terry Pratchett has a lot of fun with this feature of English. In his stories, members of the Assassins' Guild, which is very upper-class, never do anything as gross as killing people -- rather, they inhume them. For a fee, of course. May 13, 2015 at 17:11

2 Answers 2


It's just a pitfall of taking the English language from Latin. Many words with prefixes that have opposites (e.g., inex, proanti, prepost) did not get their complementary opposite word.

A good example is disgust. The prefix dis- has several opposites, but the word disgust (root gust, meaning taste or stomach) has no complementary opposite using the opposite prefix.


The opposite of inter, when referring to burying a dead body, is disinter, which can be interchanged with exhume.

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    This information is in the question. Jun 4, 2021 at 4:15

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