I have two questions.

The word "reprehensible" is very common, but for some reason the root form "reprehend" is almost nonexistent. What is the reason behind this phenomenon?

And, if one understand the meaning of "reprehensible", then surely he should also know the meaning of its root word. Then would a native speaker find me to be a try-hard if I use "reprehend" instead of "criticise" or other common words?

  • Certainly this native speaker would know exactly what you meant if you reprehended someone you found fault with, but what’s a try-hard supposed to be? :)
    – tchrist
    Aug 28, 2015 at 3:32
  • If it's a valid word, use it. It will help expand others' knowledge. The exception would be if immediate understanding is required. For example, you wouldn't want to yell "Conflagration!" when the building is on fire.
    – James
    Aug 28, 2015 at 11:36
  • I applaud this effort. I'm personally trying to rehabilitate arrogate, my own personal favorite obsolete root word. With that said, reprehend is pretty obscure. I personally don't ever recall having encountered it outside of this post. Aug 28, 2015 at 17:25
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    What complicates things is that many language learners struggle to be understood (for a variety of reasons). So unless you are an advanced language learner, or you are speaking with someone you know quite well, and that person is feeling fresh and cooperative, my best advice to you is to keep your language as simple and straightforward as you can. (Having lived in a variety of countries, and having experienced my fair share of language struggles.) Aug 29, 2015 at 23:20
  • @ChrisSunami I don't recall offhand having ever heard reprehend used either, but I still immediately understood it with no difficulty at all. Its meaning is so transparent that I don't really think obscurity (as in statistical rarity) is a problem here. This is different from arrogate, which is not transparent at all from arrogant (unless there's some other derivative that's escaping me?). Sep 17, 2015 at 0:28

1 Answer 1


Personally, yes, I think you'd be edging close to try-hard status with your "reprehend". You'd have to deliver it to the right audience in a flow of similarly obscure vocabulary to avoid sounding laboured. So if you were channeling Jane Austen, I guess it would be OK. It is rare enough that some native speakers would think you had misspoken.

English has many examples where we kept a word while dropping its root (look at the "un-" words, like untoward, unruly, uncouth etc). Perhaps the retained word, unlike the root, does not have an exact synonym and nuance so it becomes orphaned. There would be many examples where the meaning has diverged between the root and its extensions.

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