I can't say whether the root morpheme in "absent" is "ab-" or "abs-". (From an etymological point of view, ab- appears to be a negative prefix -- from M.Fr. absent (O.Fr. ausent), from L. absentem (nom. absens), prp. of abesse "be away from, be absent" -- from O.Fr. absence, from L. absentia, noun of state from absentem (nom. absens), prp. of abesse "be away from, be absent," from ab- "away" + esse "to be").

On the one hand, "absent" may be analyzed and compared with "present" (pre-/ ab- sent), but in this case it's clear that we can't consider -s- as a common root for those semantically related words, because it doesn't seem to be the lexical core of these words at all. On the other hand in the case of "abnormal" and "normal" this negative prefix ab- is easily identified.

  • What do you mean about considering -s- as a common root; don't you mean -sent?
    – Kosmonaut
    Jun 12, 2011 at 18:56
  • Consider other -sent words: assent, consent, dissent. Different Latin roots, but in English that is more or less masked.
    – Kosmonaut
    Jun 12, 2011 at 19:02
  • Other words have no clear root meaning in English, e.g. -mit in submit, permit, commit, transmit. (Just throwing some points of consideration out here :)
    – Kosmonaut
    Jun 12, 2011 at 19:07
  • As I see it abs -ent, -ence, these derivational suffixes (-ent, -ence) are identified when we do the morphemic analysis of absence, absent or presence, presence
    – subic
    Jun 12, 2011 at 19:14
  • 1
    @subic: I think you could also make an argument that most English speakers don't decompose these words at all. After all, these words have been lexicalized for a long time. There are words like essence that have no corresponding form, essent — you would think if the -ent/-ence suffix pair is really "active" that essent should be a word. In any case, not every word with a suffix has to have a root with meaning; see cranberry morpheme.
    – Kosmonaut
    Jun 12, 2011 at 19:58

3 Answers 3


Interesting question with an interesting answer. I understand what @subic is trying to get at. Taken from Dictionary.com, here is the etymology of "absent":

1350–1400; Middle English < Latin absent- (stem of absēns, present participle of abesse to be away ( ab- ab- + -s- be ( see is) + -ent- -ent))

@subic, were you wondering over the 's'? Well, I looked up further, and I realised why the 's' was there at all. From Wiktionary:

From Middle French absent < Old French ausent < Latin absent-, the stem of absens, present participle of abesse (“to be away from”), formed from ab + esse (“to be”).

Note that "abesse" as you said was the original word, but the Latin word is "absent-", whose root is "absens". IT was here, that 's' first got stuck in. Why? I looked up the Latin absens, and I got this:

Present active participle of absum (“be away from, absent”)

So, absens came from absum, so I looked up absum, and I found this:

From ab (“from”) + sum (“be”).

The 's' originally came from 'sum', and along with all the deriving and everything, remained there, as it was derived from 'absum'. In fact, if you looked up "abesse", you would find that it is actually a derivative of "absum"!

So, the thing that is confusing, is abesse, which is actually a :

present active infinitive of absum

So, I hope that answered your questions.

  • Thank you. Am I right to define ABS as a root in Modern English "absent"?
    – subic
    Jun 12, 2011 at 21:02
  • Yeah, I think so :-)
    – Thursagen
    Jun 12, 2011 at 21:08
  • I'm sorry but the development of the Latin words isn't entirely as you described. The Latin verb sum has several unrelated Proto-Indo-European roots (* h1es-, * bʰuH-, and possibly * h1er-) that (probably) resulted in several more Proto-Latin roots. The hypothetical present participle * sent- comes from * h1es-, and together with ab- (from Latin a/ab/abs) formed absens, absent- in Latin. You cannot say that one form of the verb esse or another was the "original" form. Jun 14, 2011 at 18:53
  • I beg you pardon, but I am analyzing the roots in Modern English, not in IE or Proto-Germanic. I'm interested in precise identification of roots in the Modern English language.
    – subic
    Jun 15, 2011 at 9:21

I am not sure what the issue is here.

ab- indicates from or away, while prae- shortened to pre- indicates before or already.

In absent and present, -sent represents the present participle indicating being.

In abnormal, ab- has a similar indication. I would accept that extraordinary has a similar suggested meaning but is often more positive; that is just usage.

  • As a classicist I must support this answer. Apart from the pre-classical-Latin history of these words, this is all the relevant information. Latin ab- comes from the Proto-Indo-European root *h2ep(o)-, "away from". The s comes from *h1es-, "to be". The e is a theme vowel. The consonant cluster -nt- is used to form the stem of the present participle in many Indo-European languages. In Latin, the nominative singular participle gets -s, and -nts contracts to -ns in Latin. The stem on -nt is used in the other cases and in the Romance languages, cf. French absent. Jun 14, 2011 at 19:40
  • That's all right, but the question is where the root morpheme in Modern English, etymology is of little help for the synchronic relations of the meaningful elements in a particularly language.
    – subic
    Jun 16, 2011 at 6:47

IMHO Not every word will have root 'word' so-to-speak. There are root letters. As in the word absent. ab=prefix -ent=suffix. Root seems 'to be' S which is a picture of DNA. Take the word essence. Esse is the root word however, the ES-SE should give you some indication that this is double SS. Two strands of DNA.

These are letters which are pictures to represent concepts. That is what the alphabet is. Let us not forget this. Take the word interpreter for example. What is the root word? In-t-er-pre-t-er. T and T are the root letters. Everything else is a prefix or suffix. T is relative to the sun at winter solstice. So yes, absent would have a root letter of S. S begins words like soul, sol, spirit, sense, space, sentient, science, safe, slight, slope, solute and sad (there are more of course).

Absent when taking only as that one word and not with all of our relations we attach to it already when thinking of examples, must be taken into context when trying to figure out what the word all by itself is trying to tell us.

Someone mentioned -mit (submit), which is based off of the root letters MT, which make up Ma'at (which is order), math (definitely related to Ma'at), might, mitigate and so on.

  • +1 for "not every word has to have a root" (which I take to mean, not every word is analyzable into pieces). In MSE 'absent' is its own word (despite 'pre-sent'). You can't make new words with 'abs-' or '-sent'.
    – Mitch
    Dec 12, 2011 at 18:16

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