I’ve noticed that a very large proportion of the names of mineral species and mineral groups end in -ite and (less commonly,) -ine or -ene.

Here are some examples off the top of my head:

-ite: wüstite, haematite, fayalite, cristobalite, toblerite, chalcopyrite, hydroxyapatite, magnesite, wollastonite, zeolite.

-ine/-ene: cuspidine, olivine, nepheline, sapphirine, serpentine, pyroxene, spodumene.

Why is this the case, (is there an infrequently discussed or assumed common knowledge rule amongst mineralogists?), and from whence did the abovementioned endings originate?

7 Answers 7


The reason is in its etymology. I got this from a mineralogy site:

The suffix "ite" is derived from the Greek word lithos (from its adjectival form -ites), meaning rock or stone.

"ine" means :

suffix of adjectives of Greek or Latin origin, meaning “of or pertaining to,” “of the nature of,” “made of,”

So, minerals named that depends on the earlier part of the name. Olivine would be a mineral that pertains to olive, and so possibly has an olive colour.

  • 1
    You beat me to it. I had the same sources, I just wasn't as fast...
    – user10893
    Jul 13, 2011 at 5:09
  • Whew! "Same sources".... Wow!
    – Thursagen
    Jul 13, 2011 at 5:15
  • 4
    “-ite” does not derive from “lithos”, even if it’s nice to think that it would. A mineralogy site is hardly a good source for etymology. dictionary.com and merriam-webster.com both do not mention “lithos”.
    – Timwi
    Jan 30, 2016 at 17:41

Though the derivation of -ite from Greek λίθος ‎lithos ("stone") is often asserted, it seems to be derived from the Greek suffix -ίτης ‎-ites via Latin and French. This is the pattern in derivation of non-mineralogical terms.

I don't think that one can prove the -ites derivation, but the lithos derivation is a very implausible one to linguists. Furthermore, before the 20th century, well-educated scientists, even mineralogists, knew some Latin and Greek and would have been aware of both suffixes as possibilities in coining new terms. It would go against the grain for a classically educated scientist to add -ite rather than -lite when naming a stony mineral.

Greek λίθος ‎lithos ("stone") is the source of the suffixes -lite and -lith.


To complement Ham and Bacon's great answer, I have decided to share what I have discovered about use of the "ite" suffix in the naming of mineral groups/species...

It appears that it is merely convention, or common practice, to end a mineral name in "ite". In other words, there is no hard-and-fast rule governing when the suffix ought to be applied, and what specific meaning it should convey.

Here are a couple of excerpts from a paper that was published in The Canadian Mineralologist¹:

“ The CNMMN continued the effort of the CNCM of "grandfathering" minerals that were well established in the literature. …It is interesting to note that … the majority of the committee members wanted to standardize the names of minerals from Dana’s System by adding "ite". ”

“ A more recent attempt to develop a universal system for the naming of minerals is that of Povarennykh (1972). The model he proposed to the mineralogical community in his book Crystal Chemical Classification of Minerals would maintain a one-word name with “ite” as a suffix, but the name itself would reflect the chemical composition and crystallography of the mineral. In his system, which was not formally presented to nor adopted by the CNMMN… ”

(CNCM: Committee on Nomenclature and Classification of Minerals || CNMMN: Commission on New Minerals and Mineral Names).

  1. J. de Fourestier, "The Naming of Mineral Species Approved by The Commission on New Minerals and Mineral Names of The International Mineralogical Association: A Brief History". The Canadian Mineralogist, 40, pp. 1721-1735 (2002).

-ite is formally used to name a rock which is almost composed of a specific mineral. For example:

  • plagioclase - plagioclasite,

  • pyroxene - pyroxenite,

  • peridote - peridotite,

  • quartz - quartzite,

Or characterized by a specific amount of a peculiar mineral:

  • melilite - melilitite

More generally speaking:

  • grain - granite (a rock made of grains)

Do not be surprised if geology terminology is typically inconsistent. This is due to the stigma attached to outdated theories about the formation of igneous rocks, such as that of Neptunists that they believed to be salts.


Whereas nouns in -umen(e) have a different etymology, namely in Ancient Greek present participles, eg spodumene 'burnt to ashes' (spodos: ash)


I believe that mineral names which end in "ite" refer to species with a unique chemical composition, that is, there is no variation in the chemical composition of different samples of, say, haematite or chalcopyrite.

Those minerals with names ending in "ine" or "ene" I think have more variation in terms of the chemical composition. For example, the composition of olivine can have a high variation in the ratios of iron and magnesium present in the crystal lattice. Pyroxene and spodumene refer to groups of minerals with similar chemistry and crystal structure.

I believe it is currently the scientific fashion to name minerals ending in "ite".

  • Actually, when molar/stoichiometric ratios are specified for a mineral species or group, they usually refer to the average of a range of composition, rather than an actual fixed or exact ratio. Jul 13, 2011 at 6:08
  • 1
    Thanks brachomonacho, I'll pass this on to my son (who typed my answer). I'll also be interested in his reaction to Ham_and_Bacon's answer.
    – pavium
    Jul 13, 2011 at 6:59

I don't know if this works like compounds, but compounds ending in -ite or -ate are relating to oxygen compounds. Compounds ending -ate are compounds with more oxygen than the other component, while -ite is when oxygen is less than the other component in the compound. Hope that helps somewhat.

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