Which words in English have the -en form (such as in "brighten the day", "hasten the steps" )? Rather than some explicit list, I am looking for the class of words in terms of its origin/etymology.

I guess it is a somewhat literary/archaic form to use, but I am still unsure whether my US English auto-correct is showing it wrong for certain verbs out of ignorance (by which I mean out of Americanisation of English) or simply because such forms do not exist for those particular verbs.

In particular, is ".. to cracken up a tin can." correct?

  • 4
    -en: - word-forming element making verbs (such as darken, weaken) from adjectives or nouns, from Old English -nian, from Proto-Germanic -inojan (also source of Old Norse -na), from PIE adjectival suffix -no-. Most active in Middle English. etymonline.com/index.php?term=-en&allowed_in_frame=0
    – user66974
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 12:24
  • Why would you put a verb ending on a verb? Unless you want to poetically imply a sea monster opens the tin can that does not seem advisable.
    – Helmar
    Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 12:38
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    If you have an adjective or noun, you can often turn it into a verb by adding -en: Lighten, darken, redden, fasten, strengthen, weaken, shorten. And in fact, if you use it on an adjective that isn't traditionally verbened this way, it will often be understandable: for example, nicen and embiggen. But it's pointless to use it on words that are already verbs like crack. Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 13:23
  • 1
    You're may be confusing it with verbs that form that past participle by adding -en like taken or shaken. Commented Aug 20, 2016 at 13:28

1 Answer 1


The suffix -en is an old Inchoative/Causative inflection. It isn't productive any more, however.

The point is not that -en makes a verb out of whatever it attaches to -- that's incidental and almost irrelevant. It's necessary because change of state and causation are expressed by verbs, and that's what Inchoative and Causative mean.

-en can attach to adjectives (ripen 'become ripe; cause to become ripe'), especially some colors (redden 'become red; cause to become red'; whiten, darken, lighten), but not others (*bluen, *purplen, *greyen, *greenen).

Interestingly, this suffix can also occur as a prefix (enjoy 'become joyful', enrich 'become/cause to become rich', enfeeble, etc). They can even occur together, as in enlighten, which means something different from lighten.

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