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A guy suggested changing my word from "activable" to "activatable". Chrome's spell checker also suggests that. However, I can see activable in most dictionaries (1, 2, 3) while I don't see activatable in these (except Wiktionary).

Which one do you usually use?

  • 2
    books.google.com/ngrams/… – Jim Nov 20 '17 at 22:26
  • @DatVM Most adjectives ending in "-ible" and "-able" stem from verbs. "active" is not a verb, while "activate" is. – Gustavson Nov 20 '17 at 23:12
  • Context may help, especially if you would be interested in an alternative synonym. In a technical context (e.g. computing) the commonly-used form may differ from that in general contexts. – Stuart F Jul 29 '19 at 9:51
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Well, I don't normally use either. If I had to form the word on the fly, I would probably use activatable. But activable does fit the pattern used for some other verbs.

The suffix -able usually attaches to the bare form of a verb (sometimes with spelling changes, like doubling the last consonant letter or dropping a "silent e"). But for some verbs derived from Latin, the corresponding -able adjective is constructed on a different stem.

As a general class, -ate verbs are derived from Latin, and many of them have corresponding -able adjectives without the -te: separate and separable, estimate and estimable, replicate and replicable.

The specific verb activate seems to not actually be derived from a single Classical Latin word: the Oxford English Dictionary says activate was formed in English from the adjective active and the verb suffix -ate. (However, the entry does mention a "post-classical Latin activare (13th cent. in a British source)").

But if we treat the replicate/replicable pattern as a general rule that can be considered productive for any Latinate -ate verb, regardless of the details of its etymology, then it is valid to form activable from activate.

I would say that any simple rule about the use of -atable vs. -able will probably only describe one possible pattern of usage; the actual usage is kind of messy. With that caveat, here is the advice given in H.W. Fowler's Dictionary of Modern English Usage (first published 1926; re-published 2009):

Verbs with the Latin-derived ending -ate that have established adjectives drop the -ate (demonstrable, abominable, alienable, appreciable, calculable, expiable, execrable, &c.); & nonce-adjectives from such verbs should be similarly formed (accumulable, adulterable, educable, confiscable, saturable, &c.) except when the verb is disyllabic (dictatable, creatable, castratable, crematable, locatable; not dictable &c.

(able, 1, p. 2)

On the other hand, the Google Ngram Viewer (mentioned in a comment) shows a preference for activatable:

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