The common form of forming noun from some adjectives is to add the suffix "-ity" as in "verbose" -> "verbosity", "national" -> "nationality".

But why does "sovereign" becomes "sovereignty" instead of "sovereignity"? Is there some sort of etymological reason for this? And is this word the only one with this behavior?


3 Answers 3


"Sovereignty" isn't the only noun ending in "-ty" instead of "-ity". We also have

  • certainty
  • royalty, loyalty, cruelty, fealty, frailty, penalty, admiralty
  • liberty, puberty, property, poverty
  • honesty, majesty

Some of these are from Latin words that didn't have "i" in this context: e.g. liberty = L. libertas, majesty = L. majestas (maiestas), puberty = L. pubertas.

Others are from French, where the suffix -té is fairly often not preceded by "i" (Latin vowels are often weakened or lost in French): e.g. cruelty, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) from

Old French crualté (later cruauté), according to Hatzfeld < popular Latin type *crūdālitāt-em, for crūdēlitāt-em (see crudelity n.)

Some of these are related to words ending in -ity: although "crudelity" is extremely uncommon, there are words like "regality" (from the same etymological source as royalty) and "fragility" (from the same etymological source as frailty). Property is related to propriety: the suffix has the form -ety here because of the preceding i.

You can see some more information about the Latin suffix -itas/-etas/-tas and the distribution of its variants on the following page: "§46. The Latin suffix -ITAS (> E -ity); variant -ETAS (> E -ety)" (Smith, Peter. (2016). Greek and Latin Roots: for Science and the Social Sciences, Part I – Latin).

The etymology of sovereign

As mentioned in user159691's answer, sovereignty comes from French. The OED says

< Anglo-Norman sovereyneté, soverentee, = Old French souveraineté (modern French souvraineté)

The word sovereign is supposed to be from

popular Latin *superānus (OED)

As you can see, there isn't a "gn" in the Latin source (it is thought to come from super + the Latin suffix -ānus; compare christian and christianity from Latin chrīstiānus, chrīstiānitās).

The digraph "gn" was probably introduced into the English spelling of "sovereign" by mere analogy with other words spelled with word-final "gn" (according to Etymonline, proabably association with the word "reign" in particular).

The OED does list a few examples of "sovereignity" with "-ity", but says this word is obsolete. The earliest example it lists, from "c1560", uses the spelling "souerenitie" without "gn". The OED also mentions the related word sovranità in Italian.

"Gn" does show up before "ity" in words where "gn" comes from Latin, like benignity and malignity (Italian benignità and malignità). In English, the letter "g" corresponds to a consonant [g] that is pronounced in these nouns, although there is no [g] in the pronunciation of the adjectives benign and malign.

  • 1
    A good answer, although this could be improved as to which category does "sovereignty" belong, and thus explaining the origin of its suffix. =)
    – justhalf
    Jan 22, 2018 at 15:23
  • 4
    "Superānus" is a great word. Do I correctly assume that speakers of popular Latin did not feel warmly toward their sovereign? ;-)
    – ruakh
    Jan 22, 2018 at 17:59
  • @ruakh: lol. I added a sentence about the apparent etymology of "superānus"
    – herisson
    Jan 22, 2018 at 18:57

It is could in terms of French origin whose suffix was “-te”:


suffix used in forming abstract nouns from adjectives (such as safety, surety), Middle English -tie, -te, from Old French -te (Modern French -té), from Latin -tatem (nominative -tas, genitive -tatis), cognate with Greek -tes, Sanskrit -tati-.

sovereignty (n.):

mid-14c., "pre-eminence," from Anglo-French sovereynete, Old French souverainete, from soverain (see sovereign (adj.)). Meaning "authority, rule, supremacy of power or rank" is recorded from late 14c.; sense of "existence as an independent state" is from 1715.



Sovereign and sovereignty are existing nouns representing something. The -ty suffix most likely derives from the meaning "quality or state of something", or the state of being sovereign.

-ity is a suffix to be added to adjectives in the process of converting them into an abstract noun.

Examples: Technicality, possibility, probability, responsibility.

Source: Dictionary.com

  • 1
    Perhaps this can be augmented with also the definition of the suffix -ty and how both of them distinguish "sovereignty" and "sovereignity", if indeed as you say both forms exist in English? I think at least you need to also cite dictionary.com/browse/-ty and expand your answer based on that.
    – justhalf
    Jan 22, 2018 at 21:47
  • Sovereignity is not a word, as "-ity" is applied to adjectives. Sovereign is a noun, so it wouldn't apply Jan 26, 2018 at 17:22
  • 2
    "sovereign" is both a noun and an adjective.
    – herisson
    Jan 26, 2018 at 17:24
  • You are correct, my mistake. Jan 26, 2018 at 17:24

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