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Some verbs ending in -ate keep their original syllable stress when you add the suffix -ive to form an adjective

e.g.,

imitate/imitative

meditate/meditative

investigate/investigative

For others, the stress moves to the antepenultimate syllable and the 'a' in -ative is reduced;

e.g.,

indicate/indicative

contemplate/contemplative

interrogate/interrogative

Is there a rule or any kind of historical reason why a word would follow one pattern or the other?

  • +1 However, please try to add your own contribution to the effort at finding an answer. – Kris Aug 28 '18 at 8:08
  • Some words can be pronounced both ways, such as illustrative and contemplative. There are many more of these words that I hear people speak with variable placement of syllable stress, though for the few I've checked dictionaries don't attest to multiple pronunciations. Still, you'll find a lot of variation in spoken English. – Zebrafish Aug 28 '18 at 11:16
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As far as I know, there is no real "rule" (definitely no useful rule, at least).

Frequency and age of the word probably has an effect (with -ative words that are older and more frequent being more likely to have a pronunciation with no stress on the penult). I wrote an answer to an earlier question about the position of stress in -ative words (Is there a rule for the position of the accent (stressed sound) in words ending with -ative?) which mentions that three-syllable words ending in -ative are mostly stressed on the first syllable (only one exception that I know of, creative).

For contemplative, it's possibly relevant that the verb contemplate used to have a pronunciation with stress on the penult syllable (this was once a common pronunciation pattern for many -ate verbs that contained heterosyllabic consonant clusters in Latin; see the OED quote in my question here: Is there any evidence for "altercate" ever having been pronounced with stress on the second syllable?). Alternative and sometimes illustrative have the same stress pattern.

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