I googled and tried to search words like gigantesque, alienesque, and animalesque so that I could know whether they are informal or redundant forms of giant, alien, and animal, respectively. But not even a single dictionary had references to such words.

See the pattern (the words include the suffix -esque):

  • gigantesque > giant

  • alienesque > alien

  • animalesque > animal

All of these pairs are of adjectives; what's the difference? Are the words suffixed with -esque not redundant?

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    Different words mean different things. A Kafka novel is not the same as a Kafkaesque novel. Different suffixes add different meanings and colors and registers and whatnot. -esque is not the same as -ish is not the same as -astic not the same as -oid not the same as -like not the same as -ean not the same as -ern not the same as -ant. Different is always different. Only the same is the same. – RegDwigнt Oct 28 '18 at 13:09
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    The suffix -esque means “like” or “resembling.” You can add -esque to almost any noun, including proper nouns.* In my book (but not apparently my OED dictionary) that suggests OP hasn't done any meaningful research into this still-productive suffix. But as pointed out in my link: Use restraint. Too many -esque words in the same passage may seem clumsy and repetitive. – FumbleFingers Oct 28 '18 at 13:23
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    @Reg, the word Kafka is a noun, which is irrelevent to be mentioned here, according to the adjectival pattern I provided here. "Alien" is an adjective, whereas alienesque also. Kafkaesque is an adjective whereas, "Kafka" not – user296301 Oct 28 '18 at 13:29
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    The undelying giant, alien, and animal are all nouns. Yes, they can also function as adjectives, but the starting proposition here needs to be that -esque was added to a noun. – Phil Sweet Oct 28 '18 at 14:08
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    @Maxwell "Kafka" in "a Kafka novel" is a modifier. Nouns can be modifiers just like adjectives can. More to the point all words that you add -esque to are nouns. You cannot add that suffix to an adjective. At any rate, that has nothing to do with my actual point. Which you seem to be ignoring, so let me repeat it. Different words mean different things. An animal novel is not the same as an animalesque novel. It just isn't. Whether "animal" is an adjective there, or a noun, or a past participle, is utterly irrelevant to the fact that it does not mean the same thing as any other word. – RegDwigнt Oct 28 '18 at 14:22

Your "animal" and "alien" examples have the suffixal morpheme -esque added to an existing English word.

In the manner of; resembling:
American Heritage Dictionary

The giant example is a bit different in that it came into English in the early 19th century from another language, most likely Italian "gigantesco", adopted as "gigantesque".

I'm assuming you're not asking why there are multiple words for the same thing generally, such as why do we have "boylike" and "boyish", or "girly" and "girlish". I'll focus specifically on suffix -esque. I assume your question to be asking why, if "giant" can be used as an adjective to mean "giant-like" or related to giants, and "alien" can be used as an adjective to mean "alien-like" or related to aliens, then why would you add -esque to these words if it seemingly means the same thing?

To begin with, I can't find a definition of "animalesque", so I can only assume it means exactly what it looks like, ie., something akin to "animal-like". An entry for "alienesque" I found in Wiktionary, which simply defines it as:

1.Suggestive of an alien.

This is a very simplified definition, as alien can mean quite a few things. Most dictionaries go into descriptions meaning "foreign", "strange", "extraterrestrial", etc.

As to how these words come about, the suffixal morpheme -esque is very productive (see productivity). In terms of morphemes (word parts) it means that they are word parts freely added in a spontaneous or even improvisatory way to change the meanings of words. For example, prefix un- is highly productive. You might have a cat defanged, then you might say the cat is unfanged, even though "unfanged" isn't listed in nearly all dictionaries, and you could argue all day whether it's a word or not. That's how words like this come about, adding parts to words when it makes sense to do so.

As words' meanings are concerned, when they end in -esque, it mostly just means what the definition I gave above says. However I'm sure you know words take on particular meanings over time. I'll give a couple of examples. RegDwigнt brought up Kafka. If we look at some definitions of Kafkaesque we can see some meanings that go beyond just "Franz Kafka-like":

2. Marked by surreal distortion and often a sense of impending danger:
American Heritage Dictionary


like or suggesting a statue, as in massive or majestic dignity, grace, or beauty.
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary

Here we can see a meaning more than just statue-like, it's hinting at grace and beauty.

1. visually pleasing, esp in being striking or vivid:
Collins English Dictionary

Again, goes beyond just meaning like a picture.

Same thing goes with other word parts, I'll just give one example of -ian:

1. Of, relating to, or resembling: Bostonian.
American Heritage Dictionary

2. (resembling or suggestive of conditions described in Dickens' novels, esp)
a. squalid and poverty-stricken: working conditions were truly Dickensian.
b. characterized by jollity and conviviality: a Dickensian scene round the Christmas tree.
Collins English Dictionary

As far as I know "alienesque" or "animalesque" haven't taken on meanings beyond what you would expect from analysing the noun and the well known -esque suffix.

Is it redundant to add -esque to alien or animal? One is using a noun which is widely accepted to be also an adjective, and the other is using the noun and attaching a suffix to create an adjective meaning "related to or resembling" the noun. Is there a difference?

"animal instincts"
"animalesque instincts"

"alien technology"
"alienesque technology"

As you'd expect the alienesque and animalesque adjectives mean alien-like and animal-like. Alien and animal adjectives mean "of aliens" or "of animals".

However the distinction isn't so clear in some cases. For example, consider the difference between "He has animal instincts" and "He has animalesque instincts." As the adjective "animal" can mean "characteristic of animals", then:

"He has animal instincts."

seems to me to be the same as:

"He has animalesque instincts."


Addressing the specific example, "alienesque" implies that the thing being described somehow resembles an alien thing or gives one the sense of seeing an alien thing. But, the implication is, the thing is not actually "alien" in any literal sense.

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    It could also imply that the speaker simply doesn’t know if the subject is actually an alien or not, just that it resembles one in some fashion. I think seeing an implication that the subject definitely is not an alien is a little strong, unless the speaker can be presumed to know for certain one way or the other. (+1 regardless) – KRyan Oct 28 '18 at 15:34
  • @KRyan So if something walks like a duck etc., a careful person would call it only a duckesque animal :) – Hagen von Eitzen Oct 28 '18 at 19:13
  • @HagenvonEitzen -- Well, if it quacks you up that's another matter. – Hot Licks Oct 28 '18 at 19:44


word-forming element meaning "resembling or suggesting the style of," from French -esque "like, in the manner of.(Etymonline)

The term in not present in main dictionaries yet, but instance usages can be easily found:


Suggestive of an alien (creature from space).

From Wiktionary:

2008, John R. Johnson, Purusha's Urn, page 126: After checking the room for other alienesque creatures, she sat down on the edge of the bed and began to stare at the phone.

2009, Tom Masters, Lonely Planet Maldives, page 49: Ray feeding is a popular activity at many resorts and it's quite something to see these muscular, alienesque creatures jump out of the water and chow down on raw steak.

  • I know you dread the first comment on your answers ... but. Can you address the larger question of how stem + esque differs from straight stem? That’s what OP wants to know, it’s broader than the title question. I know FGITW is the best way to net rep on SE, but the instinct that instills in us sometimes causes us to overlook the real question. That said, your first blockquote contains the more general answer. You just need to elaborate on it. Ideally with more of your own words, and fewer of others’. – Dan Bron Oct 28 '18 at 13:09
  • Thanks. If you turn the bulk of the answer into one discussing esque in detail and suffixes more generally, along the lines of Reg’s comment, and then apply these thoughts to OP’s 3 examples (contrasting the esque and non-esque meanings), I’ll gladly upvote you. In the meanwhile, I’ll stop bothering you. – Dan Bron Oct 28 '18 at 13:13

According to the Oxford English Dictionary (https://www.oed.com) the suffix -esque comes from French and to French from Italian -esco. In words that are borrowed from French the ending is said to often have the sense of "resembling the style partaking of the characteristics of".

This resembles the sense given in Merriam-Webster (https://www.merriam-webster.com), "in the manner or style of", as well as that of Etymonline (https://www.etymonline.com):"resembling or suggesting the style of".

The Oxford English Dictionary does give another sense as well, however. According to OED the most common use of the suffix -esque with already existing English words is when the writer or speaker has a need to create a new word for the situation. The suffix -esque then brings an element of playfulness to the expression, with the sense that both the speaker (writer) and the listener (reader) know that the word does not exist in any standard vocabulary.

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    Hi Peter, welcome to English Language & Usage. Note that this site is a bit different from other Q&A sites: an answer is expected to be authoritative, detailed, and explain why it is correct - preferably by quoting a reference hyperlinked to the source. This is what separates a good answer from mere personal opinion - which may explain the downvotes. You can edit your post to add authoritative detail; for further guidance, see How to Answer. :-) – Chappo Hasn't Forgotten Monica Oct 28 '18 at 23:32
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    This answer has been improved significantly through the edit, well done @Peter. +1. – Dubu Oct 29 '18 at 12:21

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