I've noticed that a few words may be both a noun and an adjective, remain spelt the same, but change the pronunciation of -ate to ət or āt. Sometimes the meanings are related, others they are not.

For example: separate.

We separate the objects into separate categories.

We pronounce the first with āt but the second as ət.

Off the top of my head, the only other I can think of is "conjugate", though I'm fairly certain there are others that are just not coming to my mind at the moment.

Is this just coincidence or the product of some understandable process?


To begin with, separāt (verb) - separet (noun) is not the only case of this. Moderāt/Moderet, or Mediāt/Immediet both go the same way: -ate is pronounced with the difference you mention even though they are spelled the same way. So does articulāt/articulet. There may be others, but so far I have not found or recalled any. The fact that I have not found any exceptions does not, however, prove that there are none. So I have no basis for saying that it is a co-incidence, though I would have to start leaning towards the idea that there might be some reason for the difference. If there is, it is likely to have something to do with the rhythm of natural speech.

One candidate would be that the various forms of the verbs (separated/articulating and even the noun moderator sit very uncomfortably in the mouth with the '-et' pronunciation. Some other nouns, like magistrate (which has not cognate verb) is actually pronounced magistrāt by some and magistret by others. So there may be some sort of physical/oral explanation. But what it is I am far from sure.

  • I can appreciate the "rhythm of speech" explanation. Saying separated as separəted feels very front-of-the-mouth and bad. – Braaedy Mar 9 at 0:05
  • Although there are bound to be exceptions, there is a metric tendency to accentuate the first syllable of nouns, which makes it useful to end adjectives with a schwa-like syllable. Most direct objects are introduced by unaccented articles, so it's ok for the verb form to end with a stressed vowel. It makes sense, then, to record a record or duplicate a duplicate. – remarkl Mar 9 at 1:28
  • @remarkl Thanks for this. – Tuffy Mar 9 at 8:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.