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The suffix -able has several meanings, one of them is:

  • (forming adjectives) to be: payable

How does one differentiate this meaning from the other meanins of -able? For example, how does one know whether payable means able to be paid or to be paid?

By the way, I didn't find other examples for the "to be"-meaning except for payable. Could you provide other examples?

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  • [Almost] all words have different nuances, and many have different senses. Why are those ending in -able significantly different? Familiarity and dictionaries help with different usages available; familiarity and context help decide which sense is intended in a given sentence. Sometimes, ambiguity is not resolved. Jan 4, 2021 at 12:37

2 Answers 2

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"Payable" does mean "able to be paid"— specifically, it means "that may, can, or must be paid."

I'm assuming you're referring to the use of "payable" in "accounts payable." This refers to "the balance due to a creditor on a current account," or in other words, the amount that must be paid. Accounts (that are) payable are those that can (must) be paid.

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  • So, 'accounts payable' is an ambiguous phrase, but it has definite meaning in accounting?
    – Daniel
    Jan 4, 2021 at 12:58
  • @Daniel perhaps it would be ambiguous in a world where it were not an accounting term, but it is not really ambiguous in modern English: it always refers to the accounting concept, as evidenced by that appearing as the dictionary definition of the phrase in a general dictionary (i.e., not an accounting-specific dictionary).
    – Ryan M
    Jan 4, 2021 at 13:01
  • Thank you! Could you also provide another example of the "to be"-meaning (other than 'payable')?
    – Daniel
    Jan 4, 2021 at 13:06
  • @Daniel "accounts receivable" is a similar concept to "accounts payable," but from the other side of the creditor-debtor relationship. Again, though, I would not say these mean "to be" as such—I think both are closer to "able to be."
    – Ryan M
    Jan 4, 2021 at 13:10
  • Both 'payable' and 'receivable' come from accounting. I'm wondering if the 'to be'-meaning of the '-able' suffix is much rarer than 'able to be'-meaning?
    – Daniel
    Jan 4, 2021 at 13:18
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How does one differentiate this meaning from the other meanings of -able? For example, how does one know whether payable means able to be paid or to be paid?

The solution is simple: you look at the context. The importance of context cannot be overstated. In English, (and probably a lot of other languages,) words without context may have several meanings: e.g. "Bank" - a place to deposit money, or the side of a river - how do we know the difference?

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  • Identical orthographic representations may be different words.Your bank's are homographs, different words, not merely different senses of a single word. Jan 4, 2021 at 12:38
  • @EdwinAshworth but, of course, you only know that because of context... "Although of modest stock, his bearing was distinguished." "The regime persecuted those with brown eyes and unfortunately, Farnsworth was distinguished."
    – Greybeard
    Jan 4, 2021 at 22:07
  • I'm saying that 'In English, (and probably a lot of other languages,) words without context may have several meanings: e.g. "Bank" - a place to deposit money, or the side of a river ' implies wrongly that these are polysemes. Jan 5, 2021 at 12:00
  • @EdwinAshworth I'm not sure that it does or, if it does, that it particularly matters.
    – Greybeard
    Jan 5, 2021 at 12:04
  • The difference between polysemes and homonyms doesn't matter on a site dedicated to linguists? Jan 5, 2021 at 16:36

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