Etymonline on "-able" doesn't expound the origin of "requiring".


common termination and word-forming element of English adjectives (typically based on verbs) and generally adding a notion of "capable of; allowed; worthy of; requiring; to be ______ed," sometimes "full of, causing," from French -able and directly from Latin -abilis. It is properly -ble, from Latin -bilis (the vowel being generally from the stem ending of the verb being suffixed), and it represents PIE *-tro, a suffix used to form nouns of instrument, cognate with the second syllables of English rudder and saddle (n.).

For example, "payABLE" literally means ABLE to pay. Ability differs from requirement. How did "payable" semantically shift to meaning 1 below?

1. (of money) required to be paid; due.

  1. Able to be paid.

payables Debts owed by a business; liabilities.

payable (adj.) on Etymonline

late 14c., paiable, "to be paid, that can be or is to be paid,"
from pay (v.) + -able or from Old French paiable. From late 13c. as a surname, from the Old French word in its other sense, "of good quality."

  • I think you have to see the payable sense from the creditor point of view. An extension of the sense “worthy of”.
    – user 66974
    Jan 9, 2021 at 9:42

2 Answers 2


For example, "payABLE" literally means ABLE to pay.

This is incorrect. The error is shown in

late 14c., paiable, "to be paid, that can be or is to be paid,"

The meaning was always there but there was often ellipsis:

"Five pounds is now payable", can mean

"Five pounds is now payable by me to you"


"Five pounds is now payable by you to me"

The context will make it clear.

From the OED:

-able (suffix) Forming adjectives denoting the capacity for or capability of being subjected to or (in some compounds) performing the action denoted or implied by the first element of the compound.


It seems that "requiring" is the present participle of the verb "require" and seems a little away from the "payable" itself.

We could simply look into the "payable" itself.

"pay" means "pay money" or "payment"

"able" means "having the power of" or "possible"

"pay+able" means

  1. "pay money + having the power of" => having the power to pay money

  2. "payment + having the power of" => having the power of payment

  3. "pay money + possible" => possible to pay money

  4. "payment + possible" => payment possible

In summary,

"have the power to pay" or "possible to pay" means "because we have money we can pay".

"payable" has duality of meaning like a double entry book-keeping system in an accounting, for example: debit and credit; cash 1,000 USD(Dr.), sales 1,000 USD(Cr.)

It's like two faces of Janus at the same time, heading for opposite directions simultaneously, that is,

"we can pay" and "have to pay"

One person gives and then the other person receives: give & take

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