There are adjectives/nouns--verb pairs in which the adjectives/nouns have weak vowel in the last syllable and the verb has strong for example:

  • duplicate (adj): /ˈdjuːplɪkət/
  • duplicate (v.): /ˈdjuːplɪkt/



There are adjective/noun - verb pairs that have the same spelling and origin, but the adjectives/nouns have weak vowel in the last syllable, while the verbs have strong. While deliberating the pronunciation of the adjective deliberate, I noticed that the verb form and the adjective had different vowels in the last syllable. I don't know if it happens in other words, but the words that I've noticed mostly end in -ate:

Word Adj/noun verb
deliberate /dɪˈlɪb(ə)rət/ /dɪˈlɪbərt
delegate /ˈdɛlɪɡət/ /ˈdɛlɪɡt/
appropriate /əˈprəʊprɪət/ /əˈprəʊprɪt/
approximate /əˈprɒksɪmət/ /əˈprɒksɪmt/
duplicate /ˈdjuːplɪkət/ /ˈdjuːplɪkt
separate /ˈsɛp(ə)rət/ /ˈsɛpərt/
estimate /ˈɛstɪmət/ /ˈɛstɪmt/

The above words can be adjectives/nouns or verbs.

I understand that in other noun-verb pairs such as protest, the stress varies and the strong/weak vowel is because of that:

  • protest (n.): /ˈprəʊtɛst/
  • protest (v.): /prəˈtɛst/

But in this case the main stress in both words (adjectives/nouns and verbs) fall on the same syllable, but the last syllable in verb has the diphthong //, while the adjectives/nouns have schwa /ə/, so the word appropriate have two pronunciation in the title sentence:

Why doesn't "appropriate" /ə/ appropriate the pronunciation of "appropriate" /eɪ/?

While looking up their etymologies, I found out that most (if not all) of these words entered English in the 15th century. Etymonline doesn't explain why the adjectives/nouns and the verbs have different vowels.

Googling didn't help and I'm unable to find any information on this topic.

Why are these pairs pronounced differently?
What is the origin of this distinction?

  • Also: advocate, articulate, document. Commented May 17, 2021 at 12:30
  • 5
    The answer to this question, like almost all questions about English spelling, is that English orthography does not represent Modern English pronunciation. In particular, it does not represent word stress, and therefore not the effects it has on vowel pronunciation. So, basically, there isn't any "why"; speech changed and spelling didn't, so we're stuck with it. Like Windows and capitalism. Commented May 17, 2021 at 14:54
  • See Suprafix and Initial-stress-derived noun and this question. It's not quite a duplicate question, but it's closely related, and I've no idea if you're asking about appropriate or duplicate so I'm not going to look up the etymologies of both.
    – Stuart F
    Commented May 17, 2021 at 16:18
  • Related: Pronunciation of the -ate suffix
    – herisson
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 2:38
  • @herisson That's loosely related. I wish you could write an answer.
    – user387044
    Commented May 25, 2021 at 9:45

1 Answer 1


I have no reference for this, but the evidence seems reasonably convincing. It might be supposed that, as "-ate" is one of the rare suffixes that is not stress neutral (-IC, -ICS, -ATE, -AL, -AN, -OUS, -IVE), and therefore, as it imposes primary stress regularly on the antepenultimate of three or more syllable words, without distinction of the nature of the word, it was decided that the distinction that can be otherwise introduced by means of early stress and late stress, could be managed through vowel reduction; this appears even more so to be the case from the fact that there is no uniform reduction of the suffix "-ate"for two syllable -ate ending words (this reduction occurring not systematically but rather exceptionally for familiar two syllable -ate ending words (2/ and 3/ below)).

(LPD, p. 51, -ate) This suffix is regularly strong, eɪt, in verbs, but often weakened to ət ɪt in nouns and adjectives. Its influence on stress depends on the length of the word.
(1) In two syllable verbs stress usually falls on the suffix in BrE
(vi'brate, cre'ate), but on the stem in AmE ('vibrate, 'create).
(2) In longer verbs, the stress generally falls on the antepenultimate ('demonstrate, dis'criminate, as'sociate). There are a few exceptions and cases where speakers disagree ('sequestrate or se'questrate).
(3) In nouns and adjectives the suffix is unstressed ('private, 'climate), and in longer words the primary stress generally falls two syllables back from the suffix ('delegate, 'vertebrate, ap'propriate; important exceptions are in'nate, or'nate, se'date). The suffix vowel is generally weak in familiar words ('climate, 'private), though in some words speakers vary ('candidate, 'magistrate). In more technical words a strong vowel is retained ('sulphate, 'causate).
(4) Note the distinction between verb and noun/adj in cases such as 'separate, as'sociate, 'moderate, 'delegate.

Most of the two syllable -ate ending words ("ət" between parentheses shows an exception to the more usual eɪt pronunciation)

  • 1/ late stress, eɪt, only v.: ablate, collate, cremate, deflate, equate, fixate, formate, gestate, gradate, ligate, locate, migrate, narrate, negate, notate, nutate, orate, palpate, pulsate, pupate, relate, stagnate, titrate, vacate, vibrate,
    (not a suffix but only an ending: ablate, berate, cu'rate (eɪt, v.), dilate, instate)

  • 2/ early stress, eɪt, no v.: chordate, curate (ət for the n.), magnate, prelate (ət), primate (ət (archbishop), eɪt (higher animal)), private (ət), senate (ət),
    (not a suffix but only an ending: cognate (ət), frigate (ət), ingrate, oblate, substrate, template)

  • 3/ early and late stress according to n./a. and v. difference, eɪt: castrate, dictate, frustrate, gyrate (ət for the a.), hydrate, lactate, legate (ət for the n.)
    (not a suffix but only an ending: conflate, donate)

Addition made by user Decapitated Soul in the way of providing more information about the suffix "-ate"

Here's what English Suffixes - Stress-Assignment Properties, Productivity, Selection and Combinatorial Processes by Ives Trivian says:

This noun suffix (from L[atin] -ātus) rivals -ship in denoting offices or functions and -dom or -hood in naming institutions or collective bodies: caliphate, cardinalate, catechumenate (< catechumen), collectorate, consulate, directorate, doctorate, duumvirate (< L <~ duumvir + -ate), electorate, exarchate (= exarchy), governorate, imamate (< imam), in- spectorate, etc. (40 items). In the senses defined above, the -ate noun suffix has been far less productive than its Germanic rivals as it does not have the capacity to attach to native bases. It is probably no longer alive as it has not formed any noun since the end of the 19th century.

-ate is occasionally interchangeable with its rival form -ship in the sense of “position of ” (collectorate/collectorship, pastorate/ pastorship, professorate/professsorship, rectorate/rectorship). In the foregoing noun class the -ate suffix may additionally denote members of a function collectively, a sense which -ship does not have: pastor- ate (s. above + “pastors collectively”); professorate (id. + “professors collectively”). There is no synonymy in the pairs below:

(5) consulship (“post of a consul”) ≠ consulate (“residence or workplace of a consul”); directorship (“post of a director”) ≠ directorate (“group of people directing a corporation”); electorship (“status of an elector”) ≠ electorate (“body of electors in a given district”); governorship (“office of a governor”) ≠ governo- rate (id. + “an administrative division of a country”); inspectorship (“office of an inspector”) ≠ inspectorate (“a body of inspectors”); protectorship (“position of a protector”) ≠ protectorate (“state or area controlled by another state”)

In the meanings defined above, the separable -ate noun suffix is stress-neutral: 'cardinalate <~ 'cardinal, 'governorate < 'governor, 'mandarinate <~ 'mandarin, 'matriarchate < 'matriarch, 'patriarchate <~ 'patriarch, 'presbyterate <~ 'presbyter (cp. synchronically transparent or opaque verbs in -ate and their possible homographic nouns or adjectives, eg. separate, v. and adj., duplicate, v. and n.). In terms of stress-assignment, opaque-stem nouns in -ate denoting a function, institution, etc., will have to be treated together with -ate verbs: legate (+ v.), delegate (id.), etc. (§13.3.1).

-ate is also a noun suffix used in chemistry to designate an element of a compound, especially a salt or ester of an acid named by a noun syngtam with an adjective in -ic (in the same way -ite nouns are correlative to acids with an adjective in -ous, cf. §10.4): acetate <~ acetic acid, borate <~ boric acid, carbonate <~ carbonic acid, chlorate <~ chloric acid, hydrate <~ hydric acid, nitrate <~ nitric acid, sulphate <~ sulphuric acid, etc.

Whereas the foregoing nouns may be analysed as resulting from affix-substitution between -ic and
-ate, the -ate chemical suffix is always stress-neutral, as opposed to -ic (car'bonic/'carbonate), although it does not reduce: ['naɪtr eɪt], etc.

End of addition due to user Decapitated Soul

Note that the stress neutral property of "-ate", as related in the preceding addition, does not take into account the length of the words. In three syllable words stressed on the the second syllable or two syllable words stressed on the first the shift is already effected, so to speak; in many other cases there is a stress shift.

  • 'pastorate, di'rectorate, pro'fessorate, e'lectorate, in'spectorate, pro'tectorate, 'doctorate, 'activate, af'fectionate, 'alienate, a'malgamate, etc.
  • (however) an'tique/'antiquate, a'spire/'aspirate, 'calumny/ca'lumniate, 'certify/cer'tificate, 'college/col'legiate, con'dense/'condensate, de'spair/'desperate, 'difference/diffe'rentiate, di'stil/'distillate, e'xude/'exudate, 'habit/ha'bituate, 'humble/hu'miliate, i'dea/'ideate, etc.

For chemical terms this could be true, but a serious check is needed.

  • 'hydrogen/'hydrogenate, 'oxygen/'oxygenate,
  • I've added a quote (very long) from English Suffixes - Stress-Assignment Properties, Productivity, Selection and Combinatorial Processes by Ives Trivian with which you could support your answer. The quote below the thick line needs to be formatted and for that purpose, I've added the screenshots from the same pages as the quote. You can see the edit history. :) Commented May 17, 2021 at 17:45
  • Also edit out extraneous stuff. The paragraphs I copy-pasted are all a quote. Commented May 17, 2021 at 17:51
  • @Sphinx I am very flattered by your exceptional reward for this little piece of work; it is very kind of you to have used so many of your personal reputation points that way. (In spite of the rather chaotic impression that one gets from the pronunciation of English there are in it rather neat things, and I always thought that this was one of them; perhaps you came to some similar conclusion…)
    – LPH
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 15:19
  • Did you ping me anywhere? I got a notification for the above comment and I have no idea why. This is strange because you have pinged the OP not me. Commented May 27, 2021 at 18:29
  • @DecapitatedSoul No, I didn't; I don't think the software is the best of what could be done. though, it seems that now and again errors occur (I can't quite think they are due to my computer).
    – LPH
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 19:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.