Sentence (1) has a reservative meaning: fall out of love

(1) You can never unlove those who you love.

What about the passive structures? See example (2):

(2) She is unloved by her friends.

Does it entail that she is not loved (adjectival interpretation as in unhappy or untidy) or that she was loved but she ceased to be loved anymore (a reservative interpretation)?


2 Answers 2


Freedictionary indicates that there are 2 suffixes, and each of your two examples correspond to one of them:

There are two prefixes spelled un- in English. (1) One has the basic meaning "not" and attaches chiefly to adjectives (unable, unclean, unequal, unripe, unsafe) and participles used as adjectives (unfeeling, unflinching, unfinished, unsaid).

This is the case of your example (2): She is NOT loved by her friends. About the other -un, the same dictionary says:

(2) The other prefix un- is not related, despite its common origin in Old English. It forms verbs and expresses removal, reversal, or deprivation: undress, unravel, unnerve. This un- is in fact related to the Greek prefix anti-, "against, opposite, in return," which appears in English as the prefix anti-.

This is the case of your example (1): You cannot reverse love, or, as you have mentioned, you cannot fall out of love.

Etymonline explains that the two prefixes can be confusing:

un-(2) is more or less confused with un- (1) through similarity in the notions of "negation" and "reversal;" an adjective such as unlocked might represent "not locked" (un- (1)) or the past tense of unlock (un- (2)).


The difference in meaning between the verb to unlove (and its passive) and the adjective unloved can create ambiguity.

unloved (adj.)

Not loved or held in affection; uncared-for. OED

unlove (verb)

To cease to love (a person or thing).

If you love him, then unlove him.
I have told you..that I had learnt to love Mr. Rochester: I could not unlove him now. OED

So my reading of

(2) She is unloved by her friends

is that she has friends, but they don't love her.

She was unloved by all is more plausible meaning no one loved her, rather than all fell out of love with her.

For (2) to have its other meaning would IMO require some clue that this is the process of unloving someone:

She was unloved by her friends one by one.
She is being unloved by her friends and it is devastating her.

The unloved woman... beginning a sentence is ambiguous. Was she unloved by someone who used to love her, or does nobody love her? The adjective meaning (not loved) is more common than the past participle of to unlove used as an adjective because the verb to love is common and to unlove is not.

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