This has been bugging me for almost a month now.

The reason why I am considering them the same word is because overzealous doesn't change the meaning of zeal in it, while Zealot does.

Is there a term for this example?

  • 1
    I don't understand why you say "overzealous" doesn't change the meaning of "zeal", but "zealot" does. What about, for example, the noun "permit" = a piece of paper (a license) as opposed to the verb "to permit" = to allow someone to do something? Does that "change the meaning"? Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 18:16
  • 1
    A zealot is a person who shows extreme zeal, surely? Commented Dec 18, 2023 at 19:05
  • The duplicate ID here doesn’t really work.
    – Xanne
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 0:41

1 Answer 1


It's not clear what your question means. There is no reasonable linguistic sense in which zealous (never mind overzealous) contains the "word" zeal. It just happens that our imperfect writing system uses the same sequence of letters to denote different sounds in this pair of related words. This happens often. Mouth (noun) and mouth (verb) sound different, but are spelt the same. Ditto live (verb) and live (adjective). Compare also pairs like insane and insanity - the letters of one word are not precisely contained in the second word, but the same thing is going on.

  • Overzealous does not contain the word zeal? Is the problem here defining a word? Are not over and ous a prefix and suffix preceding and following a . . . word?
    – Xanne
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 0:40
  • 1
    What prefixes and suffixes are added to is usually a "stem" or "root". Occasionally this might happen to correspond exactly to a word, but most often it does not.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 12:04

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