Is there a specific name for adjectives such as porcine that are special forms of words meaning "relating to" some other thing? They are often:

  • based on classical words and end in 'al' and 'ine'
  • can exist separately and mean differently than tyical English endings used to create adjectives (such as 'y' or 'ly', or 'ish')
  • more literal and restrictive than English endings when both exist

For example:

  • floral means "relating to flowers", even though flowery is a valid and more English word. But floral means more strictly and literally "relating to flowers" while flowery is often used in a figurative sense, such as "flowery language".

  • porcine means literally "relating to pigs", while piggish and porky are more English words but almost never meant literally.

  • piscine means literally "relating to fish", while fishy is the obvious English word that has both literal ("salmon is less fishy than cod") and figurative ("a fishy situation") meanings.

Their origin in English probably comes from scientific use, where literal and specific meanings are important, and classical sources are almost always used to create new terms. Still, is there a name for this? For bonus points, are there any examples that are not clasically derived words?

  • ... not only "relating to" some other thing, but also "made of", as in crystalline, and "associated with", as in tangerine (a fruit originally imported from Tangier)! +1, anyway! Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 20:02
  • ... and, most important, the spelling ine varies with ene in certain cases: gasoline and gasolene, kerosine and kerosene, benzine and benzene, fluorine and fluorene, etc, etc, etc! Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 20:06
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    OED says benzine - the name originally given to benzene. I do not believe there is a credible distinction. Nor do I believe kerosine is meaningfully "an English word". Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 20:22
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    @FumbleFingers No, you are wrong (and is wrong who has upvoted your comment, too)! benzine and benzene are used to distinguish different chemical substance. Benzine is a mixture of hydrocarbons; benzene is a single species of hydrocarbon molecule! But, fortunately, you are not a chemist! Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 20:47
  • @FumbleFingers ... and I remember you the "kerosine lamp" (dictionary.reference.com/browse/kerosine+lamp)! However, I know, its spelling is not quite standardized! Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 20:52

3 Answers 3


Basically the description given is the description used. Since English has so many words that come from Latin (either straight or aged in Norman French), it has tended to borrow whole sets of words formed on individual roots.

Thus, denominal "adjectives" in -al/ar were already formed in Classical Latin. Of course, classical grammarians would simply have called them Nouns -- "Adjective" is a modern Part of Speech.

There is no special term for these words, which all have their own peculiarities. Don't forget, every word in the language has its own individual history, the result of its millions of daily uses, in the mouths of millions of speakers, over thousands of years.

History is not something that happens to classes of words as a group, but to each word in its own way. Classification and generalization comes later; nobody noticed the Great Vowel Shift while it was going on, after all.

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    Good point. I do a lot of programming, and have much interest in mathematics, so having a precise name for categories of things is something I am accustomed to and enjoy. But natural language is an organic development, not a declarative construction. So while patterns emerge they may not be (yet) named; the "pattern" is merely an observation, not a definition. Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 13:50
  • Also see my answer as to why there is no term for this. Commented Sep 1, 2012 at 14:53

Some terms for the groups named by such words (unfortunately not quite what you asked about) are nominal category and nominal group: “a group of objects or ideas that can be collectively grouped on the basis of shared, arbitrary characteristic”.

The word pertainym may apply; of which, wiktionary says: “(computational linguistics) a word, usually an adjective, which can be defined as "of or pertaining to" another word”. If I understand correctly, floral, porcine, and piscine are pertainyms.

  • Yes - in OP's case, ornate/extravagent, fat/greedy, and smelly/suspicious are the characteristics arbitrarily assigned as "archetypal" to those plants/animals. Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 20:17
  • Note, @FumbleFingers comment applies to first paragraph of answer; 2nd paragraph was added later. Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 20:25
  • slow is a pertainym of slowly (that's also from a "computational linguistics" perspective - I doubt the term has much meaning in traditional grammar). Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 20:30
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    @FumbleFingers, I've struck out my paragraph about pertainym; it was incorrect on another basis besides what you mentioned: floral, porcine, and piscine are adjectives rather than nouns Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 20:48
  • I've never used strikeout, but I must say it seems much better there than just deleting text (or trying to explain that you don't fully endorse it). I must watch out for a chance to use it myself. The first para was always solid though. I recall being struck recently by someone saying late at night that her cat was "out doing catty things" - much more striking than "feline", but with no danger of being [mis]interpreted according to the usual meaning of "catty". Commented Aug 31, 2012 at 23:11

In all the cases presented the English word really means "having the qualities of" the target, while the classical word means "pertaining to". For example, fishy means "having the qualities of a fish" while piscine means "pertaining to fish". And for a non-biological example: fraternal means "pertaining to brothers" while brotherly signifies "having the qualities of a brother".

jwpat7 pointed out the term "pertainym" which is probably the closest. But I believe now that the reason there is no widely recognized English term for the "pertaining to" form is that English simply uses a noun adjunct for that very purpose.

Using the three example words from the question plus a couple of others you could use the classical forms presented, or for the English form you just use the noun itself:

Classical            English
Floral container     Flower box
Porcine enclosure    Pig sty
Piscine reservoir    Fish pond
Nephrotic syndrome   Kidney disease

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