Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The words test and prueba, and related words, Part 13

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Go to Part 12

Latin adjectives derived from Lat. prŏbāre


In the previous section we looked at nouns that were derived from the Latin verb prŏbāre. Let us now look at Latin adjectives derived from this verb and words in English and Spanish that descend from those adjectives. There are three such adjectives, the ones shown on Table 179 below.

Latin word
‘approved, etc.’
‘of proof, etc.’
‘of proof, etc.’
Table 179: Latin adjectives derived from the verb prŏbāre

Latin adjectives that were derived from verbs (deverbal adjectives) were either identical to the passive participle of the verb, prŏbātus/a/um in the case of the verb prŏbāre, or derived from the passive participle stem, which was prŏb‑ā‑t‑ for this verb, by means of suffixes. In this section we will look at these Latin adjectives and their reflexes in English and/or Spanish.

Sp. probado/a

Latin used the passive participle of this verb, prŏbātus/a/um, as an adjective, something which was fairly common with Latin verbs. In other words, we are dealing with two identical and related lexemes: the passive participle prŏbātus/a/um and the adjective prŏbātus/a/um derived from it by conversion (without the need for adding suffixes to it, a very common type of conversion found in languages (cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §5.7). . Not all passive participles could be used as adjectives, though many could, such as this one. This Latin adjective is polysemous, just like the verb prŏbāre is polysemous. Its meanings were ‘approved, acceptable, pleasing, agreeable’ and ‘tried, tested, proved’ (CTL).

The Spanish descendant of the passive participle prŏbātus/a/um is the past participle probado/a, which is used in perfect tenses (e.g. No he probado esa cerveza ‘I haven’t tried that beer’) and the passive voice (e.g. Las acusaciones no fueron probadas en el juicio ‘The charges were not proven in the trial’). Additionally, Sp. probado/a can also be used as an adjective, just like its ancestor prŏbātus/a/um could. Its meaning is ‘proven, tried and tested’, as in un hecho probado ‘a proven fact’, un mentiroso probado ‘a proven liar’, or un hecho probado ‘a proven fact’.

Despite the similarities we just saw between the Latin and the Spanish adjectives, it is not at all obvious that the Spanish adjective probado/a is a descendant of the Latin adjective prŏbātus/a/um. It is probably closer to the truth that the Spanish adjective is derived from the identical Spanish past participle of the verb by a regular method of conversion, just like the Latin adjective was derived from the Latin passive participle. After all, Spanish inherited from Latin the ability to convert participles into adjectives with a high degree of freedom. But it is not obvious that the Spanish adjective probado/a is a direct descendant of the Latin adjective prŏbātus/a/um.

The Latin adjective prŏbātus has not been borrowed into English and thus there is no cognate in this language of the Spanish adjective probado/a. Interestingly, the Latin adjective prŏbātus was borrowed into German and Danish as probat, an adjective meaning ‘appropriate’, ‘suitable’, and ‘proven’, just like the source word. English did borrow the verb prove, which is a cognate of Sp. probar, but this verb’s past participles proven and proved were derived from the verb by regular means in this languagethe English inflectional suffixes ‑en and ‑ed, respectivelyand thus, these participles are analogs of the Spanish participle probado/a, but not its cognates.

Eng. probative ~ Sp. probativo/a

One of the most common suffixes that Latin used to derive adjectives from verbs was ‑īv‑, which mostly attached itself to the passive participle stem of verbs (and a few nouns) and created first/second declension adjectives (whose inflectional ending for the nominative singular case was: masculine ‑us, feminine ‑a, and neuter ‑um). This resulted in the post-classical adjective prŏbātīvus/a/um that meant ‘of or relating to proof’ (OED).
Descendants of Lat. prŏbātīvus found in Italian and French in the late 14th century (It. probative and Fr. probatif, now obsolete). In Spanish, probativo/a is attested in the early 15th century (OED). English borrowed the word probative partly from Latin and partly from/through French by the mid-15th century. The word has always been rare and fancy, and it is still used today primarily as a legal term, a use that dates from the 17th century, from Scots Law, meaning ‘providing proof or evidence’ (OED).
Spanish has also borrowed this Latin word, as probativo/a, though only as a (less common) synonym of the adjective probatorio/a (see below). It is first attested in a dictionary in the 18th century, a dictionary that compared the Spanish lexicon to those of Latin, French, and Italian and thus may have been influenced by those languages. Curiously, this word did not appear in the Academy’s dictionary until 1984. It is also used primarily as a legal term and it appears mostly in the collocation argumento probativo ‘evidentiary argument’ (DIRAE).

Eng. probatory ~ Sp. probatorio/a

Another Latin adjective related to the verb prŏbāre was post-classical prŏbātōrĭus/a/um, which originally meant ‘related to trial or testing’ (5th century) but which later developed other meanings as well (OED). This adjective contained the derivational suffix ‑ōr‑ĭ‑ that formed first/second declension adjectives (ending in ‑us/‑a/‑um) from the passive participle stem of verbs. Originally, this ending resulted from the addition of the adjectival suffix ‑ĭ‑ to agent nouns formed with the agent suffix ‑ōr‑ that attached itself to the passive participle stem of verbs (which typically ended in ‑t‑, but also sometimes ‑s‑, resulting in the endings t‑ōr‑ĭ‑(us) and s‑ōr‑ĭ‑(us)). English and Spanish have many such adjectives that end in Eng. ‑tory ~ Sp. ‑torio/a, such as Eng. obligatory and transitory and Sp. obligatorio and transitorio/a (and sometimes also Eng. ‑sory ~ Sp. ‑sorio/a, such as Eng. sensory ~ Sp. sensorio/a).[a]

English borrowed this Latin adjective as probatory in the late 16th century as a synonym of the adjective probative that we just saw, originally with the meaning ‘having the quality or function of proving or demonstrating’ (OED). (French too has reflexes of this Latin adjective from around the same time, cf. Fr. probatoire.) Nowadays, Eng. probatory is used almost exclusively as a legal term and the few English dictionaries that carry this word just say about it that it is a synonym of probative. Curiously, however, the two most recent examples of this word’s use in English in the OED, from 1970 and 2002, show uses of this word in non-legal contexts, e.g. Samples of tumors or normal tissue were obtained by probatory excision (1970).

Spanish also borrowed this Latin adjective as probatorio/a, presumably directly from written Latin and not from another language that borrowed it first, also as a synonym of the adjective probativo/a. It first appeared in a dictionary of the Academy (RAE) in 1737. Its most general meaning is ‘that serves to prove or find out the truth of something’ (DLE), though it is used primarily in the name of a technical legal term to refer to the ‘period of time given by the law of by a judge to prepare a trial’ (DLE), found in the phrase término probatorio (equivalent to the noun probatoria, as we shall see below).

Curiously, from the neuter form of this Latin adjective, a noun was derived in Medieval Latin, namely probātōrĭum, primarily to name a building housing religious novices. (In a religious context, a Eng. novice and Sp. novicio/a refer to ‘a person who has entered a religious order and is under probation, before taking vows’, COED.) This word was used in English in the 17th century with the meanings ‘a house for probationers or novices’, but also ‘a place or thing for testing something’ (OED). (The English word probationer was derived in this language in the 16th century from the noun probation and the agent suffix ‑er for a person on probation.)

Finally, we should mention that there was a post-classical Latin noun derived from the adjective prŏbātōrĭus/a/um, namely prŏbātōrĭa. Its original meaning was ‘a letter of recommendation (from the emperor)’ (5th century) and, later on, ‘a certificate of qualification’ (L&S). The noun use of the feminine form of this adjective stems, no doubt, from an ellipsis of the phrase epistula probatoria ‘commendatory letter’ (OED). Curiously, Spanish has adopted the feminine noun probatoria as equivalent to the legal term término probatorio that we just saw earlier in this section.

A false positive

Before leaving this topic, let us mention a Latin word that superficially looks like an adjective derived from the verb prŏbāre, namely the post-classical Latin word probaticus that meant ‘of or relating to sheep’. This word is unrelated to the Latin verb prŏbāre since it is a loanword from Hellenistic Greek προβατικός (probatikós) ‘belonging to sheep’, from Ancient Greek πρόβατον (próbaton) ‘sheep’ (in other dialects, it meant ‘cattle’) and ‘animals for sacrifices’ (OED). This word has made it into English as probatic and Spanish as probático for the simple reason that it appears in the New Testament of the (Christian) Bible as the Latin (mis)translation of the original Greek used this Greek word used to refer to a location in Jerusalem associated with cattle, in particular the site of a miracle recorded in the gospel of John (John 5:2). The Latin mistranslation of the original Greek has been translated into English as probatic (pool) and into Spanish as (piscina) probática.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The words test and prueba, and related words, Part 12

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Go to Part 11

Latin nouns derived from Lat. prŏbāre


There are several Latin nouns derived from the verb prŏbāre. Latin had different ways to derive nouns of different types (action, actor, etc.) from verbs. Some were derived by adding a suffix to the verbal root, in this case prŏb‑. Most nouns that came from verbs in Latin, however, were derived by adding suffixes to the verb’s perfect stem which also contained other suffixes, such as the vowel ā‑ associated with first conjugation verbs, and the passive suffix ‑t‑, which in this case resulted in the stem prŏb‑ā‑t(cf. Part I, Chapter 8, § Some deverbal nouns were derived from a form of the passive participle without the addition of any derivational suffixes, only inflectional ones. The nouns derived from that verb are those in Table 178 below. The stem is given in each case, next to the derivational suffix (if there is one) and the inflection of the wordform from which the English and Spanish nouns were taken.

Below we will look at the first four of these nouns: prŏbātum, prŏbĭtātem, prŏbātĭōnem, and prŏbātōrem. They are the ones that have descendants in English and/or Spanish. The last one, prŏbātōrĭa, has no reflexes in these two languages, but its origin will be discussed in the next section, which is about adjctives derived from the verb prŏbāre.

In addition to those five the nouns, there could have been other Latin nouns derived from this verb. One possible additional word would have been *prŏbātūra, formed with the Latin feminine suffix ‑ūr‑(a), which derived abstract nouns from adjectives, added to the passive stem. There is no evidence, however, that such a Latin word existed. Curiously, the word probatura is found in the Spanish dictionary, as a colloquial (and very rare) synonym of the word prueba. María Moliner’s dictionary even gives a sample sentence, cf. Me cansan tantas probaturas ‘I am tired of so many tests’. It would seem that this word was not borrowed from Latin but, rather, created in Spanish, probably for humoristic purposes, from the root prob‑ by analogy with real loanwords from Latin such as aventura and abreviatura by means of the Latinate suffix ‑dura/‑tura.

Eng. probate

Lat. prŏbātum was first of all the neuter form of the adjective prŏbātus, identical in form to the passive participle prŏbātus/a/um of the verb prŏbāre. The adjective meant something like ‘proved’ and the noun prŏbātum ‘thing (that has been) proved’. Spanish does not have a descendant (reflex) of this noun, either a patrimonial or a borrowed one, but English did borrow it from Latin in the early 15th century as probate [ˈpʰɹ̯.ˌbeɪ̯t] with the customary change of the inflection ending to ‑e adopted from French.

Among the first attested meanings of the English noun probate were ‘the act of proving something’, ‘the fact of being proved’, ‘proof, demonstration’, ‘evidence, testimony’ (OED).  By the middle of the 15th century, however, this word was being as a legal term with the meaning that has persisted until today, namely ‘the official proving of a will; the legal process involving this’ (OED). This noun translates into Spanish as legalización/autenti(fi)cación/validación de un testamento.

In noun-noun compounds, the noun probate can act as a modifier (‘adjective’), resulting in common phrases such as probate law (Sp. ley testamentaria or ley de sucesiones), probate judge (Sp. juez testamentario/a), and probate court (Sp. tribunal testamentario). In North America, the noun probate has been converted into a verb, to probate, meaning ‘[to] establish the validity of (a will)’ (COED), e.g. After her death, Merchants probated her will and subsequently petitioned for a final settlement of the estate (OED). This verb translates into Spanish as legalizar/autenticar un testamento.

Eng. probation ~ Sp. probación

The nouns Eng. probation ~ Sp. probación are cognates, since they descend from the same Latin word, but they are false friends since they do not share their meanings in other than a very remote way. They are both loanwords from Lat. prŏbātĭōnem, the accusative wordform of the noun that is prŏbātĭō in the nominative form (prŏb‑ā‑t+ĭōn‑em). Its meaning was ‘a trying, proving’ and ‘a trial, inspection, examination’ (L&S). It was formed with the suffix ‑ĭōn‑ that formed action nouns from verbs, and which attached itself to the verb’s passive participle stem, prŏb‑ā‑t‑ in his case.

Sp. probación is a very rare synonym of the nouns prueba ‘test’ or comprobación ‘verification, checking’ (see above). It is safe to say that most native speakers of Spanish have never encountered this word. The first sense according to the DLE is a synonym of prueba ‘test’, but the second is one used in religious orders, referring to a trial period lasting at least one year in which priest candidates must prove their ‘vocation and virtue’.[1] Sp. probación is found in the 1737 version of the Academy’s dictionary (DRAE), though it is attested in an early dictionary from 1505 (DIRAE).

Eng. probation, on the other hand, is a common word, one that has two related meanings. In legal matters, it refers to ‘the release of an offender from detention, subject to a period of good behavior under supervision’ and, in non-legal contexts, it refers to ‘the process of testing or observing the character or abilities of a person who is new to a role or job’ (COED). In North America, the word is also used in an academic context with the meaning ‘a limited period of time granted to a student in which to improve conduct or academic performance (failure to do so typically resulting in exclusion). Usually in on probation’ (OED). This word translates into Spanish as libertad condicional in the legal context and as período de prueba in the context of employment and the non-legal contexts. Eng. probation is attested as early as the early 15th century, with the sense ‘putting something to the test; trial, etc.’. Later the word acquired religious and other senses. The legal sense of the English word is from the late 19th century and it originated in the US.

Eng. probity ~ Sp. probidad

We have already come across these cognates in this chapter. They are formal and rare nouns that are loanwords from Lat. prŏbĭtātem (nominative: prŏbĭtas), and abstract noun derived from the verb prŏbāre. It was derived from the adjective prŏbus/a ‘good, proper, well-behaved, etc.’ and it meant ‘goodness, worth, uprightness, honesty, probity; modesty’ (L&S).

Sp. probidad is related to (and as formal as) the adjective probo/a ‘honest’ that we saw earlier. In English, probity cannot be related to an adjective, so it is even rarer and more of an orphan than its Spanish cognate. In theory, the two words are good friends (same meaning) but most Spanish-English dictionaries translate probidad not as probity but as honesty, integrity (Vox), since probity is such a rare word.

The OED tells us that probity came into the English language through writing by the hand of different authors and although some many have borrowed it from Latin, others took it from Middle French probité ‘strict honesty, integrity, rectitude, decency’, also a learned word in that language (a loanword from Latin). Eng. probity is first attested in the first half of the 15th century. The first citation of this word in the OED is from 1425 and the next one is from almost a century later, 1518. The French cognate probité is first attested in 1420 according to Le Grand Robert (LGR), so they both came about around the same time. Clearly anybody who used these words in written English or French at the time also knew Latin, which made the introduction of such Latin loanwords unproblematic for the reader. Eng. probity, however, is one of those loanwords that never really caught on in popular speech, though it also refused to become obsolete altogether, since it kept on being used occasionally by writers. It is safe to say, however, that most English speakers have never heard it or seen it used in their lives.

We do not know when Sp. probidad was first used in Spanish. We do know that it wasn’t in the first editions of the Academy’s dictionary (DRAE) in the 18th century and that it first appeared in that dictionary in 1803 (DIRAE). It is possible that it didn’t appear until then because it was so rare, but it could also be that it didn’t start being used until then because it was borrowed through French, simply adapting the French ending ‑ité from the Latin ‑ĭtātem, to what the ending always changed to in Spanish, namely ‑idad. The Academy’s dictionary of course says that the word is a loanword from Latin, not French.

Eng. probator ~ Sp. probador

Finally, Latin had a noun probātor (accusative wordform: probātōrem) that in classical Latin meant ‘examiner, approver’, but which in later Latin, also came to mean ‘person who accuses an accomplice’ (OED). This word was derived from the passive participle stem probāt‑ and the agent suffix ‑ōr‑ (the nominative singular form of this suffix was ‑or, not followed by any inflection).

The noun probātor is commonly found with the ‘accuser’ sense in Latin legal writings found in Britain in the mid-12th to mid-15th centuries and from there it was borrowed into English in the late 13th century as the noun probator (OED). Later on, Eng. probator also came to mean ‘one who appeals to a higher tribunal’ (OED). This word, however, is obsolete today and fully out of circulation (that is what the † next to the word in the OED entry indicates, cf. Part I, Chapter 4, §4.6.2).

Spanish also borrowed this word in the Middle Ages, as probador, but its meaning was different, although also related to the law, and perhaps closer to the original ‘examiner’ meaning, since it meant ‘defense lawyer’. Although the word was a loan from Latin, it changed the ending from ‑ator to ‑ador, which is a common suffix adaptation, for ‑ador is what Latin ‑ā‑t‑ōr‑ had become in patrimonial words, that is, in Latin words descended though the ages by word-of-mouth, not borrowed (cf. Part I, Chapter 1). Much like Eng. probator, Sp. probador became obsolete and this descendant of Lat. probātor is not found in Spanish anymore.

However, Spanish still has a word probador, but this word seems to have been formed in Spanish with the patrimonial suffix ‑ador that descends from the same Latin ending ‑ā‑tōr(em) attached to the root of the verb probar, and thus it would be incorrect to call it a cognate of Middle English probator. Modern Spanish probador means primarily ‘changing room, fitting room’ in modern Spanish and it is thus derived from the ‘try on’ sense of the verb probar and the ‑ador ending here has the (less common) sense of ‘place’, not of ‘agent, doer’, a sense also found in the word comedor ‘dining room’, for example. Conceivably, the word probador can also be used as an agent noun (and adjective) to describe a person or thing that does any of the things that the verb probar means, such as ‘taster’, ‘someone who tries things on’, etc.

Go to Part 13

[1] DLE: ‘En las órdenes regulares, examen y prueba que debe hacerse, al menos durante un año, de la vocación y virtud de los novicios antes de profesar.’

Monday, April 13, 2020

The words test and prueba, and related words, Part 11

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Go to Part 10

Eng. probable ~ Sp. probable and related adverbs

The cognate adjectives Eng. probable ~ Sp. probable are learned words (Latin loans) in both languages that ultimately go back to the classical Latin adjective prŏbābĭlis. Lat. prŏbābĭlis is clearly derived from the present stem prŏb‑ā‑ of the verb prŏbāre, and the suffix ‑bĭl‑ that formed adjectives from verbs, the source of Eng. ‑(a)ble in words like movable and lovable and Sp. ‑(a/i)ble in words like lavable ‘washable’ and querible ‘lovable’. The ‑is ending is a the nominative singular inflection for third declension adjectives. Note that a form of this Latin adjective, the neuter nominative form prŏbābĭle, came to be used in Latin as a neuter noun meaning ‘appearance of truth, probability’.


The Latin adjective had two main meanings. The first one was closely related to the second meaning of the verb prŏbāre, ‘to approve’ (cf. §1.5): ‘worthy of approval, pleasing, agreeable, acceptable, commendable, laudable’ (CTL). The second meaning was related to the third meaning of the verb, namely ‘to prove, demonstrate’: ‘likely, credible, probable, plausible’ (CTL). It is this second meaning that is closest to the meaning of the reflexes of this adjective in English and Spanish.

Eng. probable [ˈpʰɹɒbəbəl] ‘likely to happen or be the case’ (COED) didn’t come into the language just one time and from one source and then spread from there. It seems that it was introduced at different times in the late 14th century both from Middle French probable and from its classical Latin etymon prŏbābĭlis. Fr. probable is attested as early as the year 1380, and an earlier version proubable meaning ‘that can be proven’ is attested a hundred years earlier, in 1285.

In British English, the word probable can be used as a noun meaning ‘a person likely to become or do something’ (COED), ie. ‘someone who is likely to be chosen for a team, to win a race etc.’ (LDCE). There is one expression with this word in legal US terminology dating back to the late 17th century, namely probable cause, which means ‘reasonable grounds to believe that a particular person has committed a crime’ (COED). There is no equivalent concept in jurisprudence in the Spanish-speaking world, but specialized English-Spanish dictionaries give a number of possible Spanish translations, such as causa razonable, causa presunta, and motivo fundado. Nonetheless, one can expect that due to the law of least effort, Spanish speakers in North America will often resort to the calque causa probable to translate Eng. probable cause.

Sp. probable [pɾoˈβaβle] is also attested very early on, just like in French, or even earlier, in the mid-13th century, then spelled provable. It seems that Old Spanish probable could be an adjective and a noun that meant ‘that can be proven, provable’ and ‘thing that can be proven’ (Nebrija, 1495, cf. DCEH).[1] Also, Sp. probable is a polysemous word, just like the verb probar, and in addition to meaning ‘probably/likely’, it can also mean ‘provable, demostrable’. María Moliner’s dictionary tells us that Spanish speakers often avoid using the word probable with the ‘provable’ sense because it lends itself to confusion with the ‘probable’ sense, which is more basic, preferring to use the synonyms demostrable, verificable, or comprobable (from demostrar, verificar, and comprobar, respectively).[2]

There are other differences in meaning and usage beteen the cognates Eng. probable ~ Sp. probable besides the ones we have already seen. Note, first of all, that English has a Germanic synonym for the word probable, namely likely, apparently a loanword from Old Norse líkligr ‘likely’, though Old English also had a related, prefixed word ġelīclīċ meaning ‘fitting, proper’. Eng. likely is the more basic word of the probable-likely pair, which is why this word is used in the definition of the word probable in all English dictionaries (see above). Thus, Sp. probable can be translated into English as either probable or likely, and most often it is translated by the latter, which is more common in English than the former. Spanish, on the other hand, only has one word, probable, to cover the territory of both English words.

Note also that Eng. likely can be used as an adverb in addition to as an adjective, as in She will likely come or She is likely to come, cf. Sp. Es probable que venga, Vendrá probablemente. (Note that you cannot say *She will probable come or *She is probable to come, where the * indicates that the construction is not grammatical with this word.) The English synonyms probable and likely are also not fully interchangeable in all grammatical contexts. With some constructions, English must use likely and not probable, such as in the construction It’s (not) likely (with what is likely or not being left understood), e.g. Do you think she’ll come? It’s (not) likely (not *It’s (not) probable.). Eng. likely, but not probable, is also used in the construction likely/*probable for … to…, as in It is likely/*probable for it to rain tomorrow. On the other hand, both can be used in the construction likely/probable that…, as It is likely/probable that it will rain tomorrow.

Both English and Spanish have derived adverbs from their respective adjectives: Eng. probably (probable+ly) and its semi-cognate or paronym Sp. probablemente (probable+mente). These adverbs have been created in their respective languages from the adjectives and the adverb-forming suffix used in each language: Eng. ‑ly and Sp. ‑mente (cf. Part I, Chapter 5, §5.5, § Remember that a synonym for probably is likely, when this word is used as a verb-modifying adverb rather than as a noun-modifying adjective.

The two adjectives also have as antonyms, namely Eng. improbable (= unlikely) ~ Sp. improbable. Their ultimate source is Lat. prŏbābĭlis, formed with the prefix im‑ (the version of the prefix in‑ used before p, b, or m). Eng. improbable is first attested in the late 16th century and Sp. improbable is first attested in a dictionary in the early 17th century. Most English dictionaries give two senses for the word improbable. One is the expected ‘not likely to be true or to happen’ (COED), which translates into Spanish as improbable. The other one can be defined as ‘unexpected and apparently inauthentic’ (COED) or ‘surprising and slightly strange’ (LDCE), as in improbable combinations of colors (LDCE) or The team made an improbable comeback (MWALD).  This sense of Eng. improbable translates into Spanish as inverosímil, an adjective derived from (and the antonym of) verosímil ‘credible, plausible, likely, probable’.

English also created an adverb from this antonym of the adjective probable in the mid-17th century, namely improbably, which means ‘in an improbable manner; without likelihood. Usually qualifying the statement as a whole, and denoting that it is not likely to be true; now chiefly in not improbably, an expression for ‘with more or less probability’’ (OED), as in improbably cheap prices (CALD), He claimed, improbably, that he had never been there (OALD), or an improbably happy end (OALD). There is no analogous Spanish adverb derived from the adjective improbable, since the word *improbablemente does not exist. Rather, the English adverb improbably translates into Spanish as  increíblemente, an adverb derived from the adjective increíble ‘incredible’ (cf. precios increíblemente baratos, Afirmó, increíblemente, que nunca había estado allí, and un final feliz increíble).

There are also cognate nouns derived from these adjectives, namely Eng. probability (= likelihood) ~ Sp. probabilidad. They descend ultimately from Lat. prŏbābĭlītātem (nom.: prŏbābĭlītas), an abstract noun derived from the Latin adjective prŏbābĭlis by means of the derivational suffix ĭ‑tāt‑ that creates abstract nouns (cf. Part I, Chapter 8). Eng. probability is attested in the mid-15th century and its main meaning today is ‘the extent to which something is probable’ (COED), as in The probability of winning the lottery is really very low (LDCE) (cf. Sp. La probabilidad de ganar la lotería es realmente muy pequeña). Additionally, there is a secondary meaning derived from the primary one, namely ‘a probable or most probable event’ (COED), as in A peace agreement now seems a probability rather than a possibility (LDCE). Sp. probabilidad is also used with both senses. Additionally, both cognates share their use in statistical technical language where they mean ‘a number expressing the likelihood that a specific event will occur, expressed as the ratio of the number of actual occurrences to the number of possible occurrences’ (AHD). An idiomatic expression with the English noun is in all probability, meaning ‘most probably; very likely’, as in In all probability, she won’t come today (cf. Sp. Muy probablemente no vendrá hoy, Lo más probable es que no venga, or Con toda probabilidad no vendrá hoy).

Finally, a new word was created in French in the late 17th century out of the adjective probable, cognate of Eng. probable and Sp. probable. The word is probabilisme and it was formed by adding the suffix ‑ism of Greek origin to the stem probabil‑ of the Latin source adjective prŏbābĭlis. The word was created for use in philosophical and religious contexts. Both English and Spanish have borrowed this word, as Eng. probabilism and Sp. probabilismo. All of these words have two senses or definitions: (1) in philosophy, ‘the doctrine, introduced by the Skeptics, that certainty is impossible and that probability suffices to govern faith and practice’ and (2) in Roman Catholic theology ‘a theory that in cases of doubt as to the lawfulness of an action, it is permissible to follow a sound opinion favoring its lawfulness’ (RHWU). An analogous set of cogantes adjectives are Eng. possibilism ~ Sp. posibilismo ~ Fr. possibilisme, which refer to ‘the policy of confining efforts to what is immediately possible or practicable’ (WNTIU).

Go to Part 12

[1] The noun found in Nebrija’s late 15th century works was spelled probabile, like the Latin noun prŏbābĭle derived from the adjective prŏbābĭlis (DCEH). The meanings of the two nouns, however, are not the same.

[2] Source: ‘1. (poco usado por prestarse a confusión con la 2.ª acep.) adj. Susceptible de ser probado. Demostrable’ (MM).

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The words test and prueba, and related words, Part 10

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Spanish Linguistics.]

Go to Part 9

Sp. comprobar

The final Latin verb that was derived from prŏbāre by prefixation was comprŏbāre, which was formed with the prefix con‑ or com‑ (the latter when the next letter was p, b, or m), which is related to the preposition cŭm ‘with’ (source of Sp. con ‘with’). This prefix was often used to indicate completeness of an act, thus adding to the meaning of the original source verb a sense of intensity, which is why it is often called an intensive prefix. And that is what this prefix added to the meaning of this verb, which meant (1) ‘to approve wholly of something, to assent to, sanction, acknowledge’ or (2) ‘to prove, establish, attest, make good, show, confirm, verify something to others as true, good, excellent, virtuous, etc.’ (L&S). This was a very common verb in classical Latin.

This Latin verb did not make it into Old Spanish by patrimonial word-of-mouth transmission, but Spanish borrowed the verb by the 17th century and it has become a common, everyday verb in Modern Spanish as well. Like probar, this is a stem-changing verb, cf. compruebo, etc. The DLE defines this verb as ‘to confirm, check the truth or accuracy of something’, which was the second meaning of Lat. comprŏbāre.[1] Other Spanish dictionaries, such as Vox or María Moliner, give two senses for the word comprobar, which is a more accurate analysis. The two senses are the following:
  1. the ‘confirm, show, prove’ sense, as in Esto comprueba lo que ya suponíamos ‘That confirms what we already thought’ (MM), and
  2. the ‘check in order to confirm, show, prove’ or ‘put to the test’ sense, as in Voy a comprobar si el dinero está donde lo dejé ‘I am going to check if the money is where I left it’ (MM) or Comprueba que funciona la radio ‘Check/make sure the radio is working’
Although dictionaries that give those two senses give them in that order, there is little doubt that the second sense is the most common and primary one in Modern Spanish.

Spanish-English dictionaries usually give more than two senses for Sp. comprobar, and thus more than two possible English translations. Collins gives three and Oxford and Vox give four. The additional senses are mostly the result of splitting one of the two senses above more finely. The main English translations that dictionaries give for this verb are (1) confirm, show, and (2) check, make sure, and verify. There are other possible but less common translations in some contexts for Sp. comprobar, such as to prove (syn.: demostrar), as in El pasaporte comprueba quién soy ‘The passport shows/proves who I am’, and even to realize or to notice, as in Comprobé que me faltaba la cartera ‘I realized/noticed that my wallet was missing’, though this last sentence would most commonly mean ‘I verified that my wallet was missing’ or ‘I check to confirm that my wallet was missing’.

Modern English does not have a cognate of this verb, and neither does Modern French. The Oxford English Dictionary tells us, however, that the verb was borrowed into English from Latin at some point in the first half of the 16th century, as comprobate, though this verb never really caught on and is thus obsolete today. It was a transitive verb that meant ‘to prove, confirm; to approve, sanction’ (OED). The form comprobate was taken from the passive participle comprŏbātus of the verb comprŏbāre. The OED gives two examples of its use, one from 1531 and one from 1660. The French language also seems to have toyed with this Latin verb, since it is attested in the 16th century with the spellings compruver, comprouver and compreuver, as a synonym of the verb prouver (see above), but the verb is absent from modern dictionaries, even those that report archaic and some obsolete words. Other major modern Romance languages do have reflexes of this verb, however, just like Spanish does: Catalan comprovar, Galician comprobar, Italian comprovare, and Portuguese comprovar.

There was at least one word derived from the verb comprŏbāre in classical Latin, namely the noun comprŏbātĭo (accusative wordform: comprŏbātĭōnem), derived from the verb’s passive participle stem comprŏbāt‑ and the noun-forming suffix ‑ĭōn‑.  We are told that it meant ‘approbation, approval’ (L&S), derived from the first sense of the verb comprŏbāre, ‘to approve’. Spanish has a reflex of this noun, namely comprobación, a common word, but its meaning is derived from that of the verb comprobar¸ and the DLE defines it just that way, as ‘the action or result of comprobar’.[2] Thus, comprobación means ‘verification, checking, testing, ascertaining’ (the act of comprobar) or ‘check, checkup, ascertainment, audit’ (the result of comprobar). Supposedly in Colombia it also means ‘test’. There is a fairly common expression that contains this word, de difícil comprobación, which can translate as hard to prove (equivalent to difícil de comprobar).

Other Spanish words derived by regular morphological means from the verb comprobar are the adjective comprobable ‘demonstrable, verifiable, provable’ and noun comprobador ‘verifier, checker, tester’, as in comprobador de corriente ‘(electric) current tester’. One derived word whose existence and meaning are less regular or obvious is comprobante, which can be used as an adjective meaning ‘that verifies’ but which is mostly used as a masculine noun that means ‘something that serves to verify, ascertain, etc.’ and, more specifically, ‘a receipt or document that confirms a deal or transaction’ (DLE), e.g. comprobante de pago/compra ‘proof of payment/purchase, receipt’ (OSD).[3] Another adjective that is synonymous with comprobante is comprobatorio/a, as in documentos comprobatorios ‘verifying documents’ or dato comprobatorio ‘piece of supporting evidence’.

Go to Part 11

[1] DLE: ‘Verificar, confirmar la veracidad o exactitud de algo’.
[2] ‘Acción y efecto de comprobar’ (DLE).
[3] ‘1. adj. Que comprueba.  2. m. Recibo o documento que confirma un trato o gestión.’ (DLE)

The words test and prueba, and related words, Part 13

[This entry is taken from a chapter of Part II of the open-source textbook  Spanish-English Cognates: An Unconventional Introduction to Span...