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.]

This is Part 10. 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)

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