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Other words with descendants of the root prŏb-
Eng. approve ~ Sp. aprobar and related words
These cognate verbs Eng. approve ~ Sp. aprobar are fairly close friends (have very similar meanings), but there are some differences in their meanings and uses, as we shall see. Ultimately they both come from Lat. apprŏbāre ‘to assent to as good, to regard as good, to approve, to favor’ (L&S), a verb related to the verb prŏbāre from which it differs by having the prefix ad‑ ‘to’, which changed to ap‑ before a root that started with p‑: ad + prŏbāre adprŏbāre, apprŏbāre. As we can see, the meaning of this verb is the same as one of the meanings of the verb prŏbāre, the second one that we listed above.
English borrowed this word through Old French aprover around the year 1300 (cf. Modern French approuver [apʀuˈve]). As we mentioned in the preceding section, there is a second, but rare, verb approve in English that is unrelated to this one. The second verb approve has a similar origin as and shares a root with the verb improve that we mentioned earlier.
One English verb approve, the one that descends from Lat. apprŏbāre, has two main, related meanings. One, is a transitive use of this verb (with a direct object) and it means ‘[to] officially accept as satisfactory’ (COED) or ‘to officially accept a plan, proposal etc.’ (LDCE), as in The conference approved a proposal for a referendum (LDCE). We will refer to this meaning as the ‘approve before the fact by a competent authority’ sense.
The second sense is an intransitive one (without a direct object), typically with an object with the preposition of, an ‘of prepositional phrase’, which can be defined as ‘[to] believe that someone or something is good or acceptable’ (COED) or ‘to think that someone or something is good, right, or suitable’ (LDCE), as in I approve of what you’re doing. We will refer to this sense as the ‘approve after the fact by an interested party’. Note that the of-prepositional phrase complement may be left out if understood, as in My parents (don’t) approve.
There is antonym of this second sense of the verb approve (but not the first one), namely disapprove. According to the OED, this verb was created (derived) in English from the verb approve and the negative prefix dis‑ in the mid-16th century. However, there is a French verb désapprouver that is attested a few years earlier, in 1535 (LGR), so English may very well have borrowed or calqued the verb disapprove from French. If so, the verb was formed in French from the verb approuver and the Latinate prefix des‑ (equivalent to dis‑ in English). What is clear is that these antonyms do not descend from a Latin verb but were rather created in the modern languages, since Latin never attached the prefix dĭs‑ to the verb apprŏbāre.
Eng. approve also has a few additional senses that are now rare or archaic, according to the more complete dictionaries. One of them is the sense ‘display, exhibit, make proof of’ (SOED), which, interestingly, is similar to one of the senses of prove. This shows the close historical connection between these two verbs, one that goes back to their Latin ancestors, since as we saw there is a partial overlap of meanings between the two Latin verbs, prŏbāre and apprŏbāre.
In Spanish, aprobar is attested in the mid-13th century (with the spelling aprovar). At the time, this verb seems to have been solely a synonym or variant of (some of the senses of) the verb probar, much like Eng. approve could in the past be a synonym of prove, as we just saw (DCEH). The word aprobar is not attested with the current meaning (similar to the Latin and English ones) until the 15th century, perhaps under the influence of French approuver and/or of Latin apprŏbāre.
The main meaning of Sp. aprobar is the same as the first meaning of Eng. approve, namely ‘approve before the fact by a competent authority’, as in El comité aprobó el plan ‘The committee approved the plan’. Note, however, that if the thing that is being approved is not explicitly mentioned and it is merely understood, then Spanish would not use this verb, like English would approve, but rather expressions such as dar su aprobación, dar el visto bueno, or estar de acuerdo. In English, it is possible for the verb approve to be used intransitively with the first sense, as in We asked to leave and she approved, but this is not possible in Spanish.
The second sense of Eng. approve, the ‘approve after the fact by an interested party’ sense, does not typically translate into Spanish with the verb aprobar. To translate that sense of the English verb, Spanish would use other expressions such as gustar or ver con buenos ojos, as in My parents don’t approve of my friends = Sp. A mis padres no les gustan (caen bien) mis amigos, or They didn't approve of me smoking = Sp. No veían con buenos ojos que yo fumara. Some dictionaries say that aprobar may be used to translate the ‘approve after the fact by an interested party’ sense of Eng. approve, but that is arguably not the most common way to express that meaning in Spanish.
We mentioned that English had an antonym of approve, namely disapprove, for the second sense of that verb. Spanish too has a cognate of that verb, namely desaprobar. This verb, curiously, has a very similar meaning to its English cognate, meaning that it has a ‘disapprove after the fact by an interested party’. The antonym of the ‘disapprove before the fact by a competent authority’ sense, on the other hand, would be rechazar, denegar, oponerse or disentir, but not desaprobar. As we saw earlier, this verb common to English, French and Spanish was probably derived in French first, as désapprouver (1535), from where it was borrowed by English as disapprove and by Spanish as desaprobar. Remember that in Latin, the antonyms of apprŏbāre were imprŏbāre and rĕprŏbāre, but these verbs have not resulted in English and Spanish verbs that are the antonyms of Eng. approve and Sp. aprobar (but see below).
So, we saw that Spanish aprobar shares one sense with Eng. approve, but not the other one of this latter verb’s senses. Similarly, Sp. aprobar has a second sense that English approve does not have. Actually, Spanish aprobar has two additional, closely related senses, which are typically used in academic settings. The two senses are the following, shown here with definitions, paraphrases, and examples:
- aprobar = dar un aprobado en (‘to allow to go through an examination or academic course successfully’), e.g. El profesor aprobó a los alumnos (en el examen/en el curso) ‘The teacher/professor passed the students (on the test/the class)’; the DLE defines this sense as ‘declarar hábil y competente a alguien’
- aprobar = sacar un aprobado en (‘‘to undergo an examination or an academic course with favorable results’), e.g. El alumno aprobó el examen/la asignatura ‘The student passed the test/the subject’; or intransitively El alumno aprobó en matemáticas ‘The student passed math (class)’; the DLE defines this sense as ‘obtener la calificación de aprobado en una asignatura o examen’
Let us end this section with a mention of the nouns related to (and derived from) the cognate verbs Eng. approve ~ Sp. aprobar, namely Eng. approval ≈ Sp. aprobación. These two nouns could not cognates, but rather semi-cognates or paronyms, since they have different endings: Eng. ‑al vs. Sp. ‑ación. (Although they are not cognates, they are definitely cognate or related, since they share the root and the stem, cf. Part I, Chapter 1.) Eng. approval was formed, in English, from the verb approve and the Latinate suffix ‑al that derives nouns (e.g. refusal, denial, etc., cf. Part I, Chapter 8, §126.96.36.199). This noun was created in the late 17th century but it was rare until the 19th century, having to compete with its synonym approvance, which is now archaic. Sp. aprobación, on the other hand, is a loanword from Lat. apprŏbātĭo ‘an approving, allowing, assenting to, approbation, acquiescence (most frequently in Cicero)’ (L&S). This Latin noun was derived from the verb apprŏbāre by means of the suffix ‑ĭōn‑ that attached itself to the passive participle stem of the verb, apprŏbā‑t‑ in this case, to form nouns.
As for the meaning of these two paronyms, they both refer to the action or result of approving. However, just like the related verbs are not fully equivalent in meaning, so too the nouns differ somewhat as to how they are used. Sp. aprobación is more about ‘approval before the fact by a competent authority’, and it is synonymous with consentimiento, conformidad. In addition, there are a few other synonyms of this word that can be used for that sense as well as for the ‘approval after the fact by an interested party’ sense, such as visto bueno, beneplácito, and even gusto.
The antonym of Eng. approval is disapproval, a noun formed in English in the mid-17th century as an antonym of approval. In Spanish, the antonym of aprobación is desaprobación. This word could have come from French disapprobation, a word attested in that language in the late 18th century. Sp. desaprobación, however, is somewhat more formal and less common than its English counterpart disapproval. Eng. disapproval would usually be translated as rechazo, condena, or disconformidad, not as desaprobación.
Note that English also has a cognate of Sp. aprobación, namely Eng. approbation, a somewhat formal word meaning ‘official praise or approval’ (LDCE). This is either a direct late-14th century loan from written Latin or else it was borrowed through French, which had borrowed this word from written Latin as early as the mid-13th century (first attested in 1265).
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 The second word approve in English is a legal term. It can also be spelled approw. Like improve, it is an Old French loan derived from the root prou ‘profit’ (see previous footnote). Its meaning is ‘to make profit to oneself of (e.g. land), by increasing the value or rent. especially Said of the lord of a manor enclosing or appropriating to his own advantage common land, as permitted by the Statute of Merton (20 Hen. III. c. iv.).’ (OED).