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Also ‑ible and ‑uble; ‑ability, ‑ibility, and ‑ubility.

Able to be.

Originally from the Latin adjectival suffix ‑bilis.

The adjectival suffixes ‑able, ‑ible, and ‑uble have several meanings; the main one, and the usual one in new forms today, indicates an ability to do something (calculable, defensible, voluble), but other senses also exist: suitable for some purpose (reversible, edible); due to be (payable); having a quality expressed by the word stem (comfortable, passable, suitable); subject to (taxable); or causing some effect (terrible, horrible). Several hundred words contain these suffixes, of which a very few other examples are allowable, combustible, conceivable, enjoyable, gullible, legible, practicable, seasonable, soluble, visible, and washable.

The ‑ible and ‑uble endings are not currently active (and ‑uble is much less common than the others, with only soluble and voluble being at all common), but ‑able is frequently used to form new words, such as gluggable, of a wine that is good to drink; kebabable, a meat capable of being kebabed; or in Britain ISAble, of an investment that can be made into an ISA, an individual savings account. Part of the popularity of ‑able comes from its similarity to the English word able, though the two are not related.

The related suffixes ‑ability, ‑ibility, and ‑ubility form abstract nouns that refer to a quality, such as capability, plausibility, solubility, suitability, and usability.

A few adjectives have different meanings in their ‑able and ‑ible forms: contractable means ‘liable to be contracted’, as of a habit or a disease, but contractible means ‘able to be reduced in length’; forceable refers to a thing that can be forced open, whereas forcible means something executed by means of force; infusable is said of something, such as a herb, that can be steeped in water, while infusible refers to a thing that cannot be melted or fused.

Some words appear to contain these endings through accidents of spelling: crucible, double, parable, syllable, vegetable.

Copyright © Michael Quinion 2008–. All rights reserved. Your comments are very welcome.