ENGLISCH/943: Questions to Mrs Gobbledygook (207) - How to verb-suffix-ize (SB)

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook,

In view of certain verbs with the same endings as "organize", "civilize", modernize and so on, I wonder if you can generally make a new verb out of any noun like "organ" or adjectives like "civil" or "modern" by adding the ending "-ize."

Andrzej K. (Warsaw, Poland)


Dear Mr K.,

This is a very interesting question and you are really not so wrong about the usage of suffixes (endings) like "-ize". The suffix "-ize" or its alternative form "-ise" is indeed included quite often to create or coin new verbs from a different part-of-speech. However, the ending also gives the verb a certain meaning. You have to have that in mind if you really want to create a new verb. The suffixes "-ize" and "-ise" originally come from the Greek "Ízo". Both forms are equivalent. Furthermore, they are pronounced equally.

In Ancient Greek "ízo" served as a verb in its own right. It used to be an indicative present form which meant "to make somebody sit, to place, or to lie in wait or lurk" This initial meaning encloses one of its current senses, that of changing the state of something: "to turn into X" or "to become X". For example, for liquid to turn into a solid crystal, it must "crystallize".

"Civilizing" means teaching the representatives of primitive people how to live at a more sound level of social development, or at least what civilized people in industrialized countries take for it. In this case the suffix "-ize" is added to the Latin word "civilis". But it is not always as simple as that:

Some linguists believe that the original meaning of -ize is simply "to render". Added to adjectives and nouns, it forms transitive verbs in the general sense of rendering or making something in the quality prescribed by the word root. For instance, to modernize is to render something modern. Other examples are: to actualize, to fossilize, to sterilize, etc.

The other example you mentioned is "organize", in which we add the ending "-ize" onto the Latin root "organum" which means "work". In this case the added sense expresses an arrangement instead of a transformation. So, "to organize" means "to arrange something according to some plan". Other examples of similar pattern are to categorize, itemize, systematize.

Specific actions can also be indicated by -ize. So to scrutinize is "to examine something closely and thoroughly". Other verbs that belong to this category are hypnotize, dramatize, memorize, monopolize, urbanize etc.

Also, formed with "-ize" are a more heterogeneous group of verbs, usually intransitive, denoting kinds of behaviour (apologize; moralize; tyrannize), or activities (economize; philosophize; theorize).

Now, in case you are wondering, in Britain and the US "-ize" is the preferred ending for many verbs, but "-ise" is equally acceptable in British English. What makes the whole thing a bit more complicated are a few specific words that, however, have to be always spelt with "-ise" in both British and American English, like: advertise or revise. Very often these are not formed by adding the suffix to an existing word, since the syllable 'ise' is already part of the root of the word. Among these cases is "surprise" which comes from the French word "surprenant" which contains the French noun "surprise". Another verb in English is "despise" which comes from the old French form "dépriser" which changed today into "mépriser". In these cases "ise" is not a suffix or an extra ending, like it is in advertise.

If you are not sure about the right spelling and there is no dictionary handy, I would advise you to use the following trick: Spell those with the letter "s". Because in British English you can write "organise" or "civilise" even if the dictionary prefers "-ize". But don't mix variants within a single text.

If you prefer American English or if you are working for an American exam, it only helps to learn by heart which verbs have one variant and which have the other. There are not so many differences, but at least a few and variety is the spice of life ...

Miranda Gobbledygook

25. September 2018

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