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Subscriber: null; date: 20 August 2018

-able

Source:
Pocket Fowler's Modern English Usage
Author(s):
Robert AllenRobert Allen

-able, -ible. 

1. general.

These two suffixes are derived from Latin endings -abilis and -ibilis, either directly or through Old French. Of the two, -able is an active suffix that can be freely added to the stems of transitive verbs, whereas the set of -ible words is a closed one with meanings that are less susceptible to analysis. A few words exist in both forms (e.g. collectable and collectible); others appear to but differ in meaning (e.g. passable, passible). Most words are formed from verbs, but some are formed from nouns (e.g. comfortable, peaceable).

2. meaning.

The primary meaning these suffixes convey is ‘able to be -ed’ or ‘capable of being -ed’, e.g. bearable, curable, manageable. Some meanings, however, are active rather than passive, e.g. agreeable = willing to agree, changeable = apt to change, comfortable = able to give comfort, viable = able to live. Others, such as reliable, are formed somewhat in defiance of syntax (here, on is suppressed). Many words acquire special meanings, e.g. actionable, appreciable, biddable, creditable, disposable, forgettable, incredible, noticeable, passable, remarkable, reprehensible, tolerable, unspeakable.

3. spelling problems.

Some formations require alteration of the stem, since both suffixes begin with a vowel. The most important are:

  • a Words in -y (preceded by a consonant) change y to i: dutiable, rectifiable, undeniable. But note employable, enjoyable.

  • b With some exceptions, words in silent -e lose the e when -able is added: adorable, excusable, lovable, losable, removable, usable. But note the preferred forms giveable, hireable, likeable, nameable, rateable, saleable.

  • c Words in -ce and -ge normally retain the e: bridgeable, changeable, chargeable, noticeable, peaceable.

  • d Words of more than two syllables ending in -ate lose this ending when -able is added: alienable (not alienatable), appreciable (has special meaning), calculable, demonstrable, estimable (has special meaning), inestimable (has special meaning), penetrable, tolerable. However, words of two syllables would not be viable without the ending and therefore retain it: creatable, debatable, dictatable, locatable, translatable.

  • e A final consonant is normally doubled when it is doubled in ordinary inflection: biddable, forgettable, regrettable.

  • f Words of more than one syllable ending in -fer double the r when the stress is on the final syllable, but do not when the stress is earlier in the word: conferrable, deferrable, offerable, preferable, profferable, sufferable (but in transferable the stress is variable on the first two syllables). Infer makes inferable and inferrable, and refer makes referable and referrable.

The following table shows the principal forms in -able and -ible, and also shows forms that are liable to be confused (e.g. impassable and impassible)

4. words ending in -able

abominable

actionable

adaptable

administrable

admittable (also admissible)

adorable

advisable

agreeable

alienable

amenable

amiable

analysable

appreciable

arguable

ascribable

assessable

atonable

available

bearable

believable

blameable

bribable

bridgeable

calculable

capable

changeable

chargeable

clubbable

collectable

comfortable

conceivable

conferrable

confinable

confusable

consolable

contractable (of a disease; see also contractible)

copiable

creatable

creditable

curable

datable

debatable

declinable

defendable (in literal meanings; see also defensible)

deferable

definable

delineable

demonstrable

demurrable

deniable

desirable

despicable

developable

dilatable

dispensable

disposable

dissolvable

drivable

durable

dutiable

eatable

educable (= able to be educated; see also educible)

endorsable

equable

equitable

evadable

excisable

excitable

excusable

expandable (also expansible)

expendable

expiable

extendable (also extendible, extensible)

feeable

finable

foreseeable

forgettable

forgivable

framable

gettable

giveable

hireable

illimitable

immovable

immutable

impalpable

impassable (= unable to be crossed; see also impassible)

impeccable

imperturbable

implacable

impressionable

improvable

indefatigable

indescribable

indispensable

indubitable

inflatable

inimitable

insufferable

irreconcilable

irreplaceable

justifiable

knowledgeable

laughable

leviable

likeable

liveable

losable

lovable

machinable

malleable

manageable

manoeuvrable

marriageable

measurable

mistakable

movable

mutable

nameable

noticeable

objectionable

obtainable

operable

palatable

payable

peaceable

penetrable

perishable

permeable

persuadable (also persuasible)

pleasurable

preferable

prescribable

preventable

pronounceable

provable

rateable

readable

receivable

reconcilable

rectifiable

registrable

regrettable

reliable

removable

reputable

retractable

saleable

scalable

serviceable

sizeable

solvable

statutable

storable

suitable

superannuable

timeable

tolerable

traceable

tradable

transferable

tuneable

unconscionable

undeniable

unexceptionable

unget-at-able

unknowable

unmistakable

unscalable

unshakeable

usable

5. words ending in -ible

accessible

adducible

admissible (also admittable)

audible

avertible

collapsible

comprehensible

contemptible

contractible (= able to be shrunk; see also contractable)

convertible

credible

deducible

deductible

defensible (of an argument etc.; see also defendable)

destructible

diffusible

digestible

dirigible

discernible

discussible

dismissible

divisible

educible (= able to be educed; see also educable)

eligible

exhaustible

expansible

expressible

extendible (also extendable, extensible)

feasible

flexible

gullible

impassible (= unfeeling; see also impassable)

inaudible

incorrigible

incredible

indelible

indigestible

indivisible

infallible

inflexible

intangible

invincible

invisible

irascible

irreducible

irrepressible

irresponsible

irresistible

irreversible

legible

negligible

ostensible

perceptible

perfectible

permissible

persuasible (also persuadable)

plausible

reducible

reprehensible

reproducible

resistible

responsible

reversible

risible

suggestible

suppressible

susceptible