Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Frequentive Aspect and Being Disgruntled

How many of you have had a coworker say something like the following?  "I'm disgruntled.  I wish I could be gruntled."  I know I've heard it several times.  Gruntled seems like a fun play on words, but what does it really mean?  Would you even want to be gruntled?

We'll do another post soon and discuss how verbs not only have tenses, but also aspects and moods.  For now, let's just keep in mind that while a tense indicates the time of the verb's action, its aspect indicates something about how the action was done.  Today we're discussing one type of verb aspect, the frequentive.

Another question.  Have you ever sat in front of a fire and heard a log pop?  Once the flame becomes hot enough, the wood begins to crack.  When this occurs over and over, it establishes a soothing rhythm.  When something occurs over and over like this, we can say that it occurs frequently.  We can then switch the verb 'crack' into the frequentive aspect and it becomes 'crackle'.

In English, the frequentive is formed by applending '-le' to the verb.  Let's look at some more examples.

wrest --> wrestle
sniff --> sniffle

This may seem like a subtle topic, but perhaps it will help you to better choose your words when you think about what an '-le' word indicates.  Did she wrest the letter from him?  Or did they wrestle over it?  (Wrest being a one time action).

By now you've probably picked up the pattern and have worked backwards from gruntle to grunt.  Grunt is a normal, one-time action.  Gruntle means to grunt repeatedly or frequently.  That part is pretty straightforward.

It's the 'dis-' prefix that causes the confusion.  Dis- normally negates the verb, but occasionally it has the mean "very" or "a lot".  So while disgruntle may appear to mean "not repeatedly grunting and grumbling", it really means "a lot of repeated grunting and grumbling."  So if someone wants to be gruntled, they're really not improving much from being disgruntled.

Now that we've looked at the frequentive aspect, keep watch for it in your daily lexical travels.  When you see a word ending in '-le' think about that indicates and what the root (without the -le) might mean.  Waffles anyone? 

1 comment:

Willow said...

Also flammable and inflammable mean the same thing. - Here's an interesting page with insights similar to yours.