Proto-Indo-European root
The roots
Root (linguistics)
The root word is the primary lexical unit of a word, and of a word family , which carries the most significant aspects of semantic content and cannot be reduced into smaller constituents....

of the reconstructed Proto-Indo-European language
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

(PIE) are basic parts of word
In language, a word is the smallest free form that may be uttered in isolation with semantic or pragmatic content . This contrasts with a morpheme, which is the smallest unit of meaning but will not necessarily stand on its own...

s that carry a lexical meaning, so-called morpheme
In linguistics, a morpheme is the smallest semantically meaningful unit in a language. The field of study dedicated to morphemes is called morphology. A morpheme is not identical to a word, and the principal difference between the two is that a morpheme may or may not stand alone, whereas a word,...

s. PIE roots always have verb
A verb, from the Latin verbum meaning word, is a word that in syntax conveys an action , or a state of being . In the usual description of English, the basic form, with or without the particle to, is the infinitive...

al meaning like "to eat" or "to run", as opposed to noun
In linguistics, a noun is a member of a large, open lexical category whose members can occur as the main word in the subject of a clause, the object of a verb, or the object of a preposition .Lexical categories are defined in terms of how their members combine with other kinds of...

s ("a foot"), adjective
In grammar, an adjective is a 'describing' word; the main syntactic role of which is to qualify a noun or noun phrase, giving more information about the object signified....

s ("red"), or other parts of speech. Roots never occur alone in the language. Complete inflected words like verbs, nouns or adjectives are formed by adding further morphemes to a root. Typically, a root plus a suffix
In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs...

 forms a stem, and adding an ending forms a word.

For example, "he carries" can be split into the root "to carry", the suffix "present tense
Present tense
The present tense is a grammatical tense that locates a situation or event in present time. This linguistic definition refers to a concept that indicates a feature of the meaning of a verb...

" and the ending "third person
Grammatical person
Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to a participant in an event; such as the speaker, the addressee, or others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns...

Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....


In its base form, a PIE root consists of a single vowel
In phonetics, a vowel is a sound in spoken language, such as English ah! or oh! , pronounced with an open vocal tract so that there is no build-up of air pressure at any point above the glottis. This contrasts with consonants, such as English sh! , where there is a constriction or closure at some...

, preceded and followed by consonant
In articulatory phonetics, a consonant is a speech sound that is articulated with complete or partial closure of the vocal tract. Examples are , pronounced with the lips; , pronounced with the front of the tongue; , pronounced with the back of the tongue; , pronounced in the throat; and ,...

s. Except for a very few cases, the root is fully characterized by its consonants, while the vowel may alternate, a process called ablaut
Indo-European ablaut
In linguistics, ablaut is a system of apophony in Proto-Indo-European and its far-reaching consequences in all of the modern Indo-European languages...

. Thus, the mentioned root can also appear as , with a long vowel as or , or even unsyllabic as , in different grammatical contexts.


Phonotactics is a branch of phonology that deals with restrictions in a language on the permissible combinations of phonemes...

 describes the restrictions on the permissible combinations of phoneme
In a language or dialect, a phoneme is the smallest segmental unit of sound employed to form meaningful contrasts between utterances....

s (sounds).

Basic root structure

The centre of a PIE root is the ablauting vowel (usually , perhaps sometimes in its base form, the full grade). This vowel constitutes a sonority
Sonority hierarchy
A sonority hierarchy or sonority scale is a ranking of speech sounds by amplitude. For example, if you say the vowel [a], you will produce a much louder sound than if you say the plosive [t]...

 peak that is preceded and followed by a sequence of consonants with progressively decreasing sonority values. In other words, the sonority has to fall toward both edges of the root. The sonority hierarchy is as follows:
  1. plosives (sounds like or ; see Proto-Indo-European phonology for a complete table of PIE plosives)

This gives the following root structure (with P being any plosive and an empty position):

after a vowel is often written , and after a vowel is often written . Thus, "to bind" and "to run" are allowed roots.

Other possible roots include "to tread", "to breathe" and "to moisten". Forbidden are structures like (wrong order of phonemes: internal plosive) and (two phonemes of the same group: unchanging sonority).

Additional phonemes

The remaining sounds, namely the laryngeals  and the sibilant , can occupy almost any place in the hierarchy. is particularly common in initial position (see s-mobile). Examples of such roots are "to fly", "to nourish" and "to stroke".

Following the terminology of Sanskrit grammar
Sanskrit grammar
The grammar of the Sanskrit language has a complex verbal system, rich nominal declension, and extensive use of compound nouns. It was studied and codified by Sanskrit grammarians from the later Vedic period , culminating in the Pāṇinian grammar of the 4th century BC.-Grammatical tradition:The...

, roots ending in laryngeals are referred to as seṭ-, all others as aniṭ-roots.

Restrictions on the plosives

A root cannot contain two plain voiced plosives , nor can it contain a voiced aspirate and a voiceless plosive , unless the latter occurs in a word-initial cluster after an (e.g. "to stiffen").

Restrictions on the number of phonemes

The vowel has to be preceded and followed by at least one consonant each. The maximum number of consonants seems to be five (as in "to twine").

Early PIE scholars reconstructed a number of roots beginning or ending with a vowel. The latter type always had a long vowel ( "to put", "to grow", "to give"), while this restriction did not hold for vowel-initial roots ( "to eat", "to drive", "to smell"). Laryngeal theory
Laryngeal theory
The laryngeal theory is a generally accepted theory of historical linguistics which proposes the existence of one, or a set of three , consonant sounds termed "laryngeals" that appear in most current reconstructions of the Proto-Indo-European language...

 can explain this behaviour by reconstructing a laryngeal following the vowel or preceding it . These reconstructions obey the mentioned rules.

Roots without a full grade

Some roots have no central , an example being "to grow, to become". Such roots can be seen as generalized zero grades of forms like , and thus follow the phonotactical rules.


Some roots like "to sneeze" or "to duck" do not seem to follow these rules. This might be due to incomplete understanding of PIE phonotactics or to wrong reconstructions. , for example, might not have existed in PIE at all, if the Indo-European words usually traced back to it are onomatopoeias.

Thorn clusters are sequences of a dental plus a velar plosive ( etc.). Their role in PIE phonotactics is unknown. Roots like "to perish" apparently violate the phonotactical rules, but are quite common.

Lexical meaning

The meaning of a reconstructed root is conventionally always that of a verb; the terms root and verbal root are synonymous in PIE grammar. This is because, apart from a limited number of so-called root nouns, PIE roots overwhelmingly participate in verbal inflection through well-established morphological and phonological mechanisms. Their meanings are not always directly reconstructible, due to semantic shifts that led to discrepancies in the meanings of reflexes in the attested daughter language
Daughter language
In historical linguistics, a daughter language is a language descended from another language through a process of genetic descent.-Examples:*English is a daughter language of Proto-Germanic, which is a daughter language of Proto-Indo-European....

s. Many nouns and adjectives are derived from verbal roots via suffixes and ablaut.

Word formation

Fully inflected words are usually formed from a root plus a suffix plus an ending. The suffix is sometimes missing, which has been interpreted as a zero suffix. Words with zero suffix are termed root verbs and root nouns. Beyond this basic structure, there is the nasal infix
Nasal infix
The nasal infix is a reconstructed nasal consonant or syllable that was inserted into the stem of a word in the Proto-Indo-European language, that has reflexes in several modern European languages...

, a present tense marker, and reduplication
Reduplication in linguistics is a morphological process in which the root or stem of a word is repeated exactly or with a slight change....

, a sort of prefix
A prefix is an affix which is placed before the root of a word. Particularly in the study of languages,a prefix is also called a preformative, because it alters the form of the words to which it is affixed.Examples of prefixes:...

 with a number of grammatical and derivational functions.

Finite verbs

Verbal suffixes, including the zero suffix, convey grammatical information about tense
Grammatical tense
A tense is a grammatical category that locates a situation in time, to indicate when the situation takes place.Bernard Comrie, Aspect, 1976:6:...

 and aspect
Grammatical aspect
In linguistics, the grammatical aspect of a verb is a grammatical category that defines the temporal flow in a given action, event, or state, from the point of view of the speaker...

, two grammatical categories that are not clearly distinguished. Present and aorist
Aorist is a philological term originally from Indo-European studies, referring to verb forms of various languages that are not necessarily related or similar in meaning...

 are universally recognised, while some of the other aspects remain controversial. Two of the four moods
Grammatical mood
In linguistics, grammatical mood is a grammatical feature of verbs, used to signal modality. That is, it is the use of verbal inflections that allow speakers to express their attitude toward what they are saying...

, the subjunctive and the optative, are also formed with suffixes, which sometimes results in forms with two consecutive suffixes: "he would carry", with the first being the present tense marker, and the second the subjunctive marker. Reduplication can mark the present and the perfect.

Verbal endings convey information about grammatical person
Grammatical person
Grammatical person, in linguistics, is deictic reference to a participant in an event; such as the speaker, the addressee, or others. Grammatical person typically defines a language's set of personal pronouns...

, number
Grammatical number
In linguistics, grammatical number is a grammatical category of nouns, pronouns, and adjective and verb agreement that expresses count distinctions ....

 and voice
Voice (grammar)
In grammar, the voice of a verb describes the relationship between the action that the verb expresses and the participants identified by its arguments . When the subject is the agent or doer of the action, the verb is in the active voice...

. The imperative mood
Imperative mood
The imperative mood expresses commands or requests as a grammatical mood. These commands or requests urge the audience to act a certain way. It also may signal a prohibition, permission, or any other kind of exhortation.- Morphology :...

 has its own set of endings.

Nouns and adjectives

Nouns are derived from verbal roots by suffixation or other means (see the morphology of the Proto-Indo-European noun for some examples). This even holds for roots that are often translated as nouns: , for example, can mean "to tread" or "foot", depending on the ablaut grade and ending. Some nouns like "lamb" or "star", however, are not derived from established roots. In any case, the meaning of a noun is given by its stem, whether this is composed of a root plus a suffix or not. This leaves the ending, which conveys case
Grammatical case
In grammar, the case of a noun or pronoun is an inflectional form that indicates its grammatical function in a phrase, clause, or sentence. For example, a pronoun may play the role of subject , of direct object , or of possessor...

 and number.

Adjectives are also derived by suffixation of verbal roots. An example is "red" from the root "to redden". The endings are the same as with nouns.

Infinitives and participles

In grammar, infinitive is the name for certain verb forms that exist in many languages. In the usual description of English, the infinitive of a verb is its basic form with or without the particle to: therefore, do and to do, be and to be, and so on are infinitives...

s are verbal nouns and, just like other nouns, are formed with suffixes. It is not clear whether any of the infinitive suffixes reconstructed from the daughter languages was actually used to express an infinitive in PIE.

In linguistics, a participle is a word that shares some characteristics of both verbs and adjectives. It can be used in compound verb tenses or voices , or as a modifier...

s are verbal adjectives formed with the suffixes (present participle) and (perfect participle), among others.

Root extensions

Root extensions are additions of one or two sounds, often plosives, to the end of a root which do not seem to change its meaning. For "to push, hit, thrust", we can reconstruct > Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek
Ancient Greek is the stage of the Greek language in the periods spanning the times c. 9th–6th centuries BC, , c. 5th–4th centuries BC , and the c. 3rd century BC – 6th century AD of ancient Greece and the ancient world; being predated in the 2nd millennium BC by Mycenaean Greek...

 τύκος (kos) "hammer" > English
English language
English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria...

 stoke (Germanic k goes back to PIE .) > Vedic
Vedic Sanskrit
Vedic Sanskrit is an old Indo-Aryan language. It is an archaic form of Sanskrit, an early descendant of Proto-Indo-Iranian. It is closely related to Avestan, the oldest preserved Iranian language...

 tudáti "beats"
The source of these extensions is not known.

See also

  • Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben
    Lexikon der Indogermanischen Verben
    The Lexikon der indogermanischen Verben is an etymological dictionary of the Proto-Indo-European verb. The first edition appeared in 1998, edited by Helmut Rix. A second edition followed in 2001. The book is based on the Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch by Julius Pokorny...

    ("Lexicon of the Indo-European Verbs", in German), a lexicon of PIE verbal roots

External links

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