General Question

flo's avatar

What is the difference between the words "passive" and "impassive"?

Asked by flo (7555 points ) January 9th, 2013

if the prefixes “im” and “un” and “in” are usually supposed to make an adjective the opposite, then why is the word “impassive” (for example) used to describe a passive person.

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47 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

I“m unsure; probably because of the vagaries of English.

Flammable and inflammable are accepted synonyms, but flammable is the preferred usage.

Passive and impassive are not synonyms.

A passionate person can be impassive situationally.

janbb's avatar

Passive is the opposite of active, while impassive means not showing emotion. They are not really that connected but I’m not sure how they were derived.

gailcalled's avatar

Etymology is confusing.

flo's avatar

Flammable and Inflammable, there is another one. Wow, that is even more amazing considering we’re talking about safety issues^^.

flo's avatar

If I want to google all the words like that what would be the search term?

zensky's avatar

Passive means inactive – not active, not moving.

Impassive means without emotion, or unmoved.

See the connection?

:-)

Passive is from the mid 15th century while impassive began to be used a couple of hundreds years after.

gailcalled's avatar

Type in etomology passive to see the example I found.

morphail's avatar

It’s from the negative “in-” prefix plus “passive” meaning “that is acted upon or is capable of being acted upon from outside”, in other words “suffering”. So it etymologically means “not suffering”.

There are two “in-” prefixes. One means negative, as in “illiterate”, “irregular”, “impassive”. The other originally meant “into”, but in many words it no longer means anything, as in “inflammable”, “irradiate”, “impose”.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Why do both the words “valuable” and “invaluable” describe something of great worth, importance, or esteem?

flo's avatar

Use item A because it is inflammable i.e, if it catches on fire, it would smolder, instead of going up in flames. Watch out for item B, it is Flammable it would go up in flames.

Active and Impassive sound like synonyms and and Inactive and Passive sound like synonyms.

Doesn’t Irradiate mean to remove the radiation?

I agree with you re. ”impose”

@morphail I’m not clear about ”...The other originally meant “into”,..

flo's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin I think something invaluable means priceless, way more than something valuable because you can’t buy it with all the money in the world.

zensky's avatar

Prefixes are unfixed, so to speak. They, too, have evolved and can have several meanings. @flo is correct; valuable simply means that something has been determined to have a value – a price – a worth – from friendship and love (I value our friendship) to gold and silver.

Something invaluable means that a price cannot be put on it – the crown jewels, the Mona Lisa.

The fab four of Not prefixes: Un, IN, IM and Ir pertain to the idiomatic side of English and its love of contractions – why say something in two syllables when you can contract it to one.

Thus Irregular and immature were born.

morphail's avatar

@flo The non-negative “in-” prefix is borrowed from the Latin “in-” prefix which meant, according to the OED: ”‘into, in, within; on, upon; towards, against’, sometimes expressing onward motion or continuance, sometimes intensive, sometimes transitive, and in other cases with little appreciable force.”

“irradiate” means “radiate” or “emit light” or “brighten with light”. It’s borrowed from Latin irradiāre “to shine forth”, which is the non-negative “in-” prefix plus radiāre “to shine”.

“inflammable” and “flammable” mean the same thing. The earliest word was “inflammable” meaning “able to be inflamed” (“inflamed” with the non-negative “in-” prefix). “Flammable” started to be used because people were afraid that “inflammable” would be interpreted as containing the negative “in-” prefix, and so would be interpreted as meaning “not able to catch fire”.

@PaulSadieMartin “invaluable” contains the negative “in-” prefix so it etymologically means something like “not able to be valued”.

flo's avatar

@morphail All people want to do is communicate and easily integrate into the society they immigrated into, for example.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

@zensky “Thus Irregular and immature were born.”

But never “irregardless.” What an odd and confusing language this is!

morphail's avatar

@zensky “im-” and “ir-” have little to do with English and lots to do with Latin. They are just assimilated forms of “in-” that occurred in Latin and were borrowed wholesale into English. They have nothing to do with contracting syllables.

zensky's avatar

@morphail You think that Ir and Im as an alternative to Un have nothing to do with English? You think that we say irreplacable and immature beause of Latin and not because it is more fluid phonetically than unreplacable and unmature?

morphail's avatar

@zensky Yes. We have “immature” because we borrowed it from Latin “immātūrus”. We have “irreplaceable” because we added the “ir-” prefix to “replaceable” because it is a Latinate word. But there is no reason why we couldn’t have added “un-” instead, like we added “un-” to make “unripe”, “unbiased”, “unmanageable”. I don’t think it has much to do with euphony.

zensky's avatar

Assimilation is the influence of a sound on a neighboring sound so that the two become similar or the same. For example, the Latin prefix in- ‘not, non-, un-’ appears in English as il-, im-. and ir- in the words illegal, immoral, impossible (both m and p are bilabial consonants), and irresponsible as well as the unassimilated original form in- in indecent and incompetent. Although the assimilation of the n of in- to the following consonant in the preceding examples was inherited from Latin, English examples that would be considered native are also plentiful.

From: Phonetics.

To a degree, we are both right.

Jeruba and I still have an ongoing bet: is the word Angst an English word or not. (She says its German. I say its from German but if its in the dictionary – it’s English).

morphail's avatar

@zensky where are these native plentiful examples?

Of course “angst” is an English word. It’s in English dictionaries, it’s not italicized or capitalized any more.

zensky's avatar

So PM Jeruba that she owes me an apple pie.

Jeruba's avatar

That does not mean it isn’t German.

gailcalled's avatar

The formal description of borrowed words is interesting. When does the statute of limitations expire for them? When I say so, I guess.

chauffeur
lingerie
armoire
bungalow
batik
albacore
algebra
smorgasbord
mitzvah
curriculum
formula
opera
kindergarten
sauerkraut
geshundheit

zensky's avatar

For me, there is one dictionary: Oxford. I love the Merriam, mind you, even though I tend to add an extra O in words. But Oxford is the ultimate definition. The Academy of English. The Gatekeepers. When they decide to include a word – it becomes English. It could be Goulash (from Hungarian) or Shalom (from Hebrew). But once it’s there – it’s English.

zensky's avatar

@Jeruba Lovely to see you here” it means it is from German.

Feeling angst?

janbb's avatar

@zensky you’re reminding me of the Olive Garden slogan, “When you’re here, you’re family.”

zensky's avatar

You’re rminding me of Cheers! where everybody knows your name.

flo's avatar

@PaulSadieMartin I take back my respose re. your comment (“valuable” and “invaluable”) they should be antonyms of each other. There should be another form of the word that matches the definotion _ too valuable for all the money in the world_ (like a friendship. I disagree with
@zensky about that.)

flo's avatar

@morphail
“Flammable” started to be used because people were afraid that “inflammable” would be interpreted as containing the negative “in-” prefix, and so would be interpreted as meaning “not able to catch fire”.” ? By that logic, if people keep mistaking the bin for recyclables for a garbage bin, would it be logical to label the bin for recylables “Garbage”?

flo's avatar

@zensky If a person is lying down and just thinking coming up with how to solutions to problems are they inactive? I don’t think so.
If a person is moving from one place to another not really doing anything is that called being active?

zensky's avatar

@flo Um, yeah?

morphail's avatar

@flo I don’t know about logic. The “in-” prefix is ambiguous, and it seems reasonable to make your warning completely clear when you’re talking about a dangerous substance.

flo's avatar

@zensky Being active or inactive is not necessarily related to physical movement.

@morphail The “in-” prefix is ambiguous,... is it the same way that “grow” and “raise” are “ambiguous”? People use “grow“when they should use “raise”, It is clear as a bell when to use which.

-… it seems reasonable to make your warning completely clear when you’re talking about a dangerous substance That is my point exactly.

morphail's avatar

@flo sorry, I’m not sure what you’re talking about.

zensky's avatar

@flo You had me at in.

flo's avatar

Any item like Mona Lisa is worth $$ if it goes on sale. It was worth around $700 million (insured price) in 2009 or so. An item is only invaluable if the owner wouldn’t sell it for any price it seems to me. Friendship and love on the other hand are invaluable.

zensky's avatar

@flo Damn you’re good.

flo's avatar

”...worth $$ if it goes on the market, I guess.”

@zensky I have no idea what the following from your post above means.
The fab four of Not prefixes: Un, IN, IM and Ir pertain to the idiomatic side of English and its love of contractions – why say something in two syllables when you can contract it to one.

Thus Irregular and immature were born.

zensky's avatar

OK @flo – if you want to get serious about this – here is the rule, the exceptions to the rule, and why.

Negative prefixes before adjectives:

We can form the opposite of many adjectives or give the negative meaning by adding a negative prefix. (a prefix is a syllable that goes before a word) There is no fixed rule for adding one prefix or another, so students have to get familiar with these words in order to use them correctly.

There are many negative prefixes, most of which come from the classical languages Latin and Greek. The only one that is originally English is un-. Things would be easier if words of English origin took the prefix un- and those of Latin origin took other prefixes, but unfortunately this is not so. Have a look at these examples:

Happy—-> unhappy
Fair—-> unfair
Friendly—-> unfriendly
All these words come from Old English, but what about these…
Important—-> unimportant
Pleasant—-> unpleasant
Popular—-> unpopular
Prepared—-> unprepared

These words come from Latin, and yet they take un-, and there are so many words like these that you cannot say that they are the exception to the rule. In fact, they prove that there is no such rule!

So, as I said at the beginning, the only thing a student can do is to get familiar with them and check a dictionary when in doubt, and if it is any consolation to you, even English speakers get them wrong sometimes!

These are the most common negative prefixes used with adjectives:

dis- il- im- in- ir- un-

disrespectful illegitimate impossible indecent irrelevant unreasonable
dissatisfied illogical immature incapable irregular unfortunate

Other negative prefixes are:

a- anti- countrer- mal- non- amoral antisocial counterproductive malcontent non-violent
asexual anti-aircraft counterfeit malnourished non-profit

The prefixes im- il- and ir- are in fact a variety of in-:

im- is used before words beginning with m or p: impersonal, immortal.
il- is used before words beginning with l: illegal.
ir- is used with words beginning with r: irregular.

Most compounds with non- are written with a hyphen in British English, but not in American English: non-alcoholic , nonalcoholic .

I found this on an excellent blog for learning English. Here

flo's avatar

Thanks @zensky

I still don’t see why “impassive” is not the opposite of “passive”.
and how ( from @morphail‘s post)“inflammable” is supposed to make me believe it means “flammable”, just because some people mistakenly believed that it wouldn’t burn at all.

morphail's avatar

@flo “impassive” is not the opposite of “passive” because of the histories of the words. I’ve already explained it, but I’ll add some more. “passive” originally meant “That is acted upon or is capable of being acted upon from outside”, so “impassive” meant “not capable of being acted upon from outside”. Then the meaning changed to “Naturally without sensation; inanimate; not susceptible of physical impression or injury, invulnerable” and “Deficient in, or void of, mental feeling or emotion; not susceptible to mental impressions; unimpressionable, apathetic; also, in good sense, not liable to be disturbed by passion, serene”. (definitions from the OED)

“inflammable” is not supposed to make you believe anything. But the “in-” prefix is ambiguous (because there are in fact two “in-” prefixes with different meanings), and when you’re designing warning labels it’s best to avoid any ambiguity. I don’t see why it’s so hard to understand.

flo's avatar

@morphail Let me see if this can help me: What can you tell me about the use of the words “grow” and “raise”?

morphail's avatar

@flo OK, I’m not going to cut and paste the OED, and I can only guess what you’re talking about. Is your issue with “grow” used transitively to mean “cause to grow”? It’s been used this way since the 1700s.

1774 J. Campbell Polit. Surv. Brit. II. 652 They likewise grow some Rice and Tobacco, which is sent through Virginia.

1811 A. Bell in Southey Life (1844) II. 300 It requires a length of time to grow the boys, now on his foundation, into men.

1849 T. B. Macaulay Hist. Eng. I. iii. 314 The whole quantity of wheat, rye, barley, oats, and beans then annually grown in the kingdom, was somewhat less than ten millions of quarters.

The only usage dispute with “grow” I’m familiar with is how some people don’t like “grow” when it means “become”, as in:
...black beard will turn white, a curl’d pate will grow bald – Shakespeare, Henry V

flo's avatar

@morphail Thanks for trying.

morphail's avatar

@flo it would help if you explained what your issue is.

flo's avatar

@morphail
Flo: “My mom is learning me cooking”
“That is wrong @flo, you should say “My mom is teaching me cooking.”
Nobody would say, “No you can’t be right because it’s been used this way since the ..(whatever date)”

morphail's avatar

@flo again, you’ve lost me. What exactly is your problem with passive/impassive, flammable/inflammable, and grow/raise? Give specific examples.

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