The Ancient Greek words ἀοργησία aorgesia "a defect in the passion of anger" and ἀόριστος aoristos "without boundaries" both start with the "alpha privatum," the negative prefix cognate to English un- and Latin -in/-im/-ir/-il. However, every source that I have looked up has said that this prefix is realized as ἀν- an- when it comes before a vowel (including one that was historically preceded by a rough breathing /h/). What is the explanation for these exceptions, and do any others exist?

EDIT: I kind of found the answer, so I guess I will post it in case anyone else has this problem later on. I may have follow-up questions.

2 Answers 2


Both of these roots originally had an initial w-. horos “boundary” is from older worwos, as attested by Mycenaean wo-wo, and dialect forms like ορϝος. In the case of orgē “anger” we do not happen to have any attested Greek dialect forms with w-, but IE *uerg- is supported by zero-grade forms like Sanskrit ūrj- “strength”.


According to the Perseus online dictionary of Ancient Greek:

Before a vowel [the prefix ἀ-] usu. appears as ἀν- (exc. where ϝ or spiritus asper has been lost, as ἄ-οινος, ἄ-υπνος, when it sts. coalesces with the following vowel, as ἀργός = ἀ-ϝεργός)

So this points towards one possible reason for the lack of nu in the words I asked about.

Looking up their etymology yielded the following information:

aorgesia: related to the word ὀργή orgē "wrath".

According to the sources listed at the "Biblehub" site, the word orgē may come:

  • according to Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, from oregomai, the middle voice of ὀρέγω oregō "to reach out," which Wiktionary says derives from PIE *h₃reǵ-. This is a problem, since with this etymology there is never a digamma /w/ or spiritus asper /h/.
  • according to HELPS Word-studies, from the verb "orgáō" or "oragō" [sic] "to teem, to swell" (Wiktionary says it is ὀργάω orgáō and that it is derived from the noun, rather than the other way around).
  • according to Wiktionary, from PIE *werǵ-/*worǵ-. This suggests a form with digamma once existed, though I have not been able to find that.

This suggests that the etymology attributed to Strong's is incorrect.

aorist: there was historically a spiritus asper /h/ as shown by the related word ὅρος horos "boundary."

I was confused before researching this because later on, at least in English words of Greek origin, the an- form started to be used before roots with historical spiritus asper, but I don't know when this occurred. (This can be seen in English words like anemia, anhydrous, anhedonia etc. I've been trying to find equivalent words in Greek though.)

  • 1
    It would be better to look these up in a proper etymological dictionary (most recently Beekes).
    – fdb
    Nov 6, 2015 at 9:28
  • @fdb: yes, unfortunately I don't have one. When I wrote the question, I didn't realize that the answer would have to be based on such early etymological facts. Nov 6, 2015 at 9:38
  • 2
    @sumelic, here's some info from Beekes: "ὅρος [m.] ‘border, boundary mark (pole, column, stone), term, limit, mark, appointment, definition’ (Att.). Forms οὖρος (Il.). Myc. wo-wo /worwos/, Corc. ορϝος, Cret., Arg. ὦρος, Heracl. ὄρος. Brixhe REGr. 109 (1996): 640 adds ὅρρος (Heracl. Pont.) < *hόρϝος, also ὄρρος (Chalcid., Megar.), cf. RPh. 71 (1997) 170"
    – Alex B.
    Nov 6, 2015 at 14:10
  • @sumelic "Etymology In view of Mycenaean, all Greek forms must go back to ϝόρϝος. This can be connected wih Lat. urvāre (amb-) 'to mark out a boundary with a furrow' (Enn. apud Fest., Dig.); the basic noun is urvum 'curved part of a plough' (Varro) < * u(o)ru-o-, which may in principle continue the same formation as *ϝόρϝος. Within Greek, further connection wih ► ἐρύω 'to draw' is probable. See ► οὐροί , ► οὖρον 2 ."
    – Alex B.
    Nov 6, 2015 at 14:11
  • @sumelic, "ὀργή Origin IE * uerǵ- 'swell of juice, strength, anger' Etymology: ὀργή has a direct correspondence in Skt. ūrjā́ [f.] 'nourishment, strength', but the latter is an enlargement of older ū́rj- 'id.', and the formal identity of ὀργή and ūrjā́ is secondary. At first sight, the Skt. form seems to require * urHǵ-, but the same problem occurs in Skt. ūrdhvá- beside ὀρθός, and there is yet no definite solution for this. Semantically, ū́rj(ā́) fits much better with ὀργάω, which preserved the original concrete meaning." (Beekes)
    – Alex B.
    Nov 6, 2015 at 14:14

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