Why, in the paradigm for Italian past participles ending in -ere, does the regular past participle end in -uto? Whence the vowel, when the other two paradigms have -ato and -ito?

  • Can't help upvoting it! :D – Alenanno May 10 '12 at 8:24
  • This always bothered me about the Italian paradigm. I have suspicions based on how all the Latin first and fourth conjugation verbs have perfects ending in -atus and -itus, but the second conjugation verbs do not, but I'm hoping that someone can resolve this once and for all. – jogloran May 10 '12 at 13:38
  • I'll try to answer this later. :) – Alenanno May 10 '12 at 13:52
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    Hopefully we can get Italian.SE started at some point... – jogloran May 10 '12 at 14:06
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    I guess that whatever the answer is, it also accounts for French pp's in -u (perdu, fondu). I wonder if it is connected with Latin perfects in -ui, even though the '-u-' (from '-ev-') doesn't occur in the Supine in Latin. – Colin Fine May 10 '12 at 21:28
up vote 3 down vote accepted

This is briefly discussed in The Romance Languages, on pages 296-7 (in the chapter on Italian by Nigel Vincent). The author explains the origins of some irregular preterits and past participles occurring with second-conjugation verbs. According to him, a number of these verbs derive their irregular preterit base from the Latin perfect marker -U-, which produced gemination of a preceding consonant (e.g. VOLUI > volli, 'I wanted').He notes that these are also the verbs with participles in -u-: avuto, conosciuto, voluto, etc., and explains thus:

Although this participial -u- is etymologically from a different source, namely verbs in -UO such as BATTUO 'I beat', it extended its range considerably in late Latin...suggesting that it had been morphologically reanalysed as being the same element as perfective -U-.... Finally, in this connection, we may note the form [of the verb vivere] vissuto 'lived' < *VIXUTUM, which represents the extension of the -UTUM suffix to the already sigmatic Latin perfect from VIXI. The original Latin participle VICTUM survives instead in the word vitto 'food'.

Of course, there remains a large number (he estimates about 200) of irregular second-conjugation participles, and he notes that in other areas of Italy, i.e. the South, where the preterit is still used daily, corresponding preterit and participial forms in local languages have undergone analogical leveling and are more regular. I'm aware that in northern Italy where, conversely, the preterit is extinct in many local languages (and where even speakers of Standard Italian simply don't use it), those languages have likewise simplified second-conjugation participles by analogical extension of the -u (widely phonetically realized as [y]).

  • I look forward to seeing @Alenanno's explanation, but for the time being, accepted, and welcome! – jogloran Jul 18 '12 at 2:45

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