How did the Latin past participle suffix -atus develop into modern French -é?

Considering the two following examples: modern French état ("state; status") and été ("been"). Both derives ultimately from the Latin past participle status. But while the former, as a noun, retains a somewhat faithful representation of the root word, the latter deviates for some reason. Compare cognates in Italian, Portuguese and Spanish which have perfect parallels: Italian stato, Portuguese and Spanish estado are the single form of both the noun and past participle.

On another note, considering the suffix -té of the unrelated noun été ("summer") which is on the other hand, regular, as it derives from the Latin suffix -tas.

Basically, the most straightforward routes would be Latin -atus > French -at, -as > . Yet the past participle ending doesn't follow these routes. Why?

  • But été is surely from the oblique stem aetat-, so it is not an exception. And I don't understand your last paragraph: that is exactly the trajectory of the (1st conjugation) past participle.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 26, 2017 at 10:39
  • @ColinFine: Vun-Hugh Vaw seems to be saying in the last paragraph that he thinks "atus" had a regular reflex of "at", and "as" had a regular reflex of "é". Jun 26, 2017 at 11:45
  • @ColinFine My point was that the ending of the past participle should ideally be "-at" to be regular compared to those of other Romance languages (Italian "-ato", Portuguese and Spanish "-ado"), not "-é" as if it derived from the Latin noun ending "-as". And yet that's basically what it does. Jun 26, 2017 at 11:53
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    I haven't found a definitive answer, so I haven't posted an answer. But -atum -> is the regular development, and -at is the exception which needs explanation. See for example this.
    – Colin Fine
    Jun 26, 2017 at 13:36
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    @ColinFine (and anyone else looking at this): I've posted a tentative answer over on French SE Jun 26, 2017 at 16:48

1 Answer 1


It is a fairly regular evolution. Starting with the accusative ending -átum, we have the loss of final nasal. Then the accented /a/ in the open syllable transitioned slowly to open /ε/ (cf. -arium > -aire, -alem > -el but also mare > mer). Eventually the post-accentual vowel got lost (and the /t/ probably first got voiced intervocally, lenited to a fricative and then lost voicing word finally).

So from statum, there was something like estεθ at this stage (cf. Chanson de Roland, first strophe - (Charles li reis) ad estet in Espaigne). With the loss of word final consonant, the syllable opened and followed the rule of closed vowel in open syllable, becoming /e/.

été (summer) follows pretty much the same path from aestas/aestatem.

état (state) is the exception here and I bet it is not a direct descendant but rather an early borrowing from Latin.

  • You are most likely correct - before the loss of the final vowel, the original Latin /t/ got voiced to /d/ but also it most likely continued the lenition to a fricative as in Spanish or elsewhere in French (c.f. sudor > sueur). With the final devoicing, this would produce /θ/, which would be even more likely to be further supressed.
    – Eleshar
    Jun 26, 2017 at 22:47
  • Amateur here: It would seem to me that in all three examples, a metathesis takes place, and then the diphthongs ai and ae gradually become an umlaut-ed a, which then naturally morphs into an e. Same for aestatem. This does not the seem to be the case with status, -um, however. If anything, we should have had étau(t).
    – Lucian
    Jul 24, 2017 at 21:04
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    It is because there is no metathesis - do not get confused by the historicising orthography of French where you have -aire instead of -ère simply because some scholars of old liked to make the written form more reminiscent of the Latin original (which in some cases they even determined incorrectly). There is no evidence of any -aCem > -aeC metathesis and there is quite overwhelming evidence against it (basically all the passive participles ending in -atum still following the same course of evolution as you aptly noted yourself).
    – Eleshar
    Jul 26, 2017 at 21:24

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