The word "laugh" exists in English, but not "*daugh", even though both have a -ter word and their forms are similar.

I can't find the function of the morpheme "-ter" here, which may be irrelevant to the "-ter" in "enter" or "utter", which are a comparative suffix (from PIE *-tero) and a frequentative suffix "-er"(of unknown origin to me), respectively.

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    I'm not sure that -ter is a morpheme at all, but it seems that the sources of this ending are not the same: laughter was *hlahtraz in Proto-Germanic whereas daughter was *dochter. These words only have similar modern spellings by accident, as is suggested by their very different pronunciations. Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 5:42
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    A general, methodological note on your question. In Modern English, words like "enter", "utter", and "daughter" are monomorphemic. As for the suffix -ter in Modern English, it is recognized/analyzed/present in two words only, laughter::laugh and slaughter::slay. However, if you're interested in comparative/historical linguistics, it's another story. In other words, your question, as is, is ambiguous.
    – Alex B.
    Commented Nov 24, 2012 at 18:52
  • @Alex B: What about rafter:roof. Commented Nov 26, 2012 at 20:40
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    @AlexB. Hi~Alex! I hope to find out the etymology of the word "daughter" diachronically, because I'am not sure whether the "-ter" here is just the kinship suffix "-ter" in L. pater and mater, and if so, what does "daugh" in the word mean?
    – archenoo
    Commented Nov 27, 2012 at 2:08
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    @archenoo it is not known by the current science. Some linguists proposed that it could mean "milker" or "who prepares food" but these suggestions are mostly rejected.
    – Anixx
    Commented Dec 1, 2012 at 8:02

3 Answers 3


There was the agent suffix -ter- of PIE. It was used for creation of terms for relatives and for creation of agent nouns.

Suffix -ter- was used to create a noun for person whose function or profession was to perform the action (irrespective whether he actually did it) while the o-grade of it -tor- was used to denote a person who just did the action. The combination of suffixes -a̯-ter- was used for some relatives.

Thus the term for daughter in PIE was dhuga̯tēr.

The same suffix in zero-grade, "-tr-" in combination with inanimate ending "-om" was used for creating words for tools, such as a̯ero̯trom "plow", u̯estrom "wear", tere̯trom "auger", costrom "knife".

Thus regular PIE rules suggest that a combination of the root for laugh, "kleg-" plus "-tr-" such as in "klegtrom" should give a non-animate noun related to laugh. In Pre-Germanic the ending could change from inanimate -om to masculine -os to render (via metathesis) *hlahtraz in Proto-Germanic.

It is more possible though that the word by this same process was formed already after Germanic branch split of PIE because other branches do not show use of the -tr- suffix with this root.

By the way, of course, the PIE superlative -ter-os was also another use of the same suffix. Thus "gela̯teros" would mean "more joyful". The word "enter" (from Latin intra-) is another example of use of this suffix with adverbs: e̯en "in" + "-ter-om" -> e̯enterom "intestines", of which locative case is e̯enteri "inside".

  • Very interesting! Commented Nov 22, 2012 at 9:59
  • Thanks for your answer!!it's really informative and helpful!
    – archenoo
    Commented Dec 3, 2012 at 14:03
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    Laughter is not related to the Greek root gela-: PIE g gives Germanic *k, not *h. It's also far from certain that the suffix of *laughter is related to either PIE *-ter (kinship noun/agent noun) or *-trom (instrument), since it's semantically quite different from both.
    – TKR
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 23:31
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    What theory of Indo-European linguistics does this answer adhere to? I haven't ever seen semivowel versions of the "full" vowels /*e *o *a/. Are those laryngeals? Why show them as semivowels?
    – Darkgamma
    Commented Aug 31, 2014 at 0:59

Would it be much of a leap to suggest this as an example of a "cranberry morpheme"? A somewhat fossilised style of inflection, in that it no longer carries any distinct meaning in itself, but nonetheless is still quite pertinent to the meaning of the the word itself.

I've also put a little more thought into it and have come up with daughter, sister, from English, as well as mater and pater from Latin as examples of famillial relations employing -ter.

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    Of course, as is was suffix for relatives: mea̯tēr, pa̯tēr, dhuġa̯tēr, bhrea̯tēr, i̯ena̯tēr, but NOT word for sister which was su̯esōr and only later accuired the modern form due to levelling.
    – Anixx
    Commented Dec 1, 2012 at 7:56

Even with English being a third language to me, the grammatical purport of the suffix "-ter" in words such as "laughter" is easily deducible with only a second's worth of though expended. The affixation of "-ter" is an obvious, though uncommon from my experience, inflectional suffix serving to change a verb, as in "laugh", into a noun. Compare "He laughed at the joke I had told him..." to "His laughter at the joke I had told him...".

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