Is there a connection between the word "nine" and "new"? The two words are similar in many languages.

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    They were very similar in Proto-Indo-European, which is why they are similar in many Indo-European languages. I am not aware of any reason to think that they are ultimately related. – Colin Fine Dec 14 '13 at 1:20

As Colin Fine says, the words are somewhat similar in Proto-Indo-European: 'nine' is PIE *h1neun, 'new' is PIE *neuo-. The latter word seems clearly derived from *nu 'now': 'new' is 'that of now'. Phonologically it seems difficult to relate *h1neun to *nu/*neuo-, both because of the initial laryngeal and the final n, neither of which could be added by any regular derivational process; and semantically there's no obvious relationship between 'nine' and 'new'. So they're most likely unrelated - although see fdb's answer for some reasonable arguments to the contrary.


This is a long-standing discussion. The idea is that the ancestors of the Indo-Europeans counted on the four fingers (not including the thumb) of one hand. *oktō is a dual meaning “two spans”. The word for “nine” introduces a “new” set of four. The mentioned phonological objections are not insurmountable. The initial laryngeal has been posited mainly to explain the initial vowel in Gk. ἐννέα but this is not the only possible explanation (prefixed ἐν according to Schwyzer, Griech. Gr. I, 591). In principle you could reconstruct the PIE word for “nine” as *newṃ (Latin novem) and regard this as the neuter singular of *new- , with secondary assimilation of n…m to n….n in Germanic etc. This is all pretty much mainstream IE theory; of course, none of this is certain.

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    If you reconstruct it as "*newṃ", you then have to explain the n in Latin nonus ("ninth") vs septimus, decimus. – Colin Fine Dec 15 '13 at 22:00
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    The Indo-Europeanists are divided as to whether the word for “nine” is *newṇ or *newṃ. In both cases one has to reckon either with assimilation (n/m > n/n) or with dissimilation (n/n/ > n/m) in various daughter languages. – fdb Dec 15 '13 at 23:46
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    Surely if *new- could be declined athematically, its neuter singular would be *new not *newm? Athematics take zero ending in the neuter singular. – TKR Dec 16 '13 at 4:23
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    That is a valid objection. The favoured variant of the “new/nine” theory is that the alleged heteroclite *new-n / *new-r is an n/r extension of *new-. As I have said above, I am keeping an open mind on this question. The main attraction of this theory is that it fits in with the observation that *oktō “eight” is the dual of an IE word for “span” (the source of Avestan ašti-), as established by Henning, Transactions of the Philological Society, 1948, 69. – fdb Dec 16 '13 at 18:04

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