Is it just a coincidence, or was there a reason why they ended in '-er'? I know that all of them derive from PIE, where they also ended in '-er'.

Also, is this '-er' the same '-er' particle, as in 'fighter', 'liar', 'runner', etc.?


I already answerred it, so this is a copy of my previous answer:

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".

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".

The English suffex -er does not have anything in connection, it is believed to be borrowed from Latin -arius.

  • I found this in Google Books, where the author claims that kinship suffix *-ter cannot be reliably connected to the agent suffix *-ter. So is it accepted by linguistics that they are the same *-ter?
    – sashoalm
    Jan 10 '14 at 9:13
  • Proto-Indo-European is a field where hardly anything is universally "accepted by linguistics". Everything is open for informed discussion.
    – fdb
    Jan 10 '14 at 10:44
  • @sashoalm what do you mean under "connected"? Common etymological origin or something else?
    – Anixx
    Jan 10 '14 at 17:34
  • I meant common etymological origin, yes. That was the word used in the text from Google Books, actually. Btw, does Latin '-tor' as in protector come for PIE *-ter? Also in Slavic there is an agent suffix that ends in -ar.
    – sashoalm
    Jan 10 '14 at 17:42
  • @sashoalm yes, Latin -tor is exactly the same suffix (although in "protector" it is fused with the stem "protect"). The Slavic -ar is a different suffix, related to English -er and thought to be borrowed from Latin -arius at very early times. The etymology or PIE "-ter-" is unknown.
    – Anixx
    Jan 10 '14 at 18:25

The Indo-European words for “father, mother, sister, brother” are all stems in –r, which appears as -ṛ, -er, -ēr, -ōr in different forms of these words.

The English agent suffix –er, as in "fighter", goes back to a proto-Germanic *-ārijaz, which is widely held to be ancient borrowing from the Latin suffix –ārius.

There is no connection between these.

  • 1
    "are all stems in –r" - What does this mean? I couldn't figure it out. Is this a class/type of words in PIE?
    – sashoalm
    Jan 9 '14 at 20:47

This -er is no way a particle, it is probably a very ancient Indo-European suffix of unknown meaning, not connected with the modern English agent -er suffix. These words belong to the so called athematic r-stem nouns (nouns with stems ending not in a vowel, but in -r-). Not only kinship terms belonged to that noun class, the word "water" also belongs to it (Hittite 'watar', 15th century BC).

  • 1
    Also "daiver" (brother in law), which is preserved in some Slavic languages, but not English.
    – sashoalm
    Jan 9 '14 at 20:49
  • @sashoalm - You are absolutely right. Also, the Russian "свёкор" (father-in-law), which is cognate with the Latin "socer", probably file here.
    – Yellow Sky
    Jan 9 '14 at 21:34
  • And many more, e.g. Sanskrit naptar- "grandson" (from the same root as Latin nepos, but a different stem formation).
    – fdb
    Jan 10 '14 at 0:04

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