Middle English Dictionary Entry

sub- pref.
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Entry Info

Definitions (Senses and Subsenses)

Note: Cp. sou- pref., under- pref.
A prefix in words derived primarily from L, occ. from OF, or from both, often with its original meaning still discernible: (a) 'subordinate or inferior in rank' (in nouns): subcelerer, subcollector, subdeken (already in OE), subprioresse, subpriour; (b) 'underneath, below': subcarnacioun n., subdite adj., subjugacion n. and related words, submersen v., submersioun n., submitten v., subscriben v., subscripcioun n., subumbred adj., etc.; (c) 'from below': suffumigaten v. and related words; (d) 'near, next, close to': suburban n., suburb(e n. and (in a temporal sense) subsequent adj.; (e) 'somewhat, incompletely' (in adjectives): subcitrin, subnigre, subrubicund(e, subrufe; (f) 'into a further division': subdividen v., subdivisioun n.; (g) 'away': subduccioun n., subraccioun n., subtraien v., subversioun n., subverten v., etc.; (h) 'in place of another': subrogacioun n., substitute n., substituten v. In many other words the original meaning of the prefix has been lost or obscured: sublimaten v., sublimatori n., sublimen v., substancial n. & adj., substaunce n., subtiliative adj., supplantacioun n., etc. In addition to forming agent nouns, gerunds, adjectives, and adverbs from these and other sub- words derived from L and OF, ME occasionally created new words by prefixing sub- to existing words, with the following meanings: (a) 'subordinate or inferior in rank' (in nouns): subchauntres, subden, submaistere, and perh. subbaillif and subbailliwik; (b) 'underneath, below': subscriven v. (by analogy with subscriben v.); (c) 'into a further division' or 'again': subdiminucioun n. In a few words sub- appears to be a hypercorrection, based on (a) a substitution of the primarily L prefix for the OF suffix sos-, of the same meaning, or (b) an etymological reinterpretation of the original L assimilated form. For (a): subdenli, soubdeinli, vars. of sodeinli adv.; subjournauntes, var. pl. of sojournaunt n.; soubpouaille, var. of suppouaillen v. For (b): subferabyll(e, vars. of sufferable adj.; subpositorie, var. of suppositori(e n. The form substeined, p.ppl. of sustenen v., is an example of either (a) or (b). Already in L and OF similar variations can be found, which often help to explain the ME forms, e.g., L subpositorius, var. of suppositorius adj.; ML substentare, var. of L sustentare; AF subdeinement, var. of OF soudainement.