7 Sets of Doublet and Triplet Verbs

By Mark Nichol

English borrows generously from other languages, and sometimes it does so more than once, at different periods. The result is doublets or triplets: two or three more or less similarly spelled words with common etymologies that diverge to some extent in meaning, though the linked origins are usually apparent to the observant eye. Here is a list of the more common doublet and triplet verbs, along with their distinctions of definition.

1. Abbreviate/abridge (Latin, abbreviare, “to shorten”): Both words mean “to reduce to a shorter form,” but abbreviate most commonly refers to words rendered as initials (US for “United States”) or otherwise truncated (admin. for administrator) or deprived of elements (mgr. for manager), while abridge, a synonym for condense, is used in reference to entire compositions (an abridged version of a report). It can also mean “to diminish or shorten” in terms of intangible qualities.

2. Capture/catch/chase (Latin, capere, “to hold, seize”): The first two words refer to accomplishing the objective inherent in the third word. Catch has a more neutral, wide-ranging sense of retrieval, whereas capture implies an adversarial relationship between the pursuer and the pursued.

3. Convey/convoy (Latin, conviare): These words were borrowed from French during two distinct periods. To convey means “to deliver or transfer,” or “to communicate.” To convoy is to accompany, sometimes for protection. Convoy is also used as a noun to refer to a group of vehicles or vessels that travel together.

4. Feast/fete (Latin, festum): To feast is to present or take part in a feast, or to delight or to experience something delightful; to fete is to commemorate or honor. In noun form, a feast is an elaborate celebratory meal, whereas a fest is an entertainment or party for the same purpose; it is also synonymous with fest and festival.

5. Gallop/wallop (French, waloper): To gallop is to run fast (usually said of a four-legged animal), or to cause an animal to gallop. The noun form of gallop means a run of this type or a place to engage in galloping, or, figuratively, a rapid pace. To wallop is to beat, strike, or verbally assault, although rarer senses include “to rush headlong” or “to roll around.” A wallop is a literal or figurative impact, or a thrill.

6. Guard/ward (Germanic): These descendants of a word meaning “to defend” both retain the sense of protecting from external threats, though a guard may, alternatively, be charged with keeping someone inside rather than outside.

7. Regard/reward (Anglo French, regarder, “look back at, recompense”): These words diverged in sense so that one has the neutral sense of appraisal, and the other a biased connotation of praise.

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