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In French, there are three of these endings, as far as I know, and they go as follows:

  • -er
  • -ir
  • -re

How did these suffixes evolve and why did certain verbs get certain endings? Also, why are there only three infinitive endings? Were they solidified during the re-latinization of French?

  • There are actually many more tenses then the ones you mentioned. Just to cite a few others of them: "-oir", "-indre", "-oudre", -"aître" (and the list goes on). – Von Kar Apr 8 '16 at 22:54
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These aren't tense suffixes, just infinitive ones.

French has four of these, straightforwardly derived from the four/five Latin conjugation classes:

  • -āre evolved into -er: amāre - aimer; lavāre - laver; parabolāre - parlare - parler

  • -ēre evolved into -oir: bibēre - boivre - boire; habēre - avoir; movēre - mouvoir

  • -ĕre evolved into -re: vincere - vaincre; prehendere - prendere - prendre; esse - essere - esre - estre - être. Because the short vowel disappeared, the /r/ was brought in contact with the preceding consonant. This caused some sound changes in the infinitive, future and conditional that aren't found in the other tenses. For example, *nascere has a stem ending in /s/ in the imperfect and the present subjunctive (elle naissait, qu'elle naisse) and in /k/ in the perfect and the past subjunctive (elle naquit, elle naquît), but in the infinitive a /t/ appeared between the /s/ and the /r/, giving naître. So you'll sometimes see this suffix split between the different results of this sound change: -aître (from -Vscere); -indre (from -Vngere); -oudre (from -olere), etc.

  • īre evolved into -ir: tenīre - tenir, *sufferīre - souffrir.

So they arose naturally, from expected sound changes from Latin (although the /R/ from the -ir ending disappeared at the same time as the /R/ from the -er ending, and was reintroduced later).

Of course, there were some verbs that changed class, either way back in Vulgar Latin (the classical verb for souffrir was suffĕre, which should have given souffre) or later (Latin cŭrrĕre evolved into Old French courre -still preserved in the expression chasse à courre- and was changed into courir later).

Modern loanwords from Latin always take a -er suffix, without regard for the Latin suffix. Exigĕre was borrowed as exiger for example.

There's also one verb that doesn't have an infinitive suffix in : fiche, an obsolete verb mostly used nowadays as a politer version of foutre.

As a final note, while these infinitive suffixes can be classified as deriving from the Latin conjugation classes, they aren't really linked to the French conjugation classes. French verbs are split into three groups: the regular -er verbs (from Latin -āre), the regular -ir verbs (from Latin -iscīre) and the irregular verbs (from everything else).

  • Did you mean to write parvlare? Pretty sure that should be parlare. – temporary_user_name Apr 11 '16 at 20:05
  • Also I have never seen French infinitives categorized into four forms, always three, with -oir just called irregular or part of -ir. But I am just an American. Is four canonical in France? – temporary_user_name Apr 11 '16 at 20:07
  • @Aerovistae No, three, as explained in the last paragraph of Eau's answer. But the last group is “everything else”, and it contains verbs with different etymological derivations. – Gilles Apr 11 '16 at 20:16
  • Ah, yes, I failed to read to the very end. Thanks. – temporary_user_name Apr 11 '16 at 20:26
  • @Aerovistae I hesitated a bit between *paravolare, *paraulare and parlare as an in-between from Vulgar Latin to Old French and ended up with nonsense without realising. Parlare is fine, yeah – Eau qui dort Apr 13 '16 at 12:47

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