One can notice that the word parfait, which literally translates to perfect in English seems to contain two distinct French words.

First, par, which is sometimes rendered in English as per (as in miles per hour) meaning 'by'.

Secondly, the verb fait, possibly a conjugation of the verb faire meaning 'to do'. Maybe, according to Google Translate, fait here means 'fact'.

Putting these together to get "per action" or maybe "per fact".

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    The wiktionary gives you the answer straight away. Parfait is the past participle of the verb parfaire that is derived from the verb faire plus the prefix -par. I expect most French people won't see it a compound word nowadays.
    – None
    Commented Mar 30, 2017 at 18:13

1 Answer 1


Short answer: Technically, no, but your reasoning is not really false.

Two ways to see it:

1. Parfait can be considered the past participle of the verb "parfaire", which is neither a compound word in the French sense (two French words put together) nor in the English sense, as "par" is here technically a "préfixe", that is a particle commonly put behind the radical to form the word, like "parvenir", "parcourir", "parachever". It is, you guessed it correctly, a variant of per, meaning "through" in Latin.

2. Parfait, like its English counterpart perfect and other European words is in fact derived from the Latin "perfect passive participle" perfectus and is as such a single, non-compound word. Perfectus like its basic form perficio, is composed of per- (through) + facere (to do) meaning "to carry out".

However, although that basic form perficio is composed of multiple morphemes in Latin, it's still not a compound, but a derivation. Compounds are considered to be formed from two different independent lexemes, instead of an affix + an independent lexeme. While Latin did have a word per, what is present in perficio and many such words is the prefix per- (etymologically connected, of course).

I like to give these two similar explanations because they highlight the particularities of European Latin etymologies.

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    Indeed — so many words in Romance languages (and languages they were borrowed into) can be broken down etymologically, but functionally have just one base today. I edited this answer to clarify the difference between compounding and derivation. (I gather from your answer that you know this, but overlooked the fact that Latin words like this are formed from affixes rather than independent lexemes.) Feel free to change my wording if you want.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 20:17
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    Good edit. I just changed 'infinitive' to 'basic form' (that's how we called this when Iearned Latin) as a compromise between simplicity and correct grammatical wording.
    – Yves
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 22:35
  • Thanks! Slip of the tongue... of the mind?... on my part.
    – Luke Sawczak
    Commented Apr 2, 2017 at 22:39

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