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It appears that in general adjectives can be nominalized by adding the suffix -heit, which however changes to -keit in case the adjective already has been formed by use of a suffix, like -bar,*-ig*, -lich, -sam.

As stated in etymology-on-line for the English suffix -hood, and by Kluge's Etymological Dictionary of the German Language, -heit has its origin in an independent noun (hade? in old English), the same root occurs in the German adjective heiter and has cognates in other Indo-European languages.

Is there any etymological evidence (earlier forms of German) showing how -keit developed from -heit?

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title of the book is Etymological Dictionary of the German Language (available online) –  S.Rhee Dec 7 '13 at 16:42

2 Answers 2

The etymology of the ending "-keit" is rather complicated, as we have influences from a different pronunciation in High German vs. Low German dialects here.

Example "Ewigkeit":

Up until today the adjective ending "-ig" is pronounced differently in northern and southern regions. See for example "ewig":

  • Pronunciation in standard German: [ˈeːvɪç] (same a ch in "Ich").
  • Pronunciation in Swabia: [ˈeːvɪk] (same as ck in "dick").

Now, for "ewig" the pronunciation in Old High German was different from today, as we can see from the Middle High German spelling ewic, or ewik. The adjective was then nominalized using the common suffix "-heit" to give Ewic-heit which then became Ewikeit by dropping the h on pronunciation.

Only later the now missing g from "ewig" was reintroduced to become "Ewigkeit". Until today this added g curiously is pronounced as "ch" in standard German: [ˈeːvɪçkaɪ̯t]. Interestingly in many German dialects "Ewigkeit" is still pronunced as [ˈeːvɪkaɪ̯t], i.e. the g introduced from spelling is ignored.

Other variants

This phenomenon happened to many adjectives, including other adjectives that did not end on -ic leading to an independent additional suffix -keit, and even another independent suffix -igkeit was introduced (e.g. "Gerechtigkeit", "Farbigkeit"). In other cases the -keit suffix was dropped again for -heit (e.g. rein > Reinic-heit > Reinekeit > Reinheit), or both suffixes coexisted at times (Frommheit - Frömmigkeit, Munterheit - Munterkeit). On top of all this confusion it may also be that when pronounced as ch the ending may also be spelt with ch (vrœlīc-heit > Fröhlichkeit).

For a concise insight into the etymology of "-keit" and many more examples see:

Indo-European etymology

In Old High German -heit already is present, sharing it's roots with the adjective heiter, and the Old Saxonian hēd, Old English hād, Gothic haidus, and Old Norsk heiðr. All these, and Old Indian kētúḥ, or Latin caelum probably go back to a common Indo-European root (s)kāi-.DWDS


In summary we can see that the suffix -keit shares the same etymology with -heit but it's spelling changed over time.

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It seems somewhat strange that the entry in Grimms Wörterbuch der deutschen Sprache for -heit does not mention the common origin with the adjective heiter, which is pointed out however in Kluge's Etymological dictionary of the German language (see heiter and -heit) and is also suggested by the entry for -hood in etymology-on-line. –  S.Rhee Dec 8 '13 at 17:56
in fact Grimm's Wörterbuch does show the connection: in the entry for heiter it says: "auszer dem schon angeführten kêtu erscheinung, klarheit", where "sanskr. kêtu-s" occurs in the earlier entry for -heit. –  S.Rhee Dec 8 '13 at 18:19
Added some etymology. –  Takkat Dec 8 '13 at 19:18

Maybe this explains it better for you.

-keit is a result of a wrong segmentation of two Middle High German suffixes -ec (-ig) and -heit: -ec-heit was interpreted as -e-keit.

-keit seems to be the equivalent to the English -ness

The reference for -heit is here

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above answer seems to very well explain -igkeit, and even -ichkeit, but how about -barkeit (e.g. Haltbarkeit,Lesbarkeit,Unfehlbarkeit, etc) and -samkeit (e.g. Wachsamkeit, Arbeitsamkeit,etc.). Bedeutet obige Antwort dass, -barkeit, -samkeit, ihren Ursprung in so etwas wie -barigheit, -samigheit haben)? –  S.Rhee Dec 7 '13 at 17:50
To answer your question ("Beudeutet...)...Yes. It's an issue of pronouncing the ec-heit. If you read it more like e-cheit, the ch is sometimes pronounced as k. Many dialects in German still do that today. For example 'Chemie', is pronounced as Kemie. Technically, it is wrong, some dialects still do it. Thus, I would consider it as a result of false pronunciation rather than "re-invention" of the language. –  Felix_Sim Dec 7 '13 at 17:54
answer 1 explains how -ec+-heit became -keit, but returning to e.g. haltbar und wachsam, how did Haltbarheit, Wachsamheit become Haltbarkeit, Wachsamkeit, it would seem that at some point by analogy with adjectives with ending -ig, or -lich, the change from -heit to -keit was extended to all adjectives which already have a suffix. –  S.Rhee Dec 7 '13 at 18:38
correction: it seems -ec(-ig) + -heit did not become -keit but -igkeit (e.g. Notwendigkeit) –  S.Rhee Dec 7 '13 at 18:55
Why "wrong"? What could possibly be wrong with concatenating hard to pronounce endings? The Wiktionary entry may need more substance here. –  Takkat Dec 7 '13 at 19:09

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