behave, behold, belong, befall [prefix be-]

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French - France
Hello I'm learning english. I'd like to grasp the meaning of the prefix be- in verb building, in what way does it change the sense of the stem.
It is said of befriend and belittle that the be- means "make or cause to be". I can figure them out as well as : betake oneself, befog, bestow...
eventually befall. Belong does it cause you to long/yearn what is not yours? I don't get it very well.
Neither do I with such verbs as : behave, behold. So my questions are : Do they all pertain to the rule? Help?
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    Hi Sean - welcome to the forums!

    The prefix be- is very complicated: the OED takes three whole paragraphs to explain it:).

    In some contexts, it does mean, as you say "cause to be".

    Beryl from Northallerton

    Senior Member
    British English
    >Belong does it cause you to long/yearn what is not yours? I don't get it very well.

    No. This is not the 'causal' sense of 'be-'. (I'd speculate that this would have once been an intensifier of sorts, but I've not had access to my dictionaries since the builders came. It could be some time yet. If Loob says it's very complicated, I'd be minded to believe her.)

    Welcome to the Forum! :)


    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    This is from the Online Etymological Dictionary's definition of be-
    word-forming element with a wide range of meaning: "thoroughly, completely; to make, cause seem; to provide with; at, on, to, for," from Old English be- "on all sides" (also used to make transitive verbs and as a privative or intensive prefix), from weak form of Old English bi "by," probably cognate with second syllable of Greek amphi, Latin ambi and originally meaning "about" (see ambi-).

    This sense naturally drifted into intensive (cf. bespatter "spatter about," therefore "spatter very much"). Be- can also be privative (cf. behead), causative, or have just about any sense required. [....]

    I suggest that you look up the individual examples that interest you on that website. The explanations can be interesting.
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