Latin Roots 11: capio, capere, cepi, captum - to take, capture, understand

The Latin roots discussed so far have had a massive influence on the English language and the root capio "to take, to capture" is no exception. English has been the recipient of so many words from this source, that it would be little exaggeration to say that capio has taken English captive, with a princely number of words from this root accepted into the language. Interestingly, capio goes back to the Proto-Indo-European root *kap- "grasp", which is also the source of Welsh caeth "captive, slave", Sanskrit कपटी /kapati/ "two handfuls", English have, haft and heave and German haben. Appearances regarding the capio root can be deceptive, as the cap/cep morpheme is often surrounded by prefixes and suffixes, meaning that the links to this root may not be immediately perceptible. Capio also has a number of derived forms in which the cap/cep has morphed into cup/cip - so we will occupy ourselves in uncovering these words in this blog post too. Wordsmiths have had the further difficulty of distinguishing between words related to capio and those words derived from caput "head" (capital, biceps, captain, cattle). However, I anticipate that we will be capable of doing so! Let's look first at some of the English words taken directly from the source root capio itself, and its frequentative form capto.


Match the words in the list to their meanings below. Hover your mouse to reveal the answers (tap on mobiles)


  • cafe 691956 640Some quality cateringcaitiff
  • capable
  • capacitor
  • capacity
  • caption
  • captivate
  • captive
  • captivity
  • captor
  • capture
  • cater
  • incapable
  • incapacitated
  • incapacity


1.   ability to hold a specified quantity, breadth  questionmark 

2.   deprived of strength, power or ability questionmark 

3.   charm, enchant, attract and hold the interest of someone questionmark 

4.   someone who captures and keeps another person prisoner questionmark 

5.   provide food and provisions for an event, provide needed services questionmark 

6.   despicable, cowardly  questionmark 

7.   an explanation or title for an illustration, photo or picture  questionmark 

8.   a person who has been taken prisoner  questionmark 

9.   able to achieve or do something  questionmark 

10. physical or mental inability to do something; a state of being legaly disqualified questionmark 

11. the state of being locked up, situation of being deprived of freedom  questionmark 

12. take into possession, seize; record a moment or event in words or pictures  questionmark 

13. unable to achieve or accomplish something  questionmark 

14. a device on an electric circuit that accumulates and stores electricity  questionmark 


Cater came into English via a rather convoluted route. The word is ultimately derived from the Latin frequentative capto "catch, grasp". Later, it was borrowed by Old French as achatar, (now acheter) by which time the meaning had evolved to "buy". Anglo-French had the word achatour "buyer", which became catour "buyer of provisions" in Middle English. From here, it was a short leap to cater and catering, which with delicious irony, and to the dismay of the Académie française, has been borrowed back into French as le catering.


Let's now turn to some of the derived forms of this root.


accept (ad- to, towards). If you take to something, you find it acceptable.  You might be unconvinced, however, by generally accepted theories and so be unwilling to subscribe to them acceptingly. On the other hand, if you are in a more acceptant frame of mind, you are more likely to go along with someone else's wishes and so give your acceptance. Hollywood celebrities are renowned for their cringeworthy acceptance speeches at the Oscars and Golden Globes when accepting awards, although this tendency has been tempered in recent years by the hiring of masters of ceremonies such as Ricky Gervais to ridicule and satirise such excesses. 



anticipate (ante- before). When we anticipate events, we look forward to them happening. This verb is also used when we act upon our expectations, as when a footballer preempts an opponent's pass with an anticipatory tackle. When we envisage that something pleasant is going to happen, we have a sense of anticipation, we are excited about it coming to pass. The expected events need not be positive though - whereas revellers anticipate that New Year's Eve will be a great party night, on-duty doctors and police officers anticipate drunken violence, preventable injuries and copious amounts of vomit.

conceive (con- with, together). Latin concipere meant "take in and hold" as is done when we grasp the fundamentals of a concept. This verb also meant "become pregnant" and the moment of conception occurs when the sperm reaches the egg, upon which a woman conceives. To prevent this happening, contraceptives are used (contra- against), and a variety of forms of contraception are available in many countries. When we conceive that something is true, we form an understanding and take it into the mind. These conceptual notions may be innovative and original and when we conceptualise these thoughts, we form clear pictures and ideas in our minds. However, some entrenched ideas may be preconceived and demonstrably false on later examination and our preconceptions in such cases will not bear scrutiny as they are based on a misconceived false premise. What is inconceivable in one era becomes recognised fact with the advance of time and knowledge. Few people now believe the misconception that the sun goes round the Earth rather than vice-versa or that the Earth is flat. Similarly, few rational beings would agree with the creationists claim that the Earth is 6,000 years old as opposed to the 4.5 billion years calculated by scientists. The earliest recorded meaning of conceit is "something conceived in the mind". The sense evolved to "fanciful or witty notion", as encapsulated by literary conceits, and then to "vanity, self-importance", a shortening of self-conceit. Conceited people have an exaggeratedly high opinion of themselves. 

deceive (de- from). If we deceive others, we deliberately cheat, defraud or entrap them. In such circumstances, we are playing the role of deceivers, and our victims are the deceived. Deception usually implies dishonesty, although it is sometimes used to mean "strategic trickery", as in "the art of deception" practised by magicians and other performers. If you make yourself believe that something contrary to the facts is true as a means of avoiding an unpalatable truth, this is self-deception. Generally dishonest behaviour is known as deceit and those who habitually lie are labelled deceitful. However, not all behaviour which seems dishonest actually turns out to be so, in which case appearances have been deceptive.

except (ex- out). If something is excepted it is not included with the rest. The word except is most commonly used as a preposition to show that something is different from the others, an exception to the norm. Exceptional people are outside the norm and may be exceptionally talented. In exceptional circumstances, unusual events occur. An excipient is an inert substance that is used as a bulking agent alongside the active ingredient of a medicine to stabilise or dilute it.

inception (in- in). The inception of something happens at its beginning. An archaic verb incept also exists, meaning "start", from which the adjective inceptive, meaning "initial" is derived. Incipient refers to something in its initial stages - after finding a common interest in toe-sucking, Trevor's incipient relationship with Laetitia moved to the next level.

intercept (inter- between). When something is intercepted it is cut off, obstructed and prevented from reaching its destination. An interceptor is a fast aircraft which is used to intercept other aircraft. The act of intercepting is interception. In ball sports, interceptions happen when the opposing team cuts out a pass and takes possession of the ball.


Now use some of the forms above to complete the paragraph below:


_____questionmark_____ out of wedlock, and now the most renowned example of Renaissance Man, Leonardo da Vinci was the product of a roll in the hay between a notary, Piero da Vinci and a peasant girl Caterina. At the age of 14, Leonardo was _____questionmark_____ as an apprentice by the leading Florentine painter and sculptor of the age, Andrea del Verrochio, but few would _____questionmark_____ that this _____questionmark______ artist was to become an embodiment of the "Universal Genius", an _____questionmark_____ talented polymath, whose name would still be lauded half a millenium after his death. Leonardo's most famous painting of the 1490s is The Last Supper, in which Jesus, aware of Judas Iscariot's ______questionmark______ behaviour announces that one of his disciples is going to betray him. Of course, his most well-known painting is the Mona Lisa, produced in the first decade of the sixteenth century and famous for the elusive, _____questionmark_____ simple smile on the woman's face in the painting. As a scientist, Leonardo built on the existing scientific _____questionmark_____ of the time, but produced many _____questionmark_____ drawings, which were way ahead of the technology of the time. These would be admired in later years by other scientists and inventors. He is variously credited as the inventor of the double hull, the tank, the helicopter and the parachute.


occupy (ob- to,on). People who live in properties are the occupants of the building. If these homes are occupied by the people that own them, they are owner-occupied. Our jobs occupy a great deal of our time, and the business which we engage in is our occupation. Occupational therapy is supervised treatment used for people who have physical or mental disorders to develop or recover work skills. If one country occupies another, it invades it and places the territory in question under the authority of the hostile army. Military occupation means that the invaded country is forced to abide by rules imposed on it by the occupying power. The world's longest ongoing military occupation is Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, which has been in effect since 1967. If people are preoccupied (pre- before), then they are distracted or have something on their minds. These thoughts preoccupy them and they give all of their attention to their preoccupation

participate (pars- part). If we get involved in something we take part or participate in it. The people who do this are the participants in the event, whether they are willing or have to be coerced into doing it. Participation in household tasks is a bone of contention in families when the children (or father) are not inclined to help the long-suffering mother. From the second half of the twentieth century onwards, workers in companies have been encouraged to be participative in the decision-making process (when their views coincided with the views of their bosses). The word participle, literally "a sharing" also comes from this root, the notion being that the participle can share its function as either an adjective -  the smoking gun, the smoked fish - or a noun - she has given up smoking. English grammar has two forms of participle, the present participle, or -ing form - swimming, sleeping - and the past participle, the third form of the verb - swum, slept.

perceive (per- by, through). When something is perceptible, we can see or notice it, we can tell that it is there. If we can't detect the presence of something, then that thing is imperceptible and is too slight or subtle to be perceived. People who are sensitive to what is going on around them are perceptive - they are aware of what is being said, but also what is left unsaid. The way in which you understand what is happening is your perception. Often people's perceptions of the same events can differ markedly as they understand it in different ways. Some people believe in a sixth sense, some kind of psychic power or extrasensory perception independent of the five senses. Others perceive that these proponents of the paranormal are misguided, deluded or simply charlatans.

precept (prae- before). Although the words derived from praecipio "take or seize beforehand", are now rare in Modern English, two words are still used. Precept is a general rule or principle intended to govern behaviour, while a preceptor is a tutor or instructor, especially a practising physician who gives guidance and instruction to a medical student or young doctor. 

prince (primus- first). Primus combined with ceps "catcher" gave Latin princeps "prince". From this source came other words related to origins and first parts, many of which were borrowed by French and then English. As well as prince, English has the female equivalent princess, the adjective princely and the noun principality, and its alternative form princedom. A principality is a region or state governed by a prince, such as Liechenstein, Wales and Monaco.  A principal is a chief or head, especially a head of a school. As an adjective, principal means "foremost" or "most important" - the principal reason you are reading this is because it's gone direct to your inbox. A principle is a fundamental axiom, a primary rule or truth. Principled people have strong morals and beliefs, based on their personal values. Unprincipled people are considered to be unscrupulous and amoral, not living their lives in accordance with the moral principles of the era.    



receive (re- back, again). Recipio is the source of a whole host of English words, with the verb receive having a number of different meanings and derivatives. The most common meaning of receive is "obtain, accept". People who receive things are recipients, and they may also ask for a receipt to show that they have paid for the goods received. Receivables are sums of money that you are owed from other people. A receiver can be a person appointed by a court to manage the property of people who have been declared bankrupt, in a system known as receivership. Receiver may also refer to a person who knowingly receives or buys stolen goods or the part of a fixed telephone that is held by the user. Receive can also mean "welcome" - hospitable hosts receive their guests, and hotel receptionists receive their guests at the hotel reception. A wedding reception occurs after the wedding ceremony when the newly married bride and groom welcome their guests to a party that starts with decorous formality and often ends in family feuds and drunken carnage when people who neither know nor like each other are forced together in an unnatural setting with ridiculous amounts of alcohol in a recipe for disaster. More traditional recipes are those which set out how to prepare and cook different dishes. Received wisdom is that which has been generally accepted to be the truth, although it may be contrary to the facts. For a long time it was received wisdom in Republican circles in the USA that Barack Obama was a Muslim, despite him being a practising Christian. Received pronunciation is the prestige English accent spoken in public schools, ivory towers and some parts of south-east England, although it is actually based on the Early Modern English accent spoken in the East Midlands, a fact unlikely to appeal to Harry Enfield's Mr Cholmondley-Warner. A receptacle is a container or storage device - a wine glass is a receptacle for wine. People who are receptive like to receive and assimilate new information and ideas. If you are unreceptive to a proposal you are against it and unwilling to consider or recognise its possible merits. A receptor is a sensory nerve ending that receives external stimuli and then changes them into nerve impulses.

The Latin verbs recupero and recipero are formed from recipio and are the sources of recuperate and recover respectively. If we are recuperating, we are regaining our health after an illness or operation. In the past, people were often advised to spend periods of recuperation in warmer latitudes rather than in the damp environs of the British Isles. If we recover something, we regain possession of it, we get it back. If we have been ill or injured, we may need some time to recover our health, or we may take medication in order to hasten our recovery. If people faint, they may be placed in the recovery position by a person with a knowledge of first aid to prevent their choking and allow them unrestricted breathing. 

susceptible (sub- under). If you are susceptible to something or to someone's influence, you are liable to be affected or harmed by it. If you have a susceptibility to a drug or disease, you are likely to be adversely affected or weakened by it.


Finally here is a quiz which captures various elements of capio:


1.    Which of these nations did not occupy Albania at some point during the twentieth century?  questionmark 

a)  Bulgaria    b)  Greece    c)  Italy    d)  Serbia


2.    In botany, what is the receptacle? questionmark 

a)  the thickened part of the stem from which the flower organs grow     b)  the opening bud of the flower    c)  the stigma    d)  the root hairs


3.  In a moment of madness, The Carpenters decided to pen a song Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft. What did they rhyme with interplanetary?  questionmark 

a)  so advanced it's scary    b)  a galactic fairy    c)  interestingly hairy    d) anti adversary



4.  What kind of wine do you need to use if you are following a traditional recipe for coq au vin?  questionmark 

a)  Pinot Noir    b)  Cabernet Sauvignon    c)  Merlot    d)  Gamay


5.  Which modern philosopher outlined the Falsification Principle, whereby a theory is only genuinely scientific if you know what would disprove it?  questionmark 

a)  Ludwig Wittgenstein    b)  Immanuel Kant    c) Karl Popper    d) David Hume


6.  Complete the quote from Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, "anything is better than lies and __________?"  questionmark 

a)  receipts    b)  deceit    c)  conceit    d)  anticipation


7.  What is a wide receiver?  questionmark 

a)  a massive telecommunications antenna    b)  a fat bailiff    c)  a space telescope    d) a winger in American Football


8.  According the the Guinness Book of Records' mass participation records, the largest gathering of Elvis Presley impersonators occurred in Cherokee, North Carolina in 2014. How many people were dressed up as the King of Rock and Roll?   questionmark 

a)  16    b)  356    c) 557    d)  895


9.  Which director embarrassed himself by quoting his own movie at the 1998 Oscars in his acceptance speech for Best Director?   questionmark 

a)  James Cameron "I am the King of the World" (Titanic)    b)  Cameron Williams "Are you leaving already?" (Forgive and Forget)    c)  Colin Williams "Lusk - what's your point?" (Love Lies Bleeding)    d)  Quentin Tarantino "Do you find me sadistic?" (Kill Bill)


10.  Complete the well-known idiom, "it is the exception that proves __________"  questionmark 

a)  the fool    b)  the cool    c)  the rule    d)  the tool


As you may have perceived, that is the end of this blog post - I hope it is warmly received!









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