Briefly: more -ible -able

Over on ADS-L, a discussion of distract{i/a}bility, by squirrels and by people with ADHD, but there’s the spelling thing, which I happen to have looked at for collectible / collectable just a couple of days back. But every pair has its own story.

For distractible / distractable, the story is pretty clear.  The adjective came in as a learnèd borrowing, ultimately from classical Latin, with the I spelling because the relevant Latin base verb, trahere ‘to carry’, was 3rd-conjugation, with I as its union vowel for –bilis ability adjectives. OED2 has only two cites, from 1730 and 1775. But then English borrowed the verb distract, ultimately from the past participle of that verb, but a new verb on its own, so its derived ability adjective used the default formative –ableOED3 (March 2006) has the adjective distractable (as a variant of distractible), with first cite 1928. Plenty of occurrences of the –able variant, but (according to the Google Ngram Viewer) it’s much dwarfed by the -ible variant, no doubt because the -ible variant “looks fancier”.

In any case, both spelling vatiants should be accounted as acceptable. There might, however, well be people who have a subtle semantic/pragmatic distinction between the two spellings.

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