• bereft •
bê-reft • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Deprived of, missing.
Notes: Today's Good Word is a good example of a word in transition. The verb bereave "deprive of" is traditionally conjugated bereave, bereft (past tense), bereft (past participle). Today, however, most speakers and writers 'regularize' it: bereave, bereaved, bereaved. That gives us two past participles to use in reference to deprivation. Bereaved is generally used in reference to humans, as in the bereaved widow. Today's Good Word is associated with nonhuman nouns, as in bereft of all hope.
In Play: Here is a sentence that shows the difference between bereaved and bereft: "Her husband died, leaving the bereaved woman bereft of any hope of recovering the money he had taken from their banking account." Notice that we may be bereaved by people other than our immediate family. Bereft is generally used with abstract nouns, like hope, power, and ideas, but it may be used with concrete nouns, too: "Mike Hassel's new house was bereft of any personal artifacts that would have given the visitor some hint of his personality."
Word History: Today's Good Word is the descendant of Old English bereafian. It is composed of the archaic prefix be-, which we also see in because, believe, and bemuse. The prefix is clipped onto the root reaf, which goes back to Proto-Indo-European reup- "snatch". The suffix -ian is the the infinitive ending, long since lost. Reup- became raubon "rob" in Old Germanic, whence French borrowed it as rober "rob", adding its infinitive suffix, -er. English then borrowed it back from French as rob, giving us two words (rob and bereave) for the price of one.
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