Why drop the “i” in “explanation”?

I often catch myself trying to write ?explaination, phonetically spelling the word in my head. To my chagrin I get part way through and have to stop myself.

So I’m wondering why is the i dropped? I can’t think of other words ending ‑ain that take the ‑ation suffix for comparison.


Expanding on ΜετάEd’s answer, the alternation between long /e:/ and short /a/ (or reduced version thereof, schwa or a mid-high vowel) is now frequent in Modern English (and harks back to the Great Vowel Shift).

So, alongside expl[e:]n ~ expl[ə]nation, you also have:

  • ex'pl[e:]n ~ expl[æ]natory
  • ins[e:]ne ~ ins[æ]nity (insane ~ insanity)
  • in[e:]ne ~ in[æ]nity (inane ~ inanity)
  • n[e:]tion ~ n[æ]tionality (nation ~ nationality)
  • [e:]ble ~ [ə]bility (able ~ ability)

As you hunched and ΜετάEd pointed out, there is an orthographic oddity to explain, in that its /e:/ sound alternates with a lax vowel, but it is, orthographically, ai. The nearest I can come to like examples is:

  • retain ~ retention (this too is an etymological oddity, examples like contend ~ contention, intend ~ intention_, and so on, would lead one to expect retend ~ retention)
  • inveigh ~ invective (where the origin of eigh is again etymologically odd, coming from invehere)

As the parenthetic comments make clear, these are as much oddities as the case you identified.

Source : Link , Question Author : Pureferret , Answer Author : Daniel Harbour

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