One of the main signs that someone has mastered a language is that they understand how to use the morphology of said language pretty well. If you don’t know what morphemes are, they are the tiniest, meaningful unit in a language.
Common morphemes in English include “-ing,” “in,” and “-tion.”
You use morphemes all the time without even realizing it. For instance, every time you’ve used a suffix or a prefix to change the meaning of a word or to transform an adjective into a noun, you were using morphemes.
After all, suffixes and prefixes are just different types of morphemes that we affix either at the end or at the beginning of a word.
Here are a few examples in action.
The opposite of sincerity is insincerity, and the antonym of discretion is indiscretion.
Alternatively, while attentive is an adjective, attentiveness is the noun we get when we add the suffix “-ness” at the end.
Similarly, rigid may be an adjective, but rigidity is the noun you get from placing “-ity” at the end.
The reason it takes time to master the use of morphemes is that things aren’t always clear cut.
It is a bit arbitrary that we decided to use the suffix “-ness” with the adjective “attentive” while using the suffix “-ity” with “rigid” even though our objective in both cases was to transform an adjective into a noun.
It takes a little while for us to learn which morphemes go with which words.
And, funnily enough, even once you become fluent in a language, there will still be fringe cases where you are unsure of which morpheme to use.
For instance, look at the adjective “genuine.” If we wanted to turn it into a noun, should we use the suffix “-ness,” giving us “genuineness,” or should we use the suffix “-ity” to produce the word “genuinity”? Or, is there a third option we aren’t considering, such as “genuity”?
Is it “genuinity,” “genuineness,” or even “genuity”?
The short answer is that you should use “genuineness.” That’s the noun agreed to by dictionaries, and it’s the one most people use today. However, “genuineness” may seem a bit cumbersome to say, and even more so when it comes to writing.
And, does that mean “genuinity” and “genuity” are completely wrong?
Not exactly. Let’s continue on to find out why.
How come there is no clear cut answer?
First off, let’s dispel the notion that language has hard, clear rules like those of mathematics or physics. Instead, the rules of language are flexible and always changing.
In fact, what gives any linguistic rule legitimacy isn’t something abstract or ethereal. There are no platonic ideals when it comes to language.
Rather, linguistic rules get their legitimacy from the agreement of the majority.
In other words, a rule is only a rule because we, the users of the language in question, collectively agree to make it so.
This is why different dialects may have different rules, yet no one can claim that one dialect is more correct than the other.
All these different dialects are just different agreements made among different communities.
And, when a community collectively agrees to change a certain rule, then that rule effectively changes. That’s how language evolves, and that’s how new words make into a new language while old ones fade into oblivion.
After all, when was the last time you heard someone use the words “thou” and “thrice” in the same sentence? (Obviously, if you are a fan of Shakespearean plays, then you have probably heard these words before, but that’s a different case.)
So, when determining which noun of the three, “genuineness,” “genuinity,” or “genuity,” is the one we should use, our best recourse is to look at which one the majority agree on.
After all, language is one of the few areas where conformity matters.
To that end, we will find that “genuineness” is the one that the majority use. You will find it in most dictionaries, and those same dictionaries may not even realize the other two options.
Nevertheless, if you were to look at the Urban dictionary, for instance, you will find the word “genuinity” there, and it is defined as “the measure of how genuine something is.”
So, you shouldn’t rule it out altogether, and you shouldn’t be surprised if you come across it.
“Genuinity” vs.“genuineness” vs.“genuity”: What Google says
To drive the point home, let’s see what Google has to say. Google offers internet users a very handy tool called “Google Books Ngram Viewer.”
Basically, this tool enables you to see the percentage of times a certain word is used in all of the books scanned and digitized by Google.
For instance, when we look up the words “hello” and “the,” we find that “hello” is used less than 0.00047 percent of the time whereas “the” is used more than 4 percent of the time.
This means that writers use the word “the” around 10,000 times more than they use the word “hello. This should come as no surprise.
Now, let’s use this powerful tool to look at the words “genuineness,” “genuinity,” and “genuity.”
Starting from the 1800s, both “genuineness” “genuity” were in use.
However, while “genuity” was used less than 0.00000884 percent of the time, “genuineness” was used around 0.00015 percent out of all documented words. This means that “genuineness” was used around 17 times more than “genuity.”
During that time, there is no record of the word “genuinity.” In fact, the word “genuinity” doesn’t make an appearance until the middle of the nineteenth century, around the beginning of the 1860s.
If we move forward a couple of centuries to arrive at the present day, we will find that all three words are in use, but the ratios are way out of wack.
For starters, “genuineness” is used around 0.0000563 percent of the time, which represents a considerable drop from where it was at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Interestingly, the word “genuity” has also dropped in usage, racking up around 0.0000000769 percent. (that’s a decimal point followed by seven zeroes for those of you too lazy to count.) As for “genuinity,” its usage amounts to 0.0000001777 percent.
Now, there are a few things to notice here. First of all, “genuinity” has surpassed “genuity” in popularity and by more than a factor of two. This is considerable since no one was using “genuinity” just a couple of centuries ago.
The other thing to notice is that “genuineness” is still in the clear lead. It is used more than 300 times than “genuinity” and more than 730 times than “genuity.”
Ergo, with these numbers, it should be clear why you should use “genuineness.” Yet, just as “genuinity” surpassed “genuity” over time, it might very well become the case that “genuinity” will surpass “genuineness” in popularity over the next century or so.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.