Aspire, Inspire and Expire - related meanings?

I saw this on my Facebook feed:

A neat little quote for teachers I thought. Then I couldn't help looking at those three spire words and wondering what they had in common in terms of meaning. So off to some of my favourite etymological websites ( and and here's what I found and worked out. 

The root here is spire meaning breathe or breath life into  from the Latin spirare

  • aspire - to breathe life upon something- to have hope
  • inspire - to breathe or blow into another - in other words, "influence or animate with an idea or purpose" 
  • expire - breathe out, especially for the last time (so meaning die or finish) - spelling note: ex means out of but we can't put that before the whole word spire (exspire) because x is never followed by s except across a compound word such as flaxseed)

And here are some more spire words

  • conspire - literally breathe together, but means to plot something together
  • perspire - to breathe through. The sweat meaning came later but I suppose is about a kind of breathing through the skin.
  • respire - this literally means breathe again but I really don't know why it's again. I guess just one breath isn't enough to keep you alive!
The there are all the spirit words that are also related: spirited, spiritual, etc

But, by the way, the word spire itself, meaning a tall pointed tower, comes from a completely different root. It's related to an Old Norse word meaning a slender stalk

Love this etymology stuff! Feel free to add your own etymological 'noticings' in the comments.


  1. In English, re- means 'again', but this is not always the case in Latin or the Romance languages, where it can also mean 'completely'. For example, Spanish frijoles refritos are usually translated (in the U.S. at least) as refried beans, but they are not actually twice-fried; instead, they are completely or thoroughly fried until they are mushy. Similarly, respiration is the complete cycle of breathing, which includes (to a physiologist, at least) both inspiration 'breathing in' and expiration 'breathing out'.

    Another word in this family is transpire, which originally meant 'leak out, come to be known'; in a more literal sense, biologists still speak of the process whereby plants take up and release water vapor through the pores in their leaves as transpiration. The more usual meaning of the verb, however, is now 'happen, come to pass', so that the old saying that "little takes place that does not transpire" no longer makes any sense.

    Finally, there is a Latin proverb Dum spiro spero, meaning "While I breathe, I hope", the equivalent of the English "Where there's life, there's hope (and need of vittles)". It is the motto of St. Andrews in Scotland, the state of South Carolina, and a good many English, Irish, and Scottish families.

  2. Hi! This is a very good blog for basic learners. I like your downloads section. This will be a good way to help improve the spelling of my beginners. It's hard to memorize a lot of words but knowing the etymology students can learn the art of word association.