adj., adv.

Pe ryfWA ryferife

‘abundantly, much’ (Modern English rife)


Two, perhaps etymologically distinct, words could play a part in the history of this word: (1) the ON word represented by OIcel rífr ‘munificent, abundant’ (cp. MLG rive ‘strong, copious, generous, extravagant’, MDu rive, rijf ‘generous, liberal, abundant, copious, busy’, WFris rjū ‘many, much’, OS (n., dp) girīvon ‘of benefit, advantage’). It first apparently occurs late OE as rīfe (<ryfe>) in 12c. prognostic text. It has been traditional (e.g. Falk-Torp 344–5, Pokorny 858, de Vries, Mag., Orel, OED3)  to connect this adj. with the pres. stem of the PGmc v. *rīfan- ‘to tear’, as in OIcel rífa (see ryue (v.)), supposing a semantic development from ‘tearing off’ to ‘distribution’ and hence ‘generosity’; and this group of words is sometimes also linked by Ablaut to OIcel reifr ‘glad, cheerful’ (e.g. Falk-Torp, Pokorny, de Vries), but Heid. suggests instead PGmc rīfan- < *reiba- with an original sense 'satisfactory'. (2) Although ME ryue is most likely formally derived from ON, there may have been some input from OE <(h)rif> words, which would have been formally indistinguishable from a loan of ON rífr (as in (1)). Such OE forms with initial <r-> have also been commonly, and perhaps mistakenly, attributed to a PGmc *rīfan. BTS suggest instead an OE word ?hrīfe 'rapacious, fierce', represented by both <hrif-> and <rif-> spellings (see further Dance, Dance 2002: 12-15). 

PGmc Ancestor

(1) *rīf- or *reiba-; (2) *xrīƀ-

Proposed ON Etymon (OIcel representative)

(1) rífr ‘munificent, abundant’
(ONP (1) rífr (adj.))

Other Scandinavian Reflexes

(1) Far ríviligur, Icel rífur, Norw rîv, Sw dial riv

OE Cognate

(2) ?hrīfe 'rapacious, fierce'

Phonological and morphological markers

Summary category



Common and widespread in ME. On the difficult late OE evidence, see etymological discussion (2).

Occurrences in the Gersum Corpus

Gaw 2046; Pe 770, 844; WA 1352, 1663


MED rīf(e (adj.) , OED3 rife (adj., adv. and n.) , HTOED , ODEE rife, Dance ryue (adv.) ; (1) de Vries rífr, Mag. rífur (2), Heid. reiba-, Orel *rīfaz, AEW rīfe; (2) Heid reifa-, AEW rīf (2)