Etymology of Adolescence

Adolescence is defined by most dictionaries as the period of time when a child grows into an adult. It is a stage of development that comes before full adult maturity, and the period between puberty and adulthood.

Some believe that making the concept of adolescence a unique stage of development is nothing but a Westernized idea that involves certain rites of passage.

To Freud, it was a period of emotional imbalance and disengagement with family.


Adolescence is an early fifteen century word that comes from the Middle French adolescence, the Old French adolescence and the Latin adolescentia. Adolescentia is the nominative neutral plural of adolescens, which in turn is the present participle of adolesco.

Many words in Latin use the prefix ad, which means toward. Olescens, olesco, olescentia, etc, all mean grow. In other words, adolescence and its variants literally mean toward growth.

The word adolescent comes from the Middle French adolescent and the Latin adolescentem.

Adolescence in Other Languages

Albanian: adoleshencë

Catalan: adolescència

Dutch: adolescentie

French: adolescence

Galician: adolescencia

Irish: adolescence

Italian: adolescenza

Maltese: adoloxxenza

Polish: adolescencja

Portuguese: adolescência

Romanian: adolescenţă

Slovenian: adolescenca

Spanish: adolescencia


Barnhart, Robert K., ed., Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, H.W. Wilson Co., 1988.

Cardwell, Mike. The Dictionary Of Psychology. London: Fitzroy Dearborn Publishers, 1999. Print.

de Vaan, Michiel, Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the other Italic Languages, Alexander Lubotsky ed., Leiden: Brill, 2008.

Lewis, Charlton T., Elementary Latin Dictionary, Oxford, 1890.

Liberman, Anatoly, Analytic Dictionary of English Etymology, University of Minnesota Press, 2008.

The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., Clarendon Press, 1989.

Tucker, T.G., Etymological Dictionary of Latin, Ares Publishers, 1976.