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From Middle English -nes, -nesse, from Old English -nis, -nes, from Proto-Germanic *-nassuz. This suffix was formed already in Proto-Germanic by false division of the final consonant *-n- of the preceding stem + the actual suffix *-assuz. The latter was in turn derived from an earlier *-at(s)-tuz, from the verbal suffix *-at-janą + the noun suffix *-þuz.

Cognates are Old Saxon -nissi, -nussi, Dutch -nis, German -nis and Gothic -𐌰𐍃𐍃𐌿𐍃 (-assus), -𐌹𐌽𐌰𐍃𐍃𐌿𐍃 (-inassus).