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Suffix

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English

A suffix is a type of affix that is placed at the end of a root word (or 'base') to change its meaning or grammatical function. Suffixes are essential as they help us to adapt words.

Suffix definition

Suffixes are often used to change the word class of a word. For example, we can change the adjective 'excited' to the adverb 'excitedly' using the suffix -ly. We can also create comparative and superlative forms of the adjective by attaching the suffixes -er or -est to a root word eg. 'fast' to 'faster' and 'fastest'.

Suffixes can also change a word to show plurality, eg. 'dog' (singular) to 'dogs' (plural), and tense eg. 'play' (present tense) to 'played' (past tense), and more.

Examples of Suffixes

Happy → Happily

An example of a suffix is the word ending -ly in happily. The -ly in happily refers to the manner in which an action is performed (in a happy way); the adjective 'happy' becomes the adverb 'happily'.

Smart Smarter/Smartest

Other examples are the suffixes -er in 'smarter' and -est in 'smartest'. The suffixes -er and -est allow us to compare two or more things. Adding the suffix -er to the word 'smart' would make the adjective a comparative (smarter), and adding -est to 'smart' makes it a superlative (smartest).

Let's take a further look at how suffixes can change the grammatical properties, word class, or meaning of their root words. We will talk about the use of suffixes with nouns, adjectives, verbs, and adverbs.

Suffix Image of the river Nile StudySmarterThe river Nile is the longest river in the world - Pixabay

Suffixes in Nouns

A noun is a word that names something or someone. This can be a name of a person, place, animal, food, concept, or thing eg. 'Joe', 'carrot', 'dog', 'London' etc.

Here are examples of suffixes in nouns. Notice how each example derives from a root word (eg. 'kindness' has the root word of 'kind'):

Suffix

Meaning

Examples

-ist

One who practices something

dentist, optometrist, florist, chemist

-acy

Quality, state of being

privacy, piracy, delicacy, legacy

-ism

Theory, act, or belief

criticism, capitalism, classism, masochism

-sion, -tion

Action or condition

decision, information, election

-ship

Position held

internship, fellowship, citizenship, ownership

-ness

State of being, condition, or quality

happiness, kindness, lightness, awareness

-ity

Quality, state, or degree

responsibility, generosity, activity, captivity

-dom

State of being or place

kingdom, freedom, boredom, wisdom

-ment

Action, process, or result of

investment, judgment, establishment, retirement

It's important to note that we do sometimes have to change the spelling of certain words in order to add the suffix; this often depends on the last letters of the word we want to change.

  • eg. to change adjectives like 'responsible' and 'active' to the nouns 'responsibility' and 'activity' we need to remove the 'e' before adding the inflection 'ity'.
  • eg. to change words like 'private' and 'pirate' to the nouns 'piracy' and 'privacy' we need to remove the letters 'te' before adding the inflection 'acy'.

Suffixes showing the plural

Here is an example of a suffix changing the grammatical properties of a noun:

  • There was one balloon in the room.

Imagine another balloon is placed in the room. The noun ‘balloon’ must be altered in order to maintain the grammatical correctness of the sentence:

  • There were two balloons in the room.

Here, the suffix -s is used to make the noun 'balloon' plural, 'balloons'. The suffix shows that there is more than one balloon.

Suffixes for agreement

The suffix -s isn't just used to show the plural. In Standard English, we have to add the suffix -s or -es to the base form of a regular verb when using the third person. For example, I wait → she waits or I watch He watches.

Suffixes in Adjectives

An adjective is a word that describes a feature or quality of a noun, such as its colour, size, quantity etc.

Here are examples of suffixes in adjectives. Notice how each example derives from a root word (eg. 'beautiful' is from the root word 'beauty') :

Suffix

Meaning

Examples

-ful

Full of

beautiful, deceitful, truthful, useful

-able, -ible

Capable of being

notable, credible, preventable, sensible

-al

Pertaining to

original, seasonal, emotional, theatrical

-ary

Relating to or condition of

honorary, cautionary, necessary, ordinary

-ious, -ous

Possessing the quality of

studious, nervous, cautious, humorous

-less

Without something

useless, restless, hopeless, fearless

-ive

Quality of or nature of

creative, destructive, receptive, divisive

-worthy

Deserving of

trustworthy, noteworthy, newsworthy, praiseworthy

Let's look at an example of the suffix -less changing the grammatical properties of the word 'fear'.

  • The girl has no fear → The girl is fearless.

Here the suffix -less changes the noun 'fear' to the adjective 'fearless'. The suffix -less, therefore, shows that someone is without something.

Suffixes in Verbs

A verb is a word that expresses an action, event, feeling, or state of being.

Here are examples of suffixes in verbs. Notice how each example derives from its root word (eg. 'strengthen' comes from the root word 'strength') :

Suffix

Meaning

Examples

-en

To become

strengthen, fasten, loosen, tighten

-ed

Past action

cried, played, jumped, crafted

-ing

Current or ongoing action

singing, dancing, laughing, cooking

-ise, (-ize as the American spelling)

To cause or become

criticise, merchandise, villainise, socialise

-ate

To become or be full of

reciprocate, regulate, passionate, considerate

-ify, -fy

To cause or become

terrify, justify, satisfy, rectify

Suffixes showing tense

Suffixes can change the grammatical properties of a verb by indicating when an action was performed. Take a look at the following example:

  • The man laughs at the pantomime.

The suffix -ed can be added to the root verb ‘laugh’ to indicate that the action occurred in the past:

  • The man laughed at the pantomime.

We can also add the suffix -ing to the verb 'laugh' to show a continuous action:

  • The man is laughing at the pantomime.

Suffixes in Adverbs

An adverb is a word that gives more detail about a word (often an adjective, verb, or another adverb).

Here are examples of suffixes in adverbs. Notice how each example derives from its root word (eg. 'excitedly' has the root word of 'excited') :

Suffix

Meaning

Examples

-ly

Manner in which something occurs

excitedly, hurriedly, nervously, sadly

-wise

In relation to

otherwise, clockwise, lengthwise, likewise

-ward

Direction

forward, backward

-ways

Direction

sideways, frontways

Let's look at an example:

  • The woman shouted in an excited manner → The woman shouted excitedly.

Here, the suffix -ly changes the word 'excited' from an adjective to an adverb ('excitedly'). This helps to express the meaning of the sentence in a more concise way.

Derivational or Inflectional Suffixes

There are two types of suffixes in English - derivational suffixes and inflectional suffixes. Let's look at what they are along with some examples.

Inflectional Suffixes

Inflection is a process of changing the grammatical properties of a word. Inflectional suffixes are therefore suffixes that change the grammatical properties of words.

For example, when we add the suffix -ed to the root word ‘laugh’, the present tense ‘laugh’ becomes the past tense ‘laughed’.

What distinguishes inflectional suffixes from derivational suffixes is that adding an inflectional suffix to the root word does not change the syntactic category (or word class) of the word. In other words, if a word is a verb and has an inflectional suffix added to it, it cannot change word class eg. if we add the inflectional suffix -ing to the verb 'sleep', this can't then be made into an adverb ('sleepingly') as it won't make sense. In other words, we can only add one inflectional suffix at a time.

Below are examples of inflectional suffixes belonging to different syntactic categories:

NOUNS:

Inflectional Suffix

Meaning

Example

-s

Plural number

flowers, shoes, rings, cars

-en

Plural number

children, oxen, chicken

VERBS:

Inflectional Suffix

Meaning

Example

-ed

Past action

wasted, screamed, jumped, removed

-t

Past action

dreamt, slept, wept, crept

-ing

Present action

sleeping, eating, laughing, crying

-en

Past action

eaten, awoken, stolen, taken

ADJECTIVES/ADVERBS:

Inflectional Suffix

Meaning

Example

-er

Comparative

faster, stronger, longer, harder

-est

Superlative

fastest, strongest, longest, hardest

As you can see, inflectional morphemes maintain the word class of a word. 'Flower' and 'flowers' both remain as nouns whilst 'jump' and 'jumped' remain as verbs.

Suffix Scrabble letters spell the word planning StudySmarterThe suffix '-ing' shows that planning is a current action - Pixabay

Derivational Suffixes

Derivational Suffixes create new words that ‘derive’ from the original root word.

Adding a derivational suffix to the root word often changes the syntactic category (or word class) of the word. For example, we can add the suffix -ation to the verb ‘derive’ to make it a noun ('derivation'). We can then add another suffix, -al, to make this word an adjective ('derivational')! These are examples of class-changing suffixes.

However, this is not always the case. The suffix -ist often maintains the root word’s syntactic category eg. 'classist' is a noun that is derivative of the noun 'class'. Another noun, 'pianist', is derivative of the noun 'piano'. The suffix -ist is an example of a class-maintaining suffix.

Here are some examples of both class changing suffixes and class-maintaining suffixes:

Class Changing suffixes:

Suffix

Example

Word Class

-ful

beautiful, bountiful

NOUN → ADJECTIVE

-ise/ize

realise, visualise

NOUN → VERB

-tion

situation, justification

VERB → NOUN

-ment

judgement, punishment

VERB → NOUN

-ly

stunningly, terrifyingly

ADJECTIVE→ ADVERB

Class Maintaining suffixes:

Suffix

Example

Word Class

-ism

classism, racism

NOUN → NOUN

-ist

chemist, florist

NOUN → NOUN

-ess

heiress, seamstress

NOUN → NOUN

-ology

Ideology, methodology

NOUN → NOUN

The Importance of suffixes in English

Let's look at the place of suffixes in English and why they are so important.

Suffixes as morphemes

Suffixes and prefixes are types of affixes.

  • An affix is a type of morpheme, which is the smallest unit of meaning.
  • More specifically, it is a bound morpheme, a type of morpheme that has to be part of a larger expression. They attach (or 'bind') to a root word.
  • Affixes are not words themselves, they must be attached to a root word to be used.

What are the benefits of using suffixes?

  • Expands our vocabulary, helping to improve our overall language use.
  • Helps to make a sentence more concise.
  • Trains learners to construct/deconstruct words and alter a word’s grammar or syntactic category eg. learning to convert nouns to verbs, nouns to adjectives, adjectives to adverbs etc., helps us to understand sentence construction.
  • Can reveal a lot of extra information about a word, such as tense, word class, plurality, the meaning of the word as a whole etc.

Suffixes are a big part of English grammar and an understanding of suffixes is essential for more varied language use.

Suffix - Key takeaways

    • A suffix is a type of affix that is placed at the end of a root word to change its meaning or grammatical function.

    • Suffixes are often used to change the word class of a word, show plurality, show tense, and more.

    • There are two types of suffix in the English language - derivational suffixes and inflectional suffixes.

    • Inflectional suffixes change the grammatical properties of words.

    • Derivational Suffixes create new words that ‘derive’ from the original root word. Adding a derivational suffix to the root word can change the syntactic category of the word (class-changing suffixes) or maintain the root word’s syntactic category (class-maintaining suffixes).

    • A suffix is a bound morpheme meaning it must be attached to a root word.

Suffix

A suffix is an affix placed at the end of a word, which has the effect of changing the meaning of the root word.

There are two types of suffix - inflectional suffixes and derivational suffixes. Inflectional suffixes change the grammatical properties of words, while derivational suffixes create new words that are ‘derived’ from the original root word. 

Some common suffixes are -ed (laughed, jumped), -ing (smiling, riding), -tion (situation, justification), -able (reasonable, advisable).

  • -acy
  • -al
  • -ance
  • -dom
  • -er, -or
  • -ism
  • -ist
  • -ity, -ty
  • -ment
  • -ness
  • -ship
  • -ate
  • -en
  • -ify, -fy
  • -ise, -ize
  • -able, -ible
  • -al
  • -esque
  • -ful
  • -ic, -ical


A suffix is a type of affix that goes at the end of a word to change it's meaning.

Final Suffix Quiz

Question

Which of the following is defined as ‘an addition to the root word that either alters its meaning or creates an entirely new word’?


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Answer

Morpheme

Show question

Question

Fill in the blanks: A ______ is an ______ placed at the end of a word, which has the effect of changing the meaning of the root word.


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Answer

suffix; affix

Show question

Question

True or False?: Prefix and Suffix are both a type of morpheme


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Answer

True - they are both types of affixes, which is a type of morpheme.

Show question

Question

Which of the following is not a suffix?


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Answer

-ing

Show question

Question

What is the difference between inflectional and derivational suffixes?


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Answer

Inflectional suffixes change the grammatical properties of the root word, while derivational suffixes create new words that are ‘derived’ from the original root word. 

Show question

Question

What are the two types of derivational suffixes?

Show answer

Answer

Class-changing suffixes and Class-maintaining suffixes.

Show question

Question

Match the inflectional suffixes with their syntactic categories: noun, verb, and adjective/adverb.

  1. -er, -est

  2. -ed, -ing, -en, -t

  3. -en, -s


Show answer

Answer

a) adjective/adverb

b) verb

c) noun

Show question

Question

Reword this sentence to turn the noun into an adjective with the use of a suffix: 


The man was totally without hope.

Show answer

Answer

The man was hopeless. 

Show question

Question

Why is the suffix -ment in words such as establishment, government, and embarrassment not a class-maintaining suffix?




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Answer

Because the root words go from being a verb to a noun when the suffix is added. 

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Question

Which of these is not a benefit of suffixes?



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Answer

Trains learners in the ability to construct/deconstruct words, alter a word’s grammar or syntactic category.

Show question

Question

What is the meaning of the suffix -er (which belongs to the adjectives/adverbs word class)?

  1. Comparative

  2. Superlative

  3. Past action

  4. Current action

Show answer

Answer

a), -er is a suffix used for comparatives - e.g bigger, longer, stronger.

Show question

Question

True or False: Adding an inflectional suffix to the root word changes both the grammar of the word, and its syntactic category (or word class).

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Answer

False - Inflectional suffixes ONLY change the grammatical properties of a word. 

Show question

Question

The suffix -ful changes a word from this word class to another word class (e.g beautiful, joyful, vengeful):

  1. NOUN → VERB

  2. ADJECTIVE→ NOUN 

  3. ADVERB → ADJECTIVE

  4. NOUN→ ADJECTIVE 

Show answer

Answer

 d), 'beauty' is a noun, adding -ful makes it an adjective - 'beautiful'.



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Question

Reword this sentence to turn the noun into an adjective with the use of a suffix:


The man was full of hope.

Show answer

Answer

The man was hopeful. 

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Question

Reword this sentence turning the adjective into a superlative: 


No one in the class was as fast as him.


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Answer

He was the fastest boy in the class.

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Question

In terms of tense, what does the suffix '-ing' imply?

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Answer

That the action is present and ongoing. E.g. 'he is running now.'

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Question

Identify the suffix:


'The cake was sickly sweet.'

Show answer

Answer

The suffix is the '-ly' at the end of sickly. 

Show question

Question

Identify the suffix:


'She visited him last week.'

Show answer

Answer

The suffix is the '-ed' at the end of 'visited'

Show question

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