Amazement, Quickly, Impossible, Intergalactic. What do all of these words have in common? The answer is that they all contain affixes. Read on to learn all about affixes in English, the different examples of affixes, and the affixation process.

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Affixation Affixation

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Table of contents

    Affixation Linguistics Definition

    What is the definition of affixation? We see the meaning of affixation as a morphological process whereby a group of letters (the affix) is attached to a base or root word to form a new word. Sometimes the new word takes on a whole new meaning, and sometimes it simply gives us more grammatical information.

    For example, adding the affix '-s' to the end of the word 'apple' tells us there is more than one apple.

    Morphological process - Changing or adding to a root word to create a more suitable word for the context.

    Affixes are a type of bound morpheme - this means they cannot stand alone and must appear alongside a base word to get their meaning. Take a look at an example of affixes below:

    On its own, the affix '-ing' doesn't really mean anything. However, placing it at the end of a base word, such as 'walk' to create the word 'walking,' lets us know that the action is progressive (ongoing).

    Understanding the meaning and usage of affixes can help us 'decipher' the meaning of unknown words.

    There are three types of affixes: prefixes, suffixes, and circumfixes. Let's take a closer look at these now.

    Affixation, diagram showing affixation process, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Affixes are added to base words to form new words.

    Types of Affixation

    To begin, let's look at the different types of affixes that we can add to a base word. The two main types of affixation are suffixes and prefixes, and the third, less common, are circumfixes. We have compiled some examples of affixation and their types for you to check out below!


    Prefixes are affixes that go at the beginning of a base word. Prefixes are very common in the English language, and thousands of English words contain a prefix. Common English prefixes include in-, im-, un-, non-, and re-.

    Prefixes are commonly used to make based words negative/positive (e.g., unhelpful) and to express relations of time (e.g., prehistoric), manner (e.g., underdeveloped), and place (e.g., extraterrestrial).

    Here are some common English words with prefixes:

    • impolite
    • autobiography
    • hyperactive
    • irregular
    • midnight
    • outrun
    • semicircle

    A more complete list of all English prefixes can be found towards the end of this explanation!

    Prefixes and Hyphens (-)

    Unfortunately, there aren't any set rules as to when you should use a hyphen (-) with a prefix; however, there are a few guidelines you can follow to help you decide when to use a hyphen.

    • If the prefixed word can easily be confused with another existing word, e.g., re-pair and repair (to pair again and to fix something)
    • If the prefix ends in a vowel and the base word begins with a vowel, e.g., anti-intellectual
    • If the base word is a proper noun and should be capitalized, e.g., un-American
    • When using dates and numbers, e.g., mid-century, pre-1940s


    Whereas prefixes go at the beginning of a base word, suffixes go at the end. Common suffixes include -full, -less, -ed, -ing, -s, and -en.

    When we add suffixes to base words, the affixation process is either derivational or inflectional. So, what exactly does that mean?

    When the word's meaning or the word class (e.g., noun, adjective, verb, etc.) completely changes, the process is derivational. For example, adding '-er' to the end of the based word 'teach' changes the verb (teach) to a noun (teacher).

    Derivational affixes are one the most common ways new words are formed in English!

    Some examples of words with derivational suffixes include:

    • laughable (changes the verb laugh to an adjective)
    • joyous (changes the abstract noun joy to an adjective)
    • quickly (changes the adjective quick to an adverb)

    Affixation, Image of teacher, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Suffixes can change word classes, such as a verb to a noun

    On the other hand, inflectional suffixes show a grammatical change within a word class - this means the word class always remains the same. For example, adding the suffix '-ed' to the verb 'talk' to create the verb 'talked' shows us that the action happened in the past.

    Some example words with inflectional suffixes include:

    • walking (shows the progressive aspect)
    • shoes (shows plurality)
    • likes (shows 3rd person singular, e.g., he likes coffee)
    • taller (a comparative adjective)
    • tallest (a superlative adjective)
    • eaten (shows the perfect aspect)


    In affixation, circumfixes are less common than prefixes and affixes and typically involve adding affixes to both the beginning and the end of a base word.

    • enlighten
    • unattainable
    • incorrectly
    • inappropriateness

    Examples of Affixation

    Here are several useful tables outlining examples of affixation, with some of English's most common prefixes and suffixes:


    Prefix Meaning Examples
    anti-against or opposite antibiotics, antiestablishment
    de-removalde-iced, decaffeinated
    dis-negation or removaldisapprove, disloyal
    hyper-more thanhyperactive, hyperallergic
    inter-between interracial, intergalactic
    non-absence or negation nonessential, nonsense
    post-after a period of time post-war
    pre-before a period of time pre-war
    re-again reapply, regrow, renew
    semi-halfsemicircle, semi-funny

    Derivational Suffixes Forming Nouns

    Suffix Original wordNew word
    -erdrive driver

    Derivational Suffixes Forming Adjectives

    Suffix Original wordNew word

    Derivational Suffixes Forming Adverbs

    Suffix Original wordNew word

    Derivational Suffixes Forming verbs

    Suffix Original wordNew word

    Rules for Affixation

    There aren't any rules for which words can go through the affixation process. Language is an ever-evolving and developing thing created by the people, and, as we previously mentioned, adding affixes is one of the most common ways new words enter the English dictionary.

    However, there are few rules regarding the affixation process. Let's take a look at some examples of affixation rules now.

    The Affixation Process

    What is the affixation process? When we add affixes to a base word, there are a few guidelines regarding spelling that should be followed. Most of these rules and examples of affixes apply to adding suffixes and making plurals (a type of suffix).


    • Double the final constant when it comes after and before a vowel, e.g., running, hopped, funny.

    • Drop the 'e' at the end of the base word if the suffix begins with a vowel, e.g., closable, using, adorable

    • Change a 'y' to an 'i' before adding the suffix if a consonant comes before the 'y', e.g., happy --> happiness.

    • Change 'ie' to 'y' when the suffix is '-ing,' e.g., lie --> lying.

    The most common way to show the plurality of nouns is to add the suffix '-s'; however, we add '-es' when the base word ends in -s, -ss, -z, -ch, -sh, and -x, e.g., foxes, buses, lunches.

    Remember that not all words will follow these rules - this is the English language, after all!

    Why not have a go at affixation yourself? You never know; your new word could end up in The Oxford English Dictionary one day.

    Affixation - Key Takeaways

    • Affixation is a morphological process, meaning letters (affixes) are added to a base word to form a new word.
    • Affixes are a type of bound morpheme - this means they cannot stand alone and must appear alongside a base word to get their meaning.
    • The main types of affixes are prefixes, suffixes, and circumfixes.
    • Prefixes go at the beginning of a base word, suffixes go at the end, and circumfixes go at the beginning and the end.
    • Suffixes can be either derivational (meaning they create a new word class) or inflectional (meaning they express grammatical function).
    Frequently Asked Questions about Affixation

    What is affixation and an example?

    Affixation is a morphological process whereby a group of letters (the affix) is attached to a base or root word to form a new word. An example of affixation is when you add the suffix 'ing' to the verb 'walk' to create 'walking'.

    What are types of affixation?

    The two main types of affixation are adding prefixes (affixes at the beginning of a root word) and suffixes (affixes at the end of a word). Another type is circumfixes, which are added to the beginning and end of a base word.

    What is the meaning of affixation?

    The meaning of affixation refers to the process of adding affixes (e.g., prefixes and suffixes) to a base word to form a new word.

    What is commonly used for affixation?

    Prefixes, such as un-, im-, in-, and auto-, and suffixes, such as -ful, -less, ly, and -able are commonly used for affixation.

    What is the purpose of affixation?

    The purpose of affixation is used to create new words. The new words can either have different meanings and different word classes than the base word, or they can show grammatical functions.

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Fill in the blank:Affixation is a type of ___ ____.

    Are affixes free or bound morphemes?

    Fill in the blank:Bound morphemes ___ stand alone.


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