Suffixes change a word to help it fit correctly into any sentence. By adding a set of letters at the end of a word, suffixes change words from singular to plural, present to past, and more.
The English language, while filled with usage rules and confusing pronunciations, is built with many tricks to help define words on the fly.
Don’t believe me? Prefixes and suffixes are designed to allow you to quickly understand the meaning of a word, even if you have never seen it before.
Just like a chameleon that changes colors to blend in with its surroundings, a suffix changes to match its surroundings!
When you think about a word as being a multi-part piece, you can break your word up into (at least) root + suffix (There are other rules to using a suffix, but we’ll get to those later).
Being able to break up the words and identify the root can help you successfully define the word, even if you have never seen it before. While suffixes change the word, your basic knowledge of the English language can help guide you through it!
What are Suffixes?
A suffix is a group of common
letters tacked onto the end of a word to form a new word or change the function (part of speech) of the word.
A suffix will change work into worker, joy into joyous, and shower into showering.
In short, suffixes will transform a word to make sure that it fits into a sentence in a way that is grammatically correct.
The fancy terms for a suffix (and prefix) is called an affix. These affixes are added to the beginning and endings of words to help define them to the reader.
A suffix also serves to change the part of speech of the word it is modifying. For example, a suffix, when added to a verb, noun, or adjective, transform the word into a noun.
Suffixes added to verbs or nouns change the part of speech into an adjective.
What is the Point of Learning this Stuff?
Anytime I have to dig into the rules of English, I have to wade through a lot of little sub-rules and different nuances, and even for me, sometimes, it can be time-consuming!
What is the point of spending time to learn all of these rules? Well, I’m glad you asked!
As with learning anything about writing, the most important reason to learn about suffixes is that when you understand them, you’re a better writer.
Writing can help you in a multitude of ways, but as you age towards adulthood, there will be millions of reasons why you’ll want to be a clear writer. Whether you’re drafting a letter to a potential employer, complaining to a government official, or writing a note to a loved one. Clear writing is your ticket into more people understanding your intended purpose.
Additionally, knowing suffixes helps you expand your vocabulary.
Common Suffixes in the English Language
There are many forms of suffixes (which we’ll dive into here), but over 95% of all suffixes can be categorized into the four more common forms: -ed, -ing, -ly, and -s.
|-ed||past-tense verbs||screamed, laughed, yelped|
|-ing||verb form (the present participle)||singing, frowning, laughing|
|-ly||adverb ending||joyfully, cautiously, timidly|
|-s/-es||plural||treats, friends, hits|
As you read through these top four most common suffixes, I’m sure you were able to think of your own examples that demonstrate just how common they are!
It’s easiest to break suffixes into their parts of speech categories, nouns, verbs, and adjectives.
It is reported that there are hundreds of different suffixes in the English language, and while we won’t list them all here, we will give you a quick-grab list of the most common.
|-age||action or process||voyage, passage|
|-ance,-ence||state or quality of||brilliance, defiance, maintenance|
|-cy||state, or condition or quality||privacy, transparency, efficiency|
|-dom||Place or state of being.||boredom, freedom, kingdom|
|-er,-or||more||vigor, bigger, happier|
|-hood||state or condition||childhood, motherhood, neighborhood|
|-ist||one who||artist, soloist, pacifist|
|-ety/-ity||quality of||abnormality, nationality|
|-ure||action, condition||closure, failure|
|-y||characterized by||brainy, dorky, gooey|
|-ify||make, cause||amplify, modify, satisfy|
|-ize||cause, treat, become||agonize, Americanize, finalize|
|-ate||makes the word a verb||radiate, regulate, circulate|
|-en||makes the word a verb||awaken, sharpen, enlighten|
|-ish||relating to, characteristic||abolish, lavish, nourish|
|-ise||makes the word a verb||Advertise, chastise|
|-tion/-sion||action/instance||expansion, explanation, caution|
|-er||person who does something||Advertiser, announcer, teacher|
|-ment||action/instance||movement, placement, shipment|
|-ant/-ent||person who does something||immigrant, servant, applicant|
|-ful||notable for||helpful, cheerful, grateful|
Some Usage Rules
Since English is a complex language, there are some special rules to note about using suffixes correctly.
American English vs. British English
In American English, verbs that end with -ize (like realize, fantasize, and standardize) are correctly spelled.
In British English, instead of ending in -ize, words ending in -ise (realise, fantacise, standardise).
Depending on your location, both of these spellings are correct. Make sure to use the proper form of spelling depending on where you live on formal assessments, or your teacher might penalize you (or penalise you).
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You Can Use More Than One at a Time
Some words require that you add more than one suffix to the word. That’s okay! Words like lightening, beautifully, and importantly are all prime examples of words with two suffixes.
You Might Have to Change the Word a Little
Have you ever heard of the saying, “I before E except after C…” The English language is filled with usage rules that require you to change the spelling of certain words depending on what letters surround it.
Suffixes are no different! That’s why sometimes, depending on the last letter of the word without the suffix, you may have to change the spelling of the word to accommodate the suffix.
Here are a few rules to remember when spelling with suffixes:
- Double the consonant: Shop + ed = Shopped
- Drop the final E: Make + er= Maker
- Keep the final E: *When the word ends in ce or ge, keep the final e. Courage + ous = Courageous
- Keep the Y: Play + ing = Playing
- Change the Y to an I= Happy + ness = Happiness
- Change IE to Y= Lie + ing = Lying
Affixes are a common addition to the English language. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s easy to understand. Suffixes, while frequently used, can be hard to understand.
Suffixes’ primary function is to transform a word into the correct part of speech to function in a sentence correctly.
When you can transform a word from a noun to a verb, you are, in essence, making your writing more transparent for the reader. When you make your writing more precise, your reader will be more likely to understand your overall purpose.
Since understanding is the ultimate goal, you do not want your reader struggling to read the text, because that takes energy away from understanding the more profound meaning and intended message.
Think about somebody who is creating an ice sculpture. You start with a big block of ice, and then with little tools with specific purposes, you chip away at the ice. You are so focused on the tiny movements to produce a significant result.
Let’s say you were carving a bear. You are chipping away and working diligently, and then you decide, “eh! I don’t feel like taking the time with this part, so I’m going to use this ax for this section”. You have effectively cut the ice, but the result is a bear with a missing ear or arm.
Suffixes are kind of the same thing. It is a small tool that helps shape your writing to make it pleasing to your audience.
Since the English language is filled with usage rules, we want to try our hardest to write in the correct way.