Suffixes  

What is a suffix?

Suffixes are morphemes (specific groups of letters with particular semantic meaning) that are added onto the end of root words to change their meaning. Suffixes are one of the two predominant kinds of affixes—the other kind is prefixes, which come at the beginning of a root word.
There is a huge range of suffixes in English, which can be broadly categorized as either inflectional or derivational.

Inflectional and Derivational Suffixes

Suffixes are used to change the grammatical function of an existing word. Sometimes this change is minor, with the word retaining its basic meaning and word class (part of speech) but conforming to the grammatical rules required by the structure of the sentence; these are known as inflectional suffixes. More often, the addition of a suffix results in the formation of a word that is in a completely different class and shares a meaning similar to the original root word; these are called derivational suffixes.

Inflectional Suffixes

Inflection refers to the changing of a word’s spelling according to the grammatical structure of a sentence. This is often accomplished by adding a specific suffix onto the end of a root word.
These inflectional suffixes are only used to modify the grammatical meaning of a word; they do not change a word from one part of speech to another, nor do they alter the fundamental meaning of the word. For example, the suffix “-s” is used with most nouns to indicate that they are plural (i.e., more than one), as in boys and girls. The basic meanings of the root words boy and girl do not change; they’ve simply been inflected to show that the speaker is talking about more than one.
Inflectional suffixes can be used with nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. The tables below show all of the inflectional suffixes used with these parts of speech, as well as examples of each.

Inflectional Suffixes of Nouns

Suffix
Grammatical Function
Example Words
“-s”
Changes most nouns from singular to plural.
bank→banks
car→cars
pizza→pizzas
toy→toys
wire→wires
“-es”
Forms the plural for nouns ending in a sibilant sound (/s/, /z/, /ʧ/, or /ʃ/) as created by the endings “-ss,” “-z,” “-x,” “-sh,” “-ch,” or “-tch.”
coach→coaches
watch→watches
dish→dishes
box→boxes
bus→buses
kiss→two kisses
waltz→waltzes
“-en”
Changes certain irregular nouns* from singular to plural.
ox→oxen
child→children
brother→brethren
(*There are many irregular plural forms of nouns that do not adhere to any specific spelling pattern. To learn more about these and other rules for making nouns plural, see the section on Forming Plurals.)

Inflectional Suffixes of Verbs

Suffix
Grammatical Function
Example Words
“-s”
Forms the third-person singular for most verbs.
hear→hears
run→runs
think→thinks
write→writes
“-es”
Forms the third-person singular for verbs ending in a sibilant sound (/s/, /z/, /ʧ/, or /ʃ/) created by the endings “-ss,” “-z,” “-x,” “-sh,” “-ch,” or “-tch,” as well as verbs ending in a consonant + O.
approach→approaches
catch→catches
do→does
go→goes
hush→hushes
pass→passes
quiz→quizzes
“-ed”
Forms the past simple tense and past participle of most verbs.
ask→asked
burn→burned
dare→dared
hope→hoped
open→opened
talk→talked
walk→walked
“-en”
Forms the past participle of some irregular verbs.
be→been
drive→driven
eat→eaten
give→given
got→gotten
sink→sunken
write→written
“-ing”
Forms the present participle and gerund of verbs.
build→building
care→caring
hear→hearing
pass→passing
read→reading
see→seeing
wear→wearing

Inflectional Suffixes of Adjectives and Adverbs

Suffix
Grammatical Function
Example Words
“-er”
Forms the comparative degree for many adjectives and adverbs.
big→bigger
fast→faster*
happy→happier
high→higher*
sad→sadder
slow→slower*
“-est”
Forms the superlative degree for many adjectives and adverbs.
big→biggest
fast→fastest*
happy→happiest
high→highest*
sad→saddest
slow→slowest*
(*These words function either as adjectives or adverbs, depending on their use. Those without an asterisk only function as adjectives.)

Derivational Suffixes

Unlike inflectional suffixes, derivational suffixes create a new—though related—meaning in the word that’s formed. In many cases, the word formed by the addition of a derivational suffix will belong to a completely different part of speech (or word class). Suffixes that cause a shift in word class are sometimes referred to as class-changing suffixes.
There are many, many derivational suffixes used in English—too many to list here. We’ll just look at those most commonly encountered in day-to-day writing and speech.
It’s important to note that many words in modern English feature suffixes used with Latin, Old English, or foreign-language roots. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll mostly be focusing on examples of roots that can stand alone as words (with a few notable exceptions).

Suffixes that form nouns

Derivational suffixes that create nouns most often attach to verbs and (to a lesser degree) adjectives. However, several noun suffixes are also class-maintaining, meaning they form new nouns from other existing nouns. We’ll look at some of these a little later.
Suffix
Suffix meaning
Attaches to
Example words
“-age”
An action, process, or its result; a thing or place used for such an action.
verbs
(Often a class-maintaining suffix, as we’ll see later.)
append→appendage
block→blockage
cover→coverage
dote→dotage
haul→haulage
pack→package
seep→seepage
shrink→shrinkage
store→storage
use→usage
wreck→wreckage
“-al”
An action or process.
verbs
approve→approval
betray→betrayal
bury→burial
deny→denial
dispose→disposal
propose→proposal
renew→renewal
reverse→reversal
“-ance”
An action, process, state, condition, or quality.
verbs
most adjectives ending in “-ant”
appear→appearance
arrogant→arrogance
brilliant→brilliance
comply→compliance
deliver→deliverance
endure→endurance
fragrant→fragrance
ignorant→ignorance
perform→performance
reluctant→reluctance
tolerate→tolerance
“-dom”
A state or condition.
adjectives
(More often a class-maintaining suffix, as we’ll see later.)
bored→boredom
free→freedom
wise→wisdom
“-ee”
A person or thing receiving the effect of an action; less commonly, a person or thing controlling or performing a passive action.
verbs
absent→absentee
address→addressee
devote→devotee
employ→employee
interview→interviewee
nominate→nominee
train→trainee
trust→trustee
“-ence”
An action, process, state, condition, or quality.
verbs
most adjectives ending in “-ent”
absent→absence
cohere→coherence
defer→deference
evident→evidence
exist→existence
intelligent→intelligence
lenient→lenience
occur→occurrence
patient→patience
persist→persistence
revere→reverence
silent→silence
transfer→transference
“-er”
A person or thing performing or capable of a particular action.
verbs
bake→baker
compose→composer
cook→cooker
defend→defender
employ→employer
interview→interviewer
keep→keeper
teach→teacher
write→writer
“-ery”
The act, process, or practice of doing something, or a place for such.
verbs
bake→bakery
bribe→bribery
debauch→debauchery
distill→distillery
hatch→hatchery
mock→mockery
rob→robbery
trick→trickery
“-ication”
A state, condition, action, process, or practice, or the result thereof.
verbs ending in “-fy”
amplify→amplification
clarify→clarification
dignify→dignification
falsify→falsifiication
glorify→glorification
identify→identification
justify→justification
modify→modification
quantify→quantification
simplify→simplification
unify→unification
“-ism”
1. An action, process, or practice.
2. A state, condition, or quality.
3. A doctrine, theory, or set of guiding principles.
1. verbs
2 & 3. adjectives
active→activism
antagonize→antagonism
baptize→baptism
criticize→criticism
colloquial→colloquialism
exorcize→exorciism
feminine→feminism
liberal→liberalism
metabolize→metabolism
modern→modernism
pacific→pacifism
“-ist”
One who performs a particular action, process, or practice.
verbs
(More often a class-maintaining suffix, as we’ll see later.)
antagonize→antagonist
cycle→cyclist
exorcize→exorcicist
lobby→lobbyist
theorize→theorist
“-(i)ty”
(The i is dropped if the preceding vowel sound is or becomes unstressed.)
A state, condition, trait, or quality.
adjectives
able→ability
certain→certainty
cruel→cruelty
dual→duality
equal→equality
feminine→femininity
frail→frailty
hilarious→hilarity
masculine→masculinity
mature→maturity
plural→plurality
pure→purity
secure→security
“-ment”
An action or process, or the result thereof.
verbs
adjust→adjustment
bereave→bereavement
contain→containment
disappoint→disappointment
employ→employment
fulfill→fulfillment
judge→judgment
move→movement
place→placement
resent→resentment
treat→treatment
“-ness”
A state, condition, trait, or measurement thereof.
adjectives
alert→alertness
cold→coldness
dark→darkness
exact→exactness
fierce→fierceness
happy→happiness
kind→kindness
like→likeness
selfish→selfishness
useful→usefulness
“-or”
A person or thing controlling or performing an action.
verbs
act→actor
communicate→communicator
direct→director
educate→educator
invest→investor
profess→professor
sail→sailor
survive→survivor
translate→translator
“-sion”
A state, condition, action, process, or practice, or the result thereof.
verbs
admit→admission
allude→allusion
compel→compulsion
convert→conversion
decide→decision
divert→diversion
emit→emission
extend→extension
impress→impression
invade→invasion
invert→inversion
obsess→obsession
propel→propulsion
seclude→seclusion
suspend→suspension
transmit→transmission
“-tion”
A state, condition, action, process, or practice, or the result thereof.
verbs
act→action
affect→affection
communicate→communication
complete→completion
direct→direction
educate→education
evolve→evolution
inscribe→inscription
interrupt→interruption
misconceive→misconception
resolve→resolution
subscribe→subscription
translate→translation

Nouns formed from other nouns

As we mentioned already, many suffixes attach to existing nouns to create another noun with a new meaning. Because the words remain nouns, these suffixes are known as class-maintaining suffixes. (We looked at some of these already—they can be either class maintaining or class changing, depending on the root word that the suffix attaches to.)
Here are some of the most common:
Suffix
Suffix meaning
Example words
“-age”
1. A collection or group; a mass or amount.
2. A status, relationship, or connection.
3. A condition or state of being.
4. A place of residence.
4. A rate or measurement of.
acre→acreage
bag→baggage
baron→baronage
bond→bondage
cube→cubage
floor→floorage
foot→footage
front→frontage
hermit→hermitage
mile→mileage
orphan→orphanage
pasture→pasturage
percent→percentage
sewer→sewerage
vicar→vicarage
watt→wattage
“-(e)ry”
(The e is usually dropped if the preceding vowel sound is or becomes unstressed.)
1. A group, collection, category, or class of things.
2. A state or condition of being.
3. The characteristic qualities, actions, or behavior.
4. A practice or occupation.
ancestor→ancestry
buffoon→buffoonery
circuit→circuitry
crock→crockery
dentist→dentistry
image→imagery
peasant→peasantry
pedant→pedantry
prude→prudery
scene→scenery
snob→snobbery
zealot→zealotry
“-ist”
1. One who produces, practices, plays, operates, or is otherwise connected to a specific thing or activity.
2. One who follows or adheres to a certain doctrine, theory, or set of guiding principles.
3. One who specializes in a specific field of study.
activism→activist
anthropology→anthropologist
art→artist
bass→bassist
biology→biologist
Calvinism→Calvinist
capitalism→capitalist
feminism→feminist
guitar→guitarist
modernism→modernist
novel→novelist
pacifism→pacifist
pharmacy→pharmacist
piano→pianist
psychiatry→psychiatrist
racism→racist
romanticism→romanticist
science→scientist
zoology→zoologist
“-dom”
1. A state, quality, or condition.
2. A specified domain or jurisdiction.
3. A particular rank or position.
duke→dukedom
earl→earldom
chief→chiefdom
Christian→Christendom
fan→fandom
king→kingdom
martyr→martyrdom
prince→princedom
star→stardom
“-hood”
1. A state, quality, or condition.
2. A group sharing a state, quality, or condition.
adult→adulthood
boy→boyhood
brother→brotherhood
child→childhood
father→fatherhood
girl→girlhood
knight→knighthood
man→manhood
mother→motherhood
parent→parenthood
sister→sisterhood
woman→womanhood
“-ship”
1. A state, quality, or condition.
2. A particular rank, status, or position, or the time spent in such a position.
3. Skill, craft, or artistry employed in a particular profession or practice.
apprentice→apprenticeship
champion→championship
citizen→citizenship
craftsman→craftsmanship
dealer→dealership
dean→deanship
friend→friendship
leader→leadership
penman→penmanship
professor→professorship
scholar→scholarship
sponsor→sponsorship
workman→workmanship

“-(o)logy”

Another common suffix used to form nouns is the ending “-logy” (or “-ology” when following certain consonant sounds), which produces the meaning “a branch or field of knowledge, science, theory, or study.”
This suffix usually does not attach to pre-existing English roots; instead, it more often connects to Greek or Latin roots. For example:
Root
Root Meaning
+ -(o)logy
New Meaning
astro-
star, celestial body, or outer space
astrology
Originally meaning “the science of the heavenly bodies,” astrology now refers to the study of the positions and motions of planets, stars, and the moon in the belief that they influence human decisions and characteristics.
bio-
life
biology
The science of life and living animals.
cardio-
pertaining to the heart
cardiology
The scientific study of the structures, functions, and disorders of the heart.
geo-
earth (generally) or Earth (specifically)
geology
The scientific study of the origin and structures of the Earth.
ideo-
of or pertaining to ideas
ideology
A set of doctrines or beliefs that are held by an individual or shared by members of a social group.
neuro-
of or pertaining to a nerve or the nervous system
neurology
The scientific study of the structures, functions, and disorders of the nervous system.
psych-
mind, spirit, soul
psychology
The science and study of mental and behavioral processes.
theo-
God or gods
theology
The study of the divine and of religious truths.
zoo-*
animal, living being
zoology
The study of animals, including their physiology, development, and classification.
(*The root zoo- is a combining form derived from the Greek word zoion. The English word zoo is actually a shortening of the term zoological garden.)
Because the meaning of “-(o)logy” is so well established, it is sometimes attached to existing English words to create new terms that follow the pattern established by the Greek and Latin roots. For instance:
  • anesthesia→anesthesiology
  • climate→climatology
  • criminal→criminology
  • icon→iconology
  • music→musicology
  • radiation→radiology
  • reflex→reflexology
However, this combination is much less common than the use of Greek or Latin roots.

Suffixes that form verbs

Derivational suffixes that create verbs attach to nouns and adjectives.
Suffix
Suffix meaning
Attaches to
Example words
“-en”
1. To become or cause to become.
2. To come or cause to have.
1. adjectives
2. nouns
black→blacken
broad→broaden
cheap→cheapen
fright→frighten
hard→harden
heart→hearten
length→lengthen
red→redden
sharp→sharpen
sick→sicken
strength→strengthen
“-ify”
To make or cause to become.
adjectives, nouns
ample→amplify
beauty→beautify
clear→clarify
diverse→diversify
dignity→dignify
glory→glorify
just→justify
pure→purify
null→nullify
simple→simplify
type→typify
“-ize”
To become or cause to become; to do or make that to which the suffix is attached.
adjectives, nouns
accessory→accessorize
apology→apologize
capital→capitalize
civil→civilize
economy→economize
empathy→empathize
fertile→fertilize
industrial→industrialize
legal→legalize
human→humanize
standard→standardize
theory→theorize
union→unionize

“-ise” vs. “-ize”

In American English, the suffix “-ize” is used to change nouns and adjectives into verbs, as we have just seen, and it also appears in verbs that do not have standalone root words. British English, however, predominantly uses the synonymous suffix “-ise.” For more information on this difference in spelling, go to the section on American English vs. British English.

“-ate”

There is also another common suffix that results in the creation of verbs: “-ate.” However, while this ending does occasionally attach to pre-existing nouns or adjectives (meaning “to act on, cause to become or be modified, or furnish with”), it is much more likely to appear in verbs that come from the past participles of Latin verbs. Even many words that look like they come directly from nouns or adjectives are in fact derived from Latin. For example:
Formed from nouns and adjectives
Formed from Latin verbs
active→activate
caffeine→caffeinate
caliber→calibrate
hyphen→hyphenate
pollen→pollinate
abbreviate→from Latin abbreviatus
accentuate→from Latin accentuatus
circulate→from Latin circulatus
domesticate→from Latin domesticatus
duplicate→from Latin duplicatus
educate→from Latin educatus
elongate→from Latin elongatus
habituate→from Latin habituatus
insulate→from Latin insulatus
migrate→from Latin migratus
notate→from Latin notatus
separate→from Latin separatus
translate→from Latin translatus

Suffixes that form adjectives

Derivational suffixes that create adjectives usually attach to nouns. Much less often, they attach to verbs.
Suffix
Suffix meaning
Attaches to
Example words
“-able”
Possible; capable of; suitable for.
verbs
adore→adorable
break→breakable
debate→debatable
do→doable
excite→excitable
live→livable
manage→manageable
read→readable
stop→stoppable
“-al”
Having the characteristics of or relating to.
nouns
artifice→artificial
bride→bridal
brute→brutal
center→central
emotion→emotional
form→formal
logic→logical
music→musical
politics→political
space→spatial
tide→tidal
“-en”
Made of or resembling.
nouns
ash→ashen
earth→earthen
flax→flaxen
gold→golden
lead→leaden
wax→waxen
wood→wooden
“-ful”
1. Full of; characterized by.
2. Tending or able to.
1. nouns
2. verbs
beauty→beautiful
care→careful
delight→delightful
forget→forgetful
grace→graceful
joy→joyful
law→lawful
mourn→mournful
play→playful
respect→respectful
waste→wasteful
“-ible”
Possible; capable of; suitable for.
verbs
access→accessible
collapse→collapsible
digest→digestible
divide→divisible
eat→edible
flex→flexible
omit→omissible
perceive→perceptible
receive→receptible
sense→sensible
suggest→suggestible
“-ic”
Having the characteristics of or relating to.
nouns
acid→acidic
base→basic
comedy→comedic
galaxy→galactic
hero→heroic
irony→ironic
magnet→magnetic
myth→mythic
nostalgia→nostalgic
poetry→poetic
rhythm→rhythmic
system→systemic
“-ical”
Having the characteristics of or relating to.
nouns
acid→atomical
biology→biological
comedy→comical
history→historical
myth→mythical
philosophy→philosophical
type→typical
whimsy→whimsical
“-ish”
1. Typical of, similar to, or related to.
2. Of or associated with (a particular nationality, region, or language).
3. Inclined to or preoccupied with.
nouns
book→bookish
boy→boyish
Britain→British
child→childish
clown→clownish
Denmark→Danish
fiend→fiendish
girl→girlish
nightmare→nightmarish
prude→prudish
self→selfish
Spain→Spanish
Sweden→Swedish
“-less”
Lacking; deprived of; without.
nouns
aim→aimless
blame→blameless
color→colorless
doubt→doubtless
home→homeless
hope→hopeless
limit→limitless
need→needless
point→pointless
rest→restless
self→selfless
time→timeless
use→useless
“-ly”
1. Similar to or characteristic of.
2. Occurring at such intervals of time.
nouns
brother→brotherly
coward→cowardly
day→daily
elder→elderly
friend→friendly
heaven→heavenly
hour→hourly
like→likely
love→lovely
month→monthly
miser→miserly
order→orderly
scholar→scholarly
year→yearly
“-ous”
Possessing; characterized by; full of.
nouns
advantage→advantageous
caution→cautious
disaster→disastrous
fame→famous
glamor→glamorous
joy→joyous
malice→malicious
nutrition→nutritious
religion→religious
pretense→pretentious
poison→poisonous
suspicion→suspicious
“-y”
1. Characterized by; consisting or having the quality of; filled with.
2. Tending or inclined to.
1. nouns
2. verbs
bulk→bulky
class→classy
dream→dreamy
ease→easy
leak→leaky
mess→messy
rain→rainy
rope→ropy
shine→shiny
smell→smelly
wimp→wimpy

Suffixes that form adverbs

By far the most common and well-known suffix that creates adverbs by attaching to adjectives is “-ly.” However, there are two others derivational suffixes that form adverbs: “-ways/-wise” and “-ward.”
Suffix
Suffix meaning
Attaches to
Example words
“-ly”
1. In a certain or specified manner.
2. At that interval of time.
1. adjectives
2. nouns (units of time)
abrupt→abruptly
artistic→artistically
calm→calmly
day→daily
daring→daringly
double→doubly
easy→easily
extreme→extremely
full→fully
happy→happily
hour→hourly
lucky→luckily
majestic→majestically
month→monthly
practical→practically
probable→probably
quiet→quietly
right→rightly
smart→smartly
true→truly
whole→wholly
year→yearly
“-ways/-wise”
(“-wise” is much more common, especially in American English, except with the root side, which almost always becomes sideways)
1. In a specified manner, direction, or position.
2. With reference or in regard to. (sometimes hyphenated)
nouns, adjectives
clock→clockwise
business→businesswise
edge→edgewise (occasionally: edgeways)
health→health-wise
length→lengthwise (occasionally: lengthways)
like→likewise
other→otherwise
side→sideways
weather→weather-wise
“-ward”
In a specified direction or position.
nouns, adjectives, adverbs
back→backward
down→downward
east→eastward
fore→forward
front→frontward
home→homeward
north→northward
on→onward
south→southward
to→toward
west→westward

Spelling changes

Finally, it’s worth pointing out how the spelling of many words becomes slightly altered when a suffix is added. Even though these changes can at times seem haphazard, there are actually several guidelines we can follow to determine how a word’s spelling might change if a suffix is added. Go to the section on Spelling Conventions with Suffixes to learn more.
Quiz

1. Suffixes are attached to which part of a root word?





2. What kind of suffix only affects the grammatical function of a root word?





3. Which of the following is the function of a class-changing suffix?






4. What part of speech is formed by adding the suffix “-ness”?





5. What part of speech is formed by adding the suffix “-ize”?





6. What part of speech is formed by adding the suffix “-wise”?





7. Which of the following is usually a class-maintaining suffix?







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