Suffixes and Their Meanings
Suffixes and Their Meanings
A suffix is a letter or a group of letters that are placed at the end of a word in order to change its meaning. In English, the most common suffixes are used to change the grammatical meaning of the word. These are called inflectional suffixes. For example, the suffix ‘s’ is used to make a word plural. ‘Book,’ means that there is only one book, but ‘books’ means that there are two or more. Some words take the irregular suffix ‘en’ for their plural, such as the word ‘oxen,’ which is the plural of ‘ox.’ Another common suffix is ‘ed.’ This suffix is used to make a verb into the past tense. For example, the verb ‘walk’ becomes ‘walked’ and the verb ‘work’ becomes ‘worked.’
Notice that with these inflectional suffixes, the meaning of the word doesn’t change. ‘Work’ and ‘worked’ both refer to the action of working. The ‘ing’ in ‘working’ is another suffix, and is used to make the verb into its continuous, or progressive form. Other common inflectional suffixes are ‘er’ and ‘est.’ ‘Er’ is used at the end of an adjective when you are using the adjective to compare something, and can be loosely translated as ‘more.’ If my new car is ‘faster’ than the one I used to have, it is ‘more fast.’ If my brother is taller than I am, he is ‘more tall.’ The suffix ‘est,’ on the other hand, can be loosely translated as ‘most.’ If my car is the ‘fastest’ in the world, it is faster than every other car. If my brother is the ‘tallest’ person in our family, he is taller than all of my other relatives.
Other English suffixes aren’t inflectional and actually change the meaning of the word. These are called derivational suffixes. There are hundreds of derivational suffixes in the English language, but fortunately only some of them are commonly used. Recognising these suffixes can help you understand the meaning of a word.
Almost any English verb can be changed into a noun by adding the suffix ‘er.’ For example, a ‘worker’ is someone who works and a ‘teacher’ is someone who teaches. The suffix ‘ing’ can also be used to change a verb into a noun. ‘Running water,’ is water that runs, such as water in a river, or water that comes out of a tap. A ‘boring person,’ is a person that bores other people. The ‘ed’ in ‘bored’ is another suffix, and is used to turn the verb ‘to bore’ into an adjective. Using the same rule, we can learn that ‘faded,’ is an adjective that comes from the verb ‘to fade’ and ‘doomed’ is an adjective that comes from the verb ‘to doom.’
Common suffixes that are used to create nouns include ‘ism,’ ‘acy,’ ‘ty,’ ‘tion’ and ‘ness.’ ‘Ism’ refers to a doctrine or belief, for example in ‘Buddhism,’ ‘Catholicism,’ and ‘communism.’ ‘Acy,’ and ‘ty,’ both refer to a state or quality, for example ‘privacy’ refers to the state of being private, and ‘morality,’ refers to the state of being moral. ‘Tion’ and ‘ness’ both refer to a state of being, for example ‘transition,’ refers to a state of being in transit, while ‘happiness’ refers to a state of being happy, and ‘heaviness’ refers to a state of being heavy.
Common verb suffixes include ‘ate,’ ‘en,’ ‘fy,’ and ‘ise.’ These suffixes are simple to remember, because they all refer to making or becoming. ‘Vacate,’ means to make something vacant; ‘frighten’ means to make something or someone frightened; ‘beautify’ means to make something beautiful and ‘popularise,’ means to make something popular.
English adjectives can take a number of suffixes. The suffixes ‘able’ and ‘ible,’ refer to something that is capable of being. If something is ‘edible’ it is capable of being eaten, and if something is ‘presentable’ it is capable of being presented.
The suffix ‘al,’ can be loosely translated as ‘referring to.’ Something that is ‘local’ refers to a specific location, and something that is ‘musical’ refers to music. The suffixes ‘ious’ and ‘ive’ both refer to the nature or quality of something. Something that is ‘mysterious,’ has the quality of being a mystery, and something that is ‘creative’ has the quality of being a creation.
In many cases, people don’t think about suffixes when they read or speak. As you become familiar with a language like English, you will develop a subconscious awareness of the building blocks of the language, including suffixes. It isn’t necessary to study suffixes at length in order to become fluent in English, but if you have a basic understanding of the way words change based on their endings, the learning process can become easier.