As described in the previous chapter, we can break many words into parts, called affixes (prefixes or suffixes) and root or base words. The affixes change the meaning or the root word.

Prefixes go in front of root words, and suffixes go after them. There are hundreds of prefixes and suffixes in English.

Example: un (prefix) + believe (root word) + able (suffix) = unbelievable

To understand how prefixes and suffixes work, it is useful to understand something about root words:

Root words sometimes can stand alone (examples: judge, appear, play)

Root words sometimes need a prefix or a suffix to have meaning in English (examples: capable; astrology; valour)

Root words often originate from Latin, Greek or French (examples: ‘cap’ means ‘take’ (Latin), ‘astro’ means ‘star’ (Greek) and ‘val’ means ‘build’ (Latin)).

This chapter we’ll focus on suffixes, many of which also come from other languages, such as Latin, Greek or French.

A suffix is a group of letters that attach to the end of a root word and create a new word. Suffixes change words in different ways. They make a word plural, or change the action, or change how the word is used in a sentence (the part of speech).

So help – a verb – can get various suffixes to become a different word:
Helpful – an adjective
Helpless – an adjective
Helper – a noun
Helping – the continuous tense of the verb help

Below is a list of commonly used suffixes and whether they form a noun, abstract noun, adjective, verb or adverb.


Here are suffixes that usually form nouns, and examples of some words that take them.
-age  – heritage, bandage, message
-ery – pottery, mystery, flattery
-ist – tourist, psychologist, colonist
-ment – parliament, payment, advertisement
-our – colour, honour, rumour
-or/-ar/-er – commentator, sailor, tractor, beggar, waiter
-sion – television, revision, vision
ssion – mission, permission, expression
-tion – emotion, caption, donation
-ture – creature, puncture, mixture
-ury – injury, century, mercury


Here are suffixes that usually form abstract nouns, and examples of the words that take them.
-ance/-ence – balance, disappearance, confidence,
-dom – stardom, kingdom, freedom
-hood – childhood, likelihood, livelihood
-ism – racism, realism, tourism
-ity – purity, scarcity, legality
-ness – sadness, kindness, happiness
-ology – geology, cosmology, ecology
-ship – friendship, hardship, scholarship
-tude – attitude, altitude, gratitude

Here are suffixes that usually form adjectives, and examples of the words that take them.
-able / -ible
– capable, reliable, responsible
-al/-ial – national, environmental, commercial,
-ary/-ery – stationary, solitary, temporary, slippery
-ed – alarmed, bored, annoyed
-en – broken, mistaken, golden
-ful – careful, hopeful, thoughtful
-ing – alarming, boring, annoying
-ish – babyish, stylish, English
-ic – magnetic, graphic, comic
-less – heartless, painless, joyless
-ly – cowardly, lively, lonely
-ous – joyous, curious, obvious
-y – happy, sunny, fruity

Here are suffixes that usually form verbs, and examples of the words that take them.
ate – create, rotate, vibrate
-en – lengthen, whiten, sweeten
-ify – unify, simplify, qualify

Here are suffixes that usually form verbs, and examples of the words that take them.
-ly – carefully, hopelessly, perfectly, stylishly
-wards – inwards, upwards, backwards

(Of course there are many exceptions. For example, ‘compassionate’ is an adjective, although usually the suffix ‘ate’ indicates a verb.)

Some spelling tips:

When you add a suffix to a word, the spelling of the word and the suffix often don’t change:
govern + ment = government
read + able = readable

But, in the following examples, the spelling changes.

Example 1
Heavy + ness = heaviness
rely + able = reliable
If the word ends in ‘y’ and you add a suffix, the ‘y’ changes to ‘i’.

Example 2
plenty + full = plentiful
hope + full = hopeful
The suffix ‘ful’ has one ‘l’, not two.  (Note that ‘until’ and ‘fulfil’ also only have one ‘l’. Spelling these words incorrectly is an easy mistake to make.)

Example 3
sit + ing = sitting
rob + ed = robbed
If the word ends in a short vowel and consonant and the suffix starts with a vowel, double the consonant

Example 4
regret + able = regrettable
permit + ed = permitted
If the word has two syllables, and the emphasis is on the second syllable, and the suffix starts with a vowel, double the consonant.

Example 5
excite + able = excitable
dine + ing = dining
fame + ous = famous
Generally, if the word ends in ‘e’ and you add a suffix that starts with a vowel, you drop the ‘e’.

HOWEVER – some words can be spelled both ways eg love + able = lovable OR loveable

AND there are many exceptions, eg words that end in ‘c’ and ‘g’ and keep the ‘e’.
manage + able = manageable
trace + able = traceable
advantage + ous = advantageous