What Are Suffixes?

Definition of "Suffix"

A suffix is a letter or a group of letters added to the end of a word to alter its meaning or to ensure it fits grammatically into a sentence.

Suffixes (added to the back of words) contrast with prefixes (added to the front). Suffixes and prefixes are known as affixes.

Table of Contents

  • Examples of Suffixes
  • The Four Most Common Suffixes
  • A List of Common Suffixes
  • Why Suffixes Are Important
  • Test Time!
What are suffixes?

Examples of Suffixes

Often, a suffix that alters a word's meaning changes it from one part of speech to another (e.g., from a noun to an adjective).
  • joyous
  • (This is an example of a suffix that alters a word's meaning. It has changed the noun joy into an adjective.)
  • tenderness
  • (Here, the suffix has changed the adjective tender into a noun.)
  • She runs a hotel.
  • (This is an example of a suffix that ensures a word fits grammatically in the sentence. Here, it makes the verb fit because "She run a hotel" would be wrong.)

The Four Most Common Suffixes

The four most common suffixes are -ed, -ing, -ly, and -s. (These account for over 95% of suffixed words.) Here they are in some quotations.
  • If God wanted us to bend over, he'd put diamonds on the floor. (Comedian Joan Rivers)
  • If I could read while I was driving, showering, socializing or sleeping, I would do it. (American author Elizabeth Gilbert)
  • A wise person decides slowly but abides by these decisions. (Tennis player Arthur Ashe)
  • Vices are often habits rather than passions. (French writer Antoine Rivarol)

A List of Common Suffixes

Here is a list of common suffixes with some examples:
-able, -iblecan be done comfortable, passable
-al, -ialhaving the characteristics ofpersonal
-edpast-tense verbs (weak verbs)danced, jumped
-enmade ofgolden, wooden
-ercomparativetidier, nicer
-er, -or one who actor, narrator, worker
-estsuperlativenicest, greatest
-fulfull or full ofcupful, careful
-ichaving characteristics of linguistic, sarcastic
-ingverb form (present participle and gerund) dancing, singing
-ion, -tion, -ation, itionact or processattraction, attrition
-ity, -tystate ofhumility, infinity
-ive, -ative, itiveadjective form of a nounexpensive, plaintive
-lesswithout topless, fearless
-lyadverb ending nicely, quickly
-mentaction or process enjoyment, entrenchment
-nessstate of, condition of eagerness, kindness
-ous, -eous, -ious possessing the qualities oferroneous, joyous
-s, -espluraltables, foxes
-ycharacterized by fatty, happy, jumpy

Why Suffixes Are Important

Learning suffixes is a good way to expand your vocabulary. For example, once you know the root word pay, then payable, payee, payer, paying, and payment all come "free." This is particularly useful if you're learning English.

From the perspective of improving your writing, the most useful suffix is -ing. The -ing suffix is used to form present participles and gerunds, both of which are commonly used to create shorter, better-flowing texts. Put simply, using a present participle will allow you to convey two ideas at once, and using a gerund can reduce your word count. (As they both end -ing, present participles and gerunds look the same, but present participles are usually adjectives (e.g., I need baking powder) while gerunds are nouns (e.g., I like baking cakes).

So, with present participles and gerunds in mind, here are two reasons to care about suffixes. The third reason to care about suffixes relates to improving vocabulary and spelling.

(Reason 1) Use present participles to say two (or more) things at once.

  • Believing he'd been spotted, Jack raised his arms, exposing the explosive belt.
  • (In this sentence, Jack did three things (believed, raised, and exposed). Using present participles to convey two other actions alongside raised is not only efficient in terms of word count but also highlights the simultaneity of the actions.)
  • Smiling wryly, he flashed a cheeky wink.
  • (Here, we have two simultaneous actions: smiling while flashing.)
  • Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence. (American author Hal Borland)
  • (Here, we have two simultaneous actions in each sentence: knowing while understanding and then knowing while appreciating.)

(Reason 2) Use gerunds to create more succinct texts.

  • Knowing others is wisdom. Knowing yourself is enlightenment. (Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu)
  • (Here, the gerund knowing is a more succinct way of saying to know or knowledge of.)
  • He wants to discuss developing the plan.
  • (Developing the plan is a more succinct way of saying the development of the plan. Our gerund (developing) saves us two words, and the text flows better.)

(Reason 3) Improve your spelling and vocabulary.

There are other benefits to suffixes too. In the entry on affixes, we talk about how you can use your understanding of prefixes and suffixes to:
  • Improve your spelling by breaking a word down into prefixes and suffixes and tackling the parts one at a time (e.g., un-ful-fill-ment).
  • Decipher the meaning of a word (e.g., abductor, abductees).

Key Point

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This page was written by Craig Shrives.