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Athabasca University

Word Forms

Prefixes and suffixes that are used in English give clues as to the meaning and, or, the function of words. Typically suffixes indicate the function of a word in a sentence. For instance there are some suffixes that are used only for nouns and others that are used for verbs, adjectives and adverbs. The particular suffix used in forming a word also helps to give meaning to a word, for instance 'competition' and 'competitor' are both nouns that are formed from the verb 'compete'. The '-or' suffix, however, indicates that there is a person performing the action, whereas the '-tion' suffix indicates a condition or state of being. Do note, that some suffixes are used with more than one type of word, so on their own they cannot be used to infer the function of the word in the sentence. In those situations, other context clues are needed to provide the function of that word in a particular sentence. For example, an '-ing' suffix occurs with nouns, verbs and adjectives; in the sentence "Teaching is interacting with interesting people," teaching is a noun (a gerund), interacting is part of a verb phrase in the present progressive tense, and interesting is an adjective that qualifies people.

Suffixes

The tables below provide the more common noun, verb and adjective suffixes and give the usage and examples. There is only one common suffix for adverbs, and that is '-ly.' It is often added to adjectival suffixes as in 'creative' and 'creatively.'

Noun Endings

Ending Usage Example
-al the act of doing, or the state of betrayal, refusal
-ance/-ancy/-ence/-ency relating to quality, state or condition performance, infancy, prominence, urgency
-ation action or process of; result of creation, reformation
-ice condition, quality or act cowardice, notice
-er/-or person or thing that performs the action teacher, worker, competitor, legislator
-graph a writing or record telegraph, polygraph
-ian person or thing politician, amphibian
-ing having the quality of (gerund ending) teaching, working
-ism action or practice, theory or doctrine nationalism, Hinduism
-ist one who, or that which does or has to do with nationalist, typist
-ity state, condition or quality inferiority, confidentiality
-ization nouns formed from verbs; condition, act, process harmonization, urbanization
-ment the product or result of; the means of achievement, government
-ness relating to quality, state or condition happiness, sadness
-ogy the study of biology, geology
-oid like, resembling humanoid, android
-ory a place for the action of the verb stem dormitory, repository
-ship the state, condition or quality of; art or skill of friendship, marksmanship
-sion/-tion action or process of; condition or state of being; result of rejection, completion, connection

Verb Endings

Ending Usage Example
-ate verbs from some Latin forms fascinate, participate
-ed forms the simple past and past participle of regular verbs walked, has walked
-en verbs formed from adjectives soften, weaken
-er verbs with a habitual or repeated action stutter, canter
-fy cause to be or become beautify, liquefy
-ing present participle and part of progressive tenses walking, is walking
-ise/-ize to cause to become, resemble; make into; to act in the manner of authorize, sympathize
-s/-es ending of third person singular, present tense walks, runs

Adjective Endings

Ending Usage Example
-able/-ible/-ble capable of, fit for, tending to, likely to trainable, flexible
-al relating to, having the nature of musical, personal
-ant in the act or process of doing vigilant, militant
-ed adjectives formed from nouns interested, bored
-ent having the quality of dependent, resilient
-er comparative ending bigger, faster
-est superlative ending biggest, fastest
-ful full of, characterized by beautiful, bountiful
-ic pertaining to, connected with, resembling volcanic, angelic
-ing participial form as an adjective interesting, boring
-istic having the qualities of, formed from realistic, socialistic
-ite derived from some Latin verbs infinite, polite
-ive having a tendency to or the nature of attentive, massive
-ory a place or instrument for doing the main element laboratory, dormitory
-ose full of; like verbose, grandiose
-ous/-ious full of; having the qualities of poisonous, anxious

Prefixes

Prefixes aid in determining the meaning of words. While some prefixes have only one meaning, others may have more than one, or there may be several prefixes with the same meaning. It is a situation that helps lead to the richness of the English vocabulary.

Prefix Usage Example
a-/an- without amoral, anarchy
ad- to, toward, near adhere, advert
ante- before in time or order antechamber, antecedent
anti- against, opposed to antiaircraft, antibiotic
bene- good beneficial, benefactor
bi- two bicycle, bipolar
by- aside or apart from bystander, byproduct
circum- around circumpolar, circumnavigate
co-/col-/com/
con-/cor-
together, with, jointly co-author, collaborate, combine, conspire, correspond
contra- against, opposite contraception, contraband
de- down from, away, off descent, declassify
dia- across, through diagonal, diagram
dis- away from, apart disconnect, disown
epi- upon, above, outside, in addition to epidermis, epilogue
ex- out of, thoroughly exhale, exasperate
hyper- beyond, excessive, extreme hyperbole, hyperactive
hypo- under, beneath, down, less than hypodermic, hypothesis
il-/im-/in-/ir- in, into, on, not illegible, impolite, inoperable, irrefutable
inter- between, with each other interchange, intercede
intra-/intro- within, inside of intramural, introvert
mal- bad, evil, wrong malformed, malignant
micro- small microscope, microorganism
mis- wrong mistake, misinformation
mono- one, alone monotone, monopoly
multi- many, much multilingual, multiply
non- not nonentity, nonconformist
ob- against, in opposition objection, oblivious
over- above, on top of, superior overactive, overdraft
peri- around, near perimeter, perihelion
poly- many polygamy, polygon
post- after in time or order postdated, postmortem
pre- before in time or order predict, precaution
pro- forward, toward the front, occurring earlier project, prognosis
re- back again redo, renew
retro- back again, backward retrospective, retroactive
semi- half, partly semiconductor, semiconscious
sub-/suc-/suf-/sup-/sus- under, beneath submarine, succumb, suffocate, support, suspect
super above, greater, better superfluous
syl-/sym-/syn- with, together, associated with syllable, sympathy, synapse
tri- three tricycle
trans- across, through transform, transfuse
ultra- beyond, excessive, extreme ultramarine, ultraviolet
un- not, opposed to; back unavoidable; undo
uni- one, alone unicorn, uniform

There are many words that have noun, verb, adjective, and adverb forms. A few of these word form 'families' are given in the chart below as examples. Any good dictionary will give you the various forms of a word.

noun verb adjective adverb
beauty beautify beautiful beautifully
competition/competitor compete competitive competitively
creation create creative creatively
management/manager manage manageable manageably
nationalist/nationalism nationalize national nationally
nature naturalize natural naturally
notice notice noticeable noticeably
sadness sadden sad sadly
significance signify significant significantly

Updated September 10 2014 by Student & Academic Services

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