What are affixes?
An affix is an element that is added to a base word or root to create a new or inflected form. The most common affixes are prefixes, which attach to the beginning of a base or root word, and suffixes, which attach to the end. We’ll briefly cover both of these here, but you can continue on to their individual sections to learn more.
There are also a number of other, less common affixes that are used in English, which we’ll look at further on.
A prefix is a group of letters that is added to the beginning of a root or base word to change its meaning in a sentence. Prefixes are never inflectional—that is, they do not change the grammatical function of a word without changing its basic meaning. Instead, prefixes are only ever derivational, serving to create new words with unique meanings.
Prefixes generally do not affect the spelling of the root word to which they are attached, but we do sometimes have to alter the prefix itself depending on the spelling of the word it precedes. For example, the prefix in- can change to ig- (before n-), il- (before l-), im- (before b-, m-, or p-), or ir- (before r-).
In addition, many prefixes are only able (or only tend) to attach to certain parts of speech. For example, the prefix un- (meaning “not”) generally only attaches to adjectives, as in unhappy or uncomfortable; when un- means “to do the opposite of,” it only attaches to verbs, as in uncork or unlock. Attaching un- to a noun, on the other hand, is usually not done—for instance, unbuilding or unsky are incorrect.
Let’s briefly look at some common prefixes one might encounter:
Usually attaches to
(Occasionally hyphenated; sometimes ant- before a vowel, especially a-)
1. Equal and opposite to.
2. Opposing; against; prejudicial to.
3. Counteracting; destroying; neutralizing.
4. Enemy of or rival to; false version of.
1. nouns, Greek roots
2. adjectives, nouns
3. adjectives, nouns
1. antarctic, anticatalyst, anticlimax, antidote, antihero, antimatter, antipodes, antithesis, antonym
2. antagonist, antiapartheid, anticolonial, anticorruption, antidiscrimination, antiestablishment, antigovernment, antisocial, anti-war
3. anti-aircraft, antibacterial, anticonvulsive, antidepressant, antifungal, antifreeze, antihistamine, antipyretic, antitoxin, antiviral
4. antichrist, antipope
(occasionally reduced to aut- before vowels)
1. Self; one’s own; of, regarding, or performed by the same person or thing.
2. Derived from automatic (sometimes hyphenated).
3. Derived from automobile (sometimes hyphenated).
1. nouns, adjectives, Latin and Greek roots
2. nouns, verbs
1. autarchy, autism, autobiography, autoclave, autocracy, autograph, autoimmune, automatic, automobile, automotive, autonomy, autopsy
2. autofocus, autocorrect, autopilot, autosave, autosuggest, auto-tune
3. autobus, autocross, automaker, auto-mechanic
(Very rarely, becomes bin- before vowels)
2. Having or involving two.
3. Occurring at intervals of two; less formally, occurring twice within that interval.
1. nouns, Latin roots (and, less often, verbs)
3. adjectives, adverbs
1. biceps, bicycle, bifurcate, bipartisan, biped, bisect
2. bifocal, biconcave, biconvex, bilingual, binaural, binocular, bidirectional, bilateral, bipolar
3. biannual, bicentennial, bihourly, bimonthly, biweekly
Occurs before roots beginning with vowels or the consonants h- and gn-; it is also used to form newer compound terms (which are often hyphenated).
This prefix is the common reduced form of com-, the original Latin prefix, which occurs before roots beginning with b-, m-, or p-. It also takes three other forms, depending on the letter it precedes:
1. From the original prefix: together; together with; joint; jointly; mutually. Also used as an intensifier.
2. In newer terms, co- can indicate: joint(ly), mutual(ly), or together (with); partnership or equality; a subordinate or assistant; to the same degree or extent; or (in mathematics) the complement of an angle.
1. Latin roots
2. adjectives, nouns, verbs
2. co-author, codependent, codominant, co-driver, coexist, coeducation, co-manage, cooperate, co-pilot, cosine, cotangent, co-worker
(sometimes hyphenated when followed by a vowel)
1. To reverse; to do or cause to be the opposite.
2. To extract, remove, or eliminate from; to be without.
3. Out of; away from; off.
4. To reduce; to lower; to move down from.
5. Thoroughly or completely (used as an intensifier).
1. nouns, verbs, Latin roots
2. nouns, verbs, Latin roots
3. nouns, verbs, Latin roots
4. nouns, Latin roots
1. decaffeinate, decelerate, decriminalize, decode, decommission, decompose, deconstruct, de-emphasize, desegregate, destabilize
2. debunk, decalcify, deglaze, de-ice, delouse, despair, dethrone
3. decamp, defect, deflect, deplane, detrain
4. declass, degrade, deject, demean, descend, detest
5. debrief, defraud, despoil
(becomes dif- when combining with Latin roots beginning f-)
1. Lacking; without; not.
2. To do or cause to be the opposite.
3. Apart; out of; away from; off.
4. To extract, cancel, remove, or release.
5. Indicating intensive force.
1. adjectives, nouns
3. verbs, Latin roots
4. nouns, verbs
5. verbs, Latin roots
1. disability, disadvantage, disbelief, disease, dishonest, disservice, dissimilar, distemper, distrust, disuse
2. disagree, disassociate, disavow, disbelieve, disconnect, discredit, disgrace, disprove
3. differ, difficulty, diffraction, diffuse, discard, discord, discharge, disembark, dispense
4. disbar, disbud, disburse, disenfranchise, disenchant, disentangle
5. disannul, disembowel, disturb
ex-banker, ex-boyfriend, ex-girlfriend, ex-husband, ex-marine, ex-partner, ex-priest, ex-teacher, ex-wife
1. Before; earlier; previous in time.
2. In front of; at or near the front; before or previous in position or location.
1. forebear, forebode, forecast, foreclose, forego, forejudge, foresee, foreshadow, foretell, forewarn
2. forearm, forebrain, foredeck, forefather, forefinger, foreground, forehead, foreleg, foreman, foresail
(Mis- is in many ways identical to mal-, though mis- is much more likely to be paired with verbs.)
1. Bad; wrong; improper; imperfect; defective; abnormal.
2. Badly; wrongly; improperly; imperfectly; defectively; abnormally.
1. misadventure, misbalance, misconception, misconduct, misconnection, misdiagnosis, misdirection, misdeed, misgivings, mishap, misinformation, misperception, mismatch, mistrust
2. misadjust, misbehave, miscalculate, miscarry, miscast, miscommunicate, misconstrue, misdial, misdiagnose, mishear, misinform, misinterpret, mislabel, mislead, mistake, mismanage, misrepresent, misspell
(Non- is often hyphenated according to the preference of the writer, but it is more commonly attached without a hyphen in American English.)
Indicating total negation, exclusion, failure, or deficiency.
nonaggression, nonalcoholic, nonavailability, nonbeliever, nonchalant, noncombatant, non-cooperation, noncompliance, nondisclosure, noneducational, nonemergency, nonevent, nonexistent, nonfiction, nonfunctional, nonhazardous, nonhuman, noninfectious, nonlethal, nonpayment, nonprofit, nonsmoking, nonworker
1. Surpassing; going beyond; excelling over others.
2. External to; outside; away from the center.
3. Indicating an emergence, protrusion, or issuing-forth.
4. Beyond what is normal, acceptable, or agreeable.
2. noun, verbs
4. adjectives, verbs
1. outargue, outclass, outdistance, outdo, outfox, outlast, outgrow, outgun, outmaneuver, outmatch, outnumber, outpace, outperform, outrank, outrun, outsmart, outshine
2. outback, outboard, outbound, outcast, outcross, outdate, outdoors, outfield, outfit, outgoing, outhouse, outlaw, outlier, outline, outpatient, outpost, outreach, outside, outsource
3. outburst, outcome, outcrop, outgrowth, outpouring
4. outlandish, outsized, outspoken, outstay
(Often hyphenated before other vowels, especially e-, though this is less common in American English. Always hyphenated before proper nouns and non-letters)
1. Before; in front of.
2. Earlier than or beforehand in time.
3. Before, in advance, or instead of the normal occurrence.
1 & 2. adjectives, nouns, verbs, Latin roots
1. preamble, precede, precinct, predate, preeminent, preface, prefer, prefix, prefrontal, prelude, preposition, preside, pretext
2. precept, precipitation, precocious, pre-date, predict, pre-emption, prehistory, preindustrial, prejudice, premature, premonition, prenatal, preparation, preproduction, prescience, preserve, preschool, preshow, presume, preview
3. preadmit, preapprove, preassign, prebook, preclean, precondition, predestine, predetermine, preoccupy, preorder, prepay, pre-position
1. Supporting; promoting; in favor of.
2. Forward; forth; toward the point.
3. In place or on behalf of; acting or substituting for.
4. Beforehand; in advance; prior to.
5. In front; before.
1. nouns (usually hyphenated, but not always)
2, 3, 4 & 5. Greek and Latin roots (less commonly, adjectives, nouns, and verbs)
1. pro-American, pro-Britain, pro-Catholic, pro-choice, pro-life, pro-peace, pro-revolution, prowar
2. problem, proceed, proclaim, procreate, procrastination, profess, profound, program, progress, project, prolong, promote, propel, prosecute, protest, proverb
3. proconsul, procure, pronoun, proper, prorate, proportion
4. proactive, prognosis, prohibit, prophet, proscribe
5. proboscis, profane, pronominal, prologue, protect
(This prefix becomes red- before Latin roots beginning with vowels. It is hyphenated when paired with English roots if the resultant spelling would be the same as an existing word; it may also be hyphenated before English roots beginning with vowels, especially e-, but this is often up to the discretion of the writer and is not usually done in American English.)
1. Once more; again (in the same manner, direction, etc.).
2. Once more; again (with the aim of improving, fixing, or substituting).
3. Anew; restored to the original place, condition, etc.
4. Against; back or in reverse; opposite; in response to.
5. Used as an intensive with Latin root verbs.
verbs, Latin roots
1. reaffirm, reappear, reboot, recognize, recopy, re-cover, recur, re-dress, redecorate, redeploy, redesign, rediscover, reelect, reenact, reenter, rehearse, rehire, relearn, rehydrate, relive, reload, reregister, re-sign, restart, retry, reunite
2. reapply, reapportion, rebrand, recalculate, rekindle, relabel, relocate, remarry, reschedule, reseal, rethink, retry
3. reacquire, readjust, realign, rebuild, recapture, receive, regain, rehabilitate, renew, replace, restore
4. react, rebel, rebuff, recant, recede, reciprocate, recite, recoil, redact, redeem, redress, refer, regress, reject, relate, remove, resign, respond, return
5. redolent, refine, regard, regret, relieve, remedy, repent
2. Incompletely; partially; partly; somewhat, almost, or resembling.
3. Occurring twice within a certain period of time.
1 & 2. adjectives, nouns
1. semicircle, semicolon, semicylinder, semidiameter, semidome, semifinal, semioval, semiovate
2. semiarticulate, semiautomatic, semiconductor, semiconscious, semidarkness, semidetached, semidry, semiformal, semiliterate, semiofficial, semipermanent, semiprofessional, semiserious, semiretired, semitransparent, semivowel
3. semiannual, semimonthly, semiweekly
(usually becomes tran- before roots beginning with s-)
1. Across; beyond; through; on the other side.
2. Completely change or alter.
1. adjectives, verbs, Latin roots
2. nouns, verbs, Latin roots
1. transaction, transatlantic, transcend, transfer, transfix, transfuse, transgenerational, transgress, transient, translucent, transmit, transnational, transpacific, transparent, transplant, transport
2. transcribe, transduce, transfigure, transform, transgender, translate, transliterate, transmute, transubstantiate
Hyphenated before proper nouns and adjectives.
2. Used to form certain negative adjectival phrases.
3. Opposite of or contrary to; lacking or absent.
1. adjectives (not counting nouns formed from prefixed adjectives)
2. past-participle adjectives + prepositions
1. unable, unaccompanied, un-American, unbelievable, unbiased, un-British, uncertain, unclear, undue, unemployed, unending, unfamiliar, unforeseen, ungraceful, unguided, unhappy, unhealthy, uninformed, unjust, unkind, unknowing, unlawful, unlikely, unlucky, unmanned, unpersuaded, unprofessional, unrated, unreasonable, unscathed, unsolved, untried, untrustworthy, unwise, unwritten
2. unasked-for, uncalled-for, undreamed-of, un-get-at-able, unheard-of
3. unbelief, unconcern, uninterest, unmilitary, unrest, untruth
1. To reverse, erase, or undo an action or effect.
2. To deprive of, extract, or remove.
3. To free, remove, or release from.
4. Used as an intensifier with existing verbs that have the same meaning.
1. unbend, unbind, unbolt, unclog, uncoil, uncork, undo, undress, unfasten, unfold, unfurl, unhook, unload, unlock, unplug, unscrew, unscramble, unseal, unsheathe, unravel, unroll, untangle, unwind
2. unbalance, uncloak, unfrock, unhorse, unman, unmask, unseat, unveil
3. unburden, unbox, uncage, uncrate, unearth, unharness, unhitch, unleash, unwrap unyoke
4. unloose, unravel
A suffix is a group of letters that is added onto the end of a base or root word to change its meaning. Unlike prefixes, which can only be derivational (forming a new word with a unique meaning), suffixes can be either derivational or inflectional (meaning that the grammatical function of the word is changed, but its basic meaning is not).
Inflectional suffixes can be applied to nouns (to form plurals), adjectives and adverbs (to form comparatives and superlatives), and verbs (to indicate tense and grammatical person). In some cases, the same suffix may be used with different parts of speech to create different types of inflection. For example:
Part of Speech Inflected
Forms the third-person singular for most verbs.
Changes most nouns from singular to plural.
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.
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.”
Changes certain irregular nouns from singular to plural.
Adjectives and Adverbs
Adjectives and Adverbs
(*These words function either as adjectives or adverbs, depending on their use. Those without an asterisk only function as adjectives.)
While there is only a limited number of inflectional suffixes, there is a huge amount of derivational suffixes. These can create a word with a new meaning that belongs to the same part of speech, but, in many cases, derivational suffixes end up changing the part of speech of the word altogether.
We’ll look at a lot more of these in the section on Suffixes, but let’s look at some common ones here.
Suffixes that form nouns
Suffixes that form nouns most often attach to verbs, but some attach to adjectives or even other nouns. For example:
An action or process.
A person or thing performing or capable of a particular action.
1. A state, quality, or condition.
2. A group sharing a state, quality, or condition.
A state, condition, action, process, or practice, or the result thereof.
Verbs ending in “-fy”
1. An action, process, or practice.
2. A state, condition, or quality.
3. A doctrine, theory, or set of guiding principles.
2 & 3. Adjectives
An action or process, or the result thereof.
A state, condition, trait, or measurement thereof.
A state, condition, action, process, or practice, or the result thereof.
Suffixes that form verbs
Derivational suffixes that create verbs attach to nouns and adjectives:
1. To become or cause to become.
2. To come or cause to have.
To make or cause to become.
To become or cause to become; to do or make that to which the suffix is attached.
Suffixes that form adjectives
Derivational suffixes that create adjectives usually attach to nouns; much less often, they attach to verbs. For example:
Possible; capable of; suitable for.
Having the characteristics of or relating to.
1. Full of; characterized by.
2. Tending or able to.
Having the characteristics of or relating to.
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.
Lacking; deprived of; without.
Possessing; characterized by; full of.
1. Characterized by; consisting or having the quality of; filled with.
2. Tending or inclined to.
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.” For example:
1. In a certain or specified manner.
2. At that interval of time.
2. Nouns (units of time)
(“-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)
edge→edgewise (occasionally: edgeways)
length→lengthwise (occasionally: lengthways)
In a specified direction or position.
Nouns, adjectives, adverbs
While prefixes and suffixes are by far the most common types of affixes in English, there are a few others that appear less often: interfixes, simulfixes, circumfixes, infixes, and suprafixes. Some of these are like prefixes and suffixes, in that they attach a new letter or letters to an existing base word or root to create a new term; others function by changing a letter within a word, or by changing the pronunciation of a word.
An interfix (also known as a linking element) is a single letter (usually a vowel, and especially O) that doesn’t have specific meaning in itself, but instead acts as a connector between different words, roots, or word-forming elements.
- arachnophobia (O replaces “-id” from arachnid)
- discography (O attaches to the word disc)
- egotism (T attaches to the word ego)
- embryonic (N attaches to the word embryo)
- filmography (O attaches to the word film)
- hallucinogen (O replaces “-ation” from hallucination)
- herbicide (I attaches to the word herb)
- ionosphere (O attaches to the word ion)
- kleptomania (O replaces “-es” from the Greek root kleptes)
- lobotomy (O replaces “-e” from lobe)
- pesticide (I attaches to the word pest)
- speedometer (O attaches to the word speed)
- tracheotomy (O replaces “-a” from trachea)
There are also a number of informal, colloquial, or humorous terms that writers sometimes coin by using an interfix with a noun and familiar ending to mimic the structure of standard words. For example:
- applause-o-meter (mimics words like speedometer)
- blogosphere (mimics words like atmosphere)
- rodenticide (mimics words like pesticide)
- germophobia/germaphobia (mimics words like arachnophobia)
- smell-o-vision (mimics the word television)
A simulfix is a letter or group of letters that changes within a word (rather than being added to it) to indicate a shift in grammatical meaning. The most common of these occur in nouns that have irregular plural forms or verbs with irregular conjugations. For example:
Circumfixes are word elements that appear at both the end and beginning of a base word, usually forming transitive verbs. There are only a few words that could be said to feature circumfixes in English:
Infixes are words or word elements that appear within a base word, usually separated by hyphens. There are no “true” infixes in English; instead, they are all formed colloquially in speech and writing, typically for the sake of adding emphasis to a word.
Most commonly, infixes are used with words that have more than two syllables, and they usually consist of expletives (curse words) or minced oaths (euphemistic expressions meant to represent expletives without using the actual words).
A suprafix (sometimes called a superfix) is unique among affixes in that it refers to a change in a word’s pronunciation to indicate a difference in grammatical function and meaning, rather than a change in spelling. The name comes from the term suprasegmental, which refers to speech sounds like stress and pitch rather than those related to the pronunciation of letters.
Most often, suprafixes occur with words that can function as either a noun or a verb. For example:
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