Grammar What Is a Suffix—and How Should You Use One? |
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What Is a Suffix—and How Should You Use One?

If you write, speak, and read English, you’ve likely come across the word suffix before. If you know what a suffix is and how it functions, you have a useful feather in your grammatical cap.

If you are unsure of what a suffix is or don’t recall its applications from what you learned in school, this discussion will help to clarify that for you. As usual, we’ll begin with the basics.

What Is a Suffix?

suffix is a letter or group of letters placed at the end of a word to create a new word.

For example, -ly is a common suffix. Let’s consider what it does when we attach it to the end of an everyday word such as quick.

Quick is an adjective that relates to speed. It can be used in a simple sentence such as:

Rabbits are quick runners.

When we add the suffix -ly, we form a different word: quickly. Although this word closely resembles quick, it has its own distinct meaning and usage. Quickly is an adverb that describes the manner of an action rather than a quality of a noun.

When we modify our example with our new word, we get a sentence such as:

The rabbit ran quickly from the cat chasing it.

You can see how adding a suffix has changed the meaning and form of our original word.

Some Common English Suffixes

Here are some other suffixes you may often see in American English:

-ment, which indicates a state, condition, or quality

enjoy > enjoyment (the state, condition, or quality of enjoying)

-able or -ible, which adds the meaning of “capable of, susceptible of, fit for, or given to”

customize > customizable (capable of being customized), digest > digestible (capable of being digested)

-ify, which means “to make,” “cause to be,” “render,” or “become”

game > gamify (to turn into a game or something resembling a game)

-acy, which enhances nouns of quality, state, office, etc.

pirate > piracy (the unauthorized taking of something, as in the practice of being a pirate)

-ize, which indicates the conversion of a concept or principle into an action

money > monetize (to give the character of money to, to make a profit from)

These are but a few examples, and we could explore many more. They should, however, begin to give you a greater understanding of how a word part can change the context, meaning, or form of another word when added to it.

With that awareness, you can also recognize the similarity between a suffix and a related grammatical element, the prefix.

Prefixes and Suffixes: Heads and Tails of New Words

Although today’s discussion centers on suffixes, it’s worth noting that many words can have prefixes that change their meaning as well. The main distinction is that prefixes appear before (at the head of) the root word while suffixes appear after it (in the tail).

By adding the suffix -ism, we can turn a skeptic into skepticism. Similarly, when we add the prefix hyper-, we can turn active into hyperactive to change the meaning from being in motion to being overly or unusually active. These add-ons give us versatile tools to communicate with precision and efficiency.

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