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Web Lecture 1.4
Suffixes and Prefixes

1.4.1. Suffixes -- Complete List of Suffixes in Course

Inflectional suffixes

Derivational suffixes

Meanings of Derivational Suffixes

1.4.2. Prefixes -- Complete List of Prefixes in Course

Spatial Prefixes

Non-Spatial Prefixes

1.4.1. Suffixes

There are two different classes of suffixes: Inflectional and Derivational. Each has its own special function in a word. Briefly,

* add only grammatical information
* never change the part of speech
* make a new word with a new meaning
* usually change the part of speech
Let's take a closer look at each of these classes.


Inflectional suffixes are required to make a sentence grammatically correct, but they add little meaning to the word. They never change a word from one grammatical class to another, but each grammatical class has its own special set of inflectional suffixes. Consequently, these suffixes can be useful in helping you determine whether the word is a NOUN, VERB, or ADJECTIVE. In any case, you need to recognize and ignore inflectional suffixes when you are analyzing a word. It's especially important not to confuse them with derivational suffixes, which do alter the meaning of the word and must be glossed.

English has only eight inflectional suffixes; they are listed with examples in the table below.


Grammatical Class




-s 'plural'

The two girls had eaten dinner.

-'s 'possessive'

The cat's tail was twitching.


-ed 'past tense'

The blackest dog never barked.

-s '3rd person present tense'

The smaller dog barks a lot.

-ing 'present participle'

The cat's tail was twitching.

-en 'past participle'

The two girls had eaten dinner.


-er 'comparative'

The smaller dog barks a lot.

-est 'superlative'

The blackest dog never barked

The noun suffixes -s and -'s indicate either plurality or possession. They both sound the same in the spoken language, although they are distinguished in the written form. Be careful not to confuse these suffixes with a derivational suffix with same form (in Morpheme Set 3).

Verbs have four suffixes: -ed, -s, -ing, -en. Their main function is to distinguish the tense of the verb. Notice that verbs also have a suffix -s, although in this case it indicates that the verb is present tense and being used with a third-person subject, i.e. something other than "I" or "you."

The adjective suffixes -er and -est are also considered inflectional. They are used when comparing two things (-er) or more than two things (-est). Be sure to distinguish the -er suffix from a derivational suffix with the same form (in Morpheme Set 2).

Remember: You need to be able to recognize inflectional suffixes; you do not need to gloss them. If an inflectional suffix occurs, it will always be the last suffix of any type in the word, and there will only be one inflectional suffix in any word.



In this WebLecture, we will discuss all the derivational affixes in the course as a group. Of course, you always are only responsible for the affixes given in the current and earlier morpheme sets. As you study each new morpheme set, you may wish to refer back to this section.

Derivational suffixes are used to make (or derive) new words. In particular, they are used to change a word from one grammatical class to another. For example, the noun "pore" can be changed into an adjective by adding the suffix -ous, resulting in the adjective "porous" 'having pores'. In some cases, the suffix doesn't change the part of speech, but it may add significantly to the meaning and these changes will affect the literal meaning.

We can organize derivation suffixes into three groups, depending on the type of new word they create. In the example above, we call -ous an Adjective-Forming Suffix because it creates adjectives. Below are some more examples of derivation suffixes which change parts of speech.

Suffix Type

Grammatical Change


Noun-Forming Suffixes


speak + er


economic + s

Adjective-Forming Suffixes


person + al


act + ive

Verb-Forming Suffixes


victim + ize


vocal + ize

As we've seen, one can add derivational suffixes almost indefinitely. For example, the word "educationalization" contains one prefix, one root, and six derivational suffixes.

e /

duc /

ate /

ion /

al /

ize /

ate /


'away, out'

'lead, draw, pull'





N, A, V


Some derivational suffixes do multiple tasks. For example, the suffix -ate can create nouns, adjectives and verbs. This sometimes makes it difficult to gloss non-final derivational suffixes. If you can't tell for sure, just use the complete gloss which you memorized. When words are used in the context of a sentence, their grammatical class is clear and the exact meaning of the derivational suffix can be determined. When the word is given to you in a sentence, all final suffixes must have a SINGLE gloss. You will always be given words in sentences on exams. This usually isn't the case on homework problems; consequently, your answers may differ slightly from ours.

Derivational suffixes can be redundant, that is, two suffixes in a row may indicate the same part of speech. We can see this in these examples:
electric / electrical
philosophic / philosophical

No matter how many suffixes are strung together at the end of a word, the rules is always the same:

The literal meaning that you construct for a word depends on its part of speech. In the next section, we'll take a look at how literal meanings should be constructed for NOUNS, VERBS, and ADJECTIVES.

Meanings of Derivational Suffixes

When you analyze words, it is usually easiest to gloss derivational suffixes as NOUN, VERB, or ADJECTIVE. When you construct a literal meaning, you need to be careful that this meaning is appropriate to the part of speech that the word belongs to. For example, 'running' is a literal meaning for an adjective, but 'that which runs' is a literal meaning for a noun. (The words are cursive and cursor.)

NOUN Suffixes

Literal meanings for nouns almost always begin with words such as 'a', 'an', 'the', 'that which', or 'one who'. Different types of noun suffixes have slightly different meanings.

Noun-Forming Suffixes

Suffix form

Suffix Meanings


Literal meaning



'a thing'

'a substance'

'one that is related to'

'that which pertains to'


'that which pertains to a place'



'a thing which is cut'



'the feeling'



'a white thing'



'the properties of something present from birth'


-ence /


'an act of'

'a state of'

'the process of'

'the result of'



'the result of jutting forth'



'the result of acting'



'the result of sending' (or 'that which was sent')



'the process of birth' ('the beginning')



'the act of studying living things' (or 'the study of life forms')


'the belief'

'the practice'


'the practice of dipping'


[name of a quality]


'the quality of being true'



'one who'

'that which'


'one who speaks toward (for) something'

-er / -or


'one who works'

-ent / -ant


'one who serves'


'one who engages in a belief or practice'


'one who practices communism'



'a place where'


'a place where water is'

-ary / -ory


'a place for sleeping'


'the land'

'the area'


'the land below the city' (i.e. 'the area secondary to the city')


-le / -ole / -cle



'a little mouse'



'a medical condition'


'a medical condition of lacking sleep'


'an inflammation'


'an inflammation of the bronchial tubes'


'a tumor'

'a growth'


'a tumor having fiber (i.e. fibrous tissue)'

VERB Suffixes

Literal meanings for verbs should always begin 'to', the infinitive marker. (The infinitive form of a verb is one that doesn't show any tense.) In some cases, verbs convey the meaning 'to cause to' or 'to make', but in other cases the idea of causation has been lost, although the same suffix is used in each case. One special verb suffix is -esc / -sc conveys a notion of change or mutation and often means 'to become'. Here are some examples:

Verb-Forming Suffixes

Suffix form

Suffix Meanings


Literal meaning


'to VERB'

'to cause to'

'to make'


'to free'



'to make vocal'

-sc / -esc

'to become'

'to change'


'to become much stronger'


Literal meanings for adjectives often begin with the words 'having', 'being', or 'pertaining to' . When an adjective is formed from a verb, you can sometimes gloss it as 'VERB + ing' (VERB stands for whatever the original verb was.) One special case is -oid which almost always should be glossed 'resembling'. Another adjective suffix with a special meaning is -able / ible 'able to'. Here are some examples:

Adjective-Forming Suffixes

Suffix form

Suffix Meanings


Literal meaning

-able / -ible

'able to'


'able to be adored'




'pertaining to'

'VERB + ing '


'pertaining to birth'

-ary / -ory


'pertaining to feeling'



'having anger (ire)'

-ent / -ant





'pertaining to time'



'being old'



'pertaining to dogs'



'having an end'










'resembling a man'

1.4.2. Prefixes

Spatial Prefixes

The largest group of prefixes denote relationships that occur in space. Often, these spatial meanings are metaphorically extended to relationships in time. These prefixes may also have additional meanings and variant forms, which are listed in the glossary.

ab- / abs- 'from'

ecto- 'outside'

ob- 'towards'

ad- 'toward'

endo- 'inside'

para- 'beside'

ambi- / amphi- 'both'

epi- 'on'

per- 'through'

ana- 'back(ward)'

ex- / e- / ec- 'out, away'

peri- 'around'

ante- / anti- 'before'

extra- 'outside'

post- 'after'

anti- 'opposite'

hyper- / super- 'over'

pre- 'before

apo- 'away from'

hypo- 'under'

pro- 'forward'

cata- 'down'

in- / en- 'in, into'

re- / red- 'back'

circum- 'around'

infra- 'below'

se- / sed- 'apart'

con- / co- 'together'

intra- 'within'

sub- 'under'

de- 'down'

inter- 'between'

supra- 'above'

dia- 'through'

meso- 'middle'

syn- 'together'

dis- / di- 'apart'

meta- 'beyond'

trans- / tra- 'across'

Non-Spatial Prefixes

Some prefixes convey non-spatial concepts such as the comparison of one object with others, or information about the size or quantity of the object or substance

hetero- 'other, different'

homo- / homeo- 'same'

iso- 'equal'

micro- 'small'

macro- 'long, large'

omni- 'all'

pan- / pant- 'all, overall'

Negative prefixes convey the concept of 'not' as well as related concepts such as 'opposite of', 'lacking', or simple 'bad'.

a- / an- 'not, without'

in- 'not'

dys- 'bad'

anti- 'the opposite of' or 'opposed to'

contra- / counter- 'opposed to, in opposition'

Many spatial prefixes can be used to strengthen or intensify the meaning of the root to which they are attached. When these prefixes are used intensively, they should be glossed as 'very', 'intensively', 'completely', 'strongly', or some similar meaning, rather than using their spatial meaning. Although these "double meanings" of spatial morphemes may seen odd at first, it is actually quite common in languages. English has a number of native words and phrases with spatial meanings that are used to strengthen other words. Below are some examples of Latin spatial morphemes and English spatial words used intensively.

conspicuous 'very easily seen'

"altogether visible"

declare 'very clear'

"downright clear"

inflammable 'very flammable' (in- 'in', NOT in- 'not')

"out and out flammable"

perfect 'completely done'

"done through and through"

insist 'to stand strongly (for something)'

"stand outright (for something)"

It is sometimes tricky to be sure that the prefix has an intensive meaning, but be sure to consider it when the spatial meaning doesn't seem to make sense.

Continue with Unit 1 Exercises B

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Copyright 1998 by the Department of Linguistics, University of Oregon.