Prefixes and suffixes

The use of prefixes and suffixes in written and spoken English, known as affixation, allows us to extend our vocabulary range by modifying the beginning (prefix) or ending (suffix) of root words in order to alter their meaning. This post offers examples of affixation to guide writers towards broadening their linguistic range.


Prefixes and suffixes

AffixationWe add affixes (prefixes and suffixes) to root words to form new words and meanings, which as mentioned above is a valuable approach to extending our lexical range in English. Prefixes (e.g. anti-, sub-) and suffixes (e.g. –ise, –tion) are referred to as bound morphemes, and thus cannot be used independently, but have to be bound or connected to the root of a word.



Prefixes are added to the front of a word (biotic → antibiotic, contract → subcontract) and can refer to time (prelude, postscript), position (submarine, vice-chancellor), attitude (pro-independence, anti-nuclear), change in condition (transformation, delaminate), opposites (dissatisfied, unreliable), criticism (pseudoscience, maladjusted) or size (microclimate, macroeconomics). They typically modify but do not change the word class (e.g. noun → noun, adjective → adjective).

The table below presents examples of commonly occurring prefixes, their meanings and the words that can be formed:


Prefix Meaning Examples
anti- against anti-establishment, antifreeze, antibodies
co- togetherness cooperate, co-written, collaborate
dis- opposite disintegrate, disagree, displease
in- not indirect, indiscriminate, independent
inter- between interaction, integrate, interdependent
mis- incorrectly misdirect, mismanage, misinterpret
over- above or beyond overlook, oversee, overstep
under- below, or below expectations under-budget, underground, underwhelm



Suffixes are placed at the end of the word and often change the word classification (e.g. actual (adjective) →’ actually (adverb), realise (verb) → realisation (noun), theory (noun) → theorise (verb)), but this is not always the case (e.g. lecture/theory (singular nouns) → lectures/theories  (plural nouns)).

The table below includes examples of common prefixes, their meanings and the words that can be formed:


Suffix Meaning Examples
-able fulfilling its purpose comfortable, dependable, reliable
-ed past simple form concluded, energised, waited
-en to increase or decrease lengthen, shorten, widen
-er comparative form hotter, stronger, quicker
-ful to be full of a quality beautiful, careful, delightful
-ing present participle form displaying, engaging, presenting
-ic having the quality of hygienic, linguistic, scenic
-ly having the quality of decisively, rapidly, undoubtedly
-ness a state or condition contentedness, happiness, peacefulness
-tion forms abstract nouns from verbs action, attention, detention
-s / -es forms plurals colleagues, studies, vehicles