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


We 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:

anti-againstanti-establishment, antifreeze, antibodies
co-togethernesscooperate, co-written, collaborate
dis-oppositedisintegrate, disagree, displease
in-notindirect, indiscriminate, independent
inter-betweeninteraction, integrate, interdependent
mis-incorrectlymisdirect, mismanage, misinterpret
over-above or beyondoverlook, oversee, overstep
under-below, or below expectationsunder-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 suffixes, their meanings and the words that can be formed:

-ablefulfilling its purposecomfortable, dependable, reliable
-edpast simple formconcluded, energised, waited
-ento increase or decreaselengthen, shorten, widen
-ercomparative formhotter, stronger, quicker
-fulto be full of a qualitybeautiful, careful, delightful
-ingpresent participle formdisplaying, engaging, presenting
-ichaving the quality ofhygienic, linguistic, scenic
-lyhaving the quality ofdecisively, rapidly, undoubtedly
-nessa state or conditioncontentedness, happiness, peacefulness
-tionforms abstract nouns from verbsaction, attention, detention
-s / -esforms pluralscolleagues, studies, vehicles