A suffix is a specific group of letters at the end of a word. It often indicates part of the meaning of the whole word.
Example: “less” = without
If you know the most common suffixes, it will help to deduce the meaning of new words.
I had a sleepless night at the hotel.
You already know the word “sleep” and now you know that the suffix “less” means “without”. Therefore you can deduce that the sentence means: “I had a night without sleep.”
Use a good dictionary to check the meaning of all new words.
There are 2 main types of suffix in English:
1) Inflectional suffixes
2) Derivational suffixes
Inflectional suffixes are grammatical suffixes. The basic meaning of the word does not change.
Here are some examples:
The suffix “ed” indicates the past simple tense of a regular verb and sometimes the past participle.
walk -> walked
They walked on the beach.
The suffix “s” transforms a singular noun into a plural noun.
cat -> cats
The suffix “en” represents the past participle of certain irregular verbs.
eat -> eaten
He has eaten his meal.
The suffix “ing” on a verb is its continous form or its gerund.
cook -> cooking
Mark is cooking dinner.
The suffix “er” on the end of an adjective transforms the adjective into a comparative.
big -> bigger
This building is bigger.
The suffix “est” on the end of an adjective transforms the adjective into a superlative.
big -> biggest
This building is the biggest.
Derivational suffixes transform a word from one type of word to another. The basic meaning of the word changes.
verb -> noun
noun -> adjective
noun -> verb
adjective -> adverb
adjective -> noun
adjective -> verb
As an example, the suffix “able” transforms the noun “comfort” into the adjective “comfortable“.
Here are the most common derivational suffixes:
“able” and “ible”
The suffixes “able” and “ible” represent an adjective.
The meaning is “can be done” or “capable of”
comfortable (adjective) = capable of comforting
The couch is very comfortable.
portable (adjective) = can be carried or moved.
This is a portable radio.
Other examples: presentable, taxable, edible
“er”, “ier” and “or”
The suffixes “er”, “ier” and “or” represent a noun.
The meaning is “a person who does something”
driver (noun) = person who drives
Mark is a taxi driver.
golfer (noun) = person who plays golf
David is a very good golfer.
Other examples: writer, swimmer, director, Londoner
The suffix “ess” represents a noun.
The meaning is “female”.
lioness (noun) = a female lion.
Here is a lioness.
actress (noun) = a female actor.
Emma Watson is a British actress.
Other examples: goddess, princess, heiress
The suffix “ful” represents an adjective.
The meaning is “full of something”
peaceful (adjective) = full of peace and quiet.
This view is very peaceful.
cheerful (adjective) = happy (full of cheer)
David is very cheerful today.
Other examples: thankful, useful, helpful
The suffix “ly” represents an adverb of manner.
The meaning is “in the manner of” or “in the way of”
slowly (adverb) = to do something in a slow way.
The cars are moving very slowly.
quickly (adverb) = to do something in a quick way
The dog is running very quickly.
Other examples: badly, loudly, quietly
The suffix “less” represents an adjective.
The meaning is “without”.
endless (adjective) = without an end
The road seems endless.
homeless (adjective) = without a home
The lady is homeless.
Other examples: hopeless, fearless, useless
“ous”, “ious” and “eous”
The suffixes “ous”, “ious” and “eous” represent an adjective.
The meaning is “having the quality of”
famous (adjective) = having fame
Mark is a famous guitarist.
nutritious (adjective) = having nutrition
Salad is a very nutritious meal.
Other examples: nervous, cautious, curvaceous
The suffix “ness” represents a noun.
The meaning is a state, condition or quality.
fitness (noun) = the condition of being fit (strong and healthy)
She is trying to improve her fitness.
shyness (noun) = the condition of being shy.
Her shyness is a problem when trying to make friends.
Other examples: kindness, happiness, freshness, weakness
The suffix “ism” represents a noun.
The meaning is a philosophy, movement or belief.
capitalism (noun) = an economic philosophy.
Capitalism is the economic system in many countries.
impressionism (noun) = a style of painting.
Impressionism started in France in the 19th century.
Other examples: racism, socialism, favouritism, sexism
The suffix “ist” represents a noun.
The meaning is a person who does something or believes in something.
artist (noun) = person who draws or paints.
Clare is learning to be an artist.
pianist = person who plays the piano
John is a very good pianist.
Other examples: dentist, pharmacist, guitarist, socialist
“ise” and “ize”
The suffixes “ise” and “ize” represent a verb.
“ise” is British English and it means to make, to render or to do.
“ize” is American English and it also means to make, to render or to do.
to prioritise (verb – British English)
to prioritize (verb – American English)
Both words mean the same – to decide what is the most important / to define the priorities.
We don’t have much time. Let’s prioritise the work.
to legalise (verb – British English)
to legalize (verb – American English)
Both words mean the same – to allow something by law / to make something legal.
The state of Colorado in the USA has legalised cannabis.
Other examples: realise / realize, civilise / civilize, authorise / authorize
The suffix “ician” represents a noun.
The meaning is a person with an occupation in something.
musician (noun) = person who plays music
John is a musician.
electrician (noun) = person who has an occupation in the field of electricity
I need help from an electrician.
Other examples: beautician, technician, politician