How to use suffixes in your writing

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How many suffixes can you spot in the word ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’?

The word contains three suffixes:

  • ‘ment’ - meaning the resulting state of something
  • ‘arian’ - meaning a person who advocates or believes in something
  • ‘ism’ - meaning the manner of action or behaviour
  • And two prefixes: ‘anti’ - meaning against and ‘dis’ - meaning opposite.

So the whole word could be translated as ‘a person who stands against the opposition to the establishment’.

Introduction to suffixes

  • A suffix is a letter or group of letters added to the end of a word to form a new word.
  • You might need to add a suffix to change the tense of a word.
  • There are some useful patterns and rules that can help you use the right suffix.

Video about using suffixes

Learn the patterns and rules for using suffixes

Using suffixes

Here is a list of some common suffixes:

Suffix      MeaningExamples
-edTurns a root word into either the past tense or if it is a noun, it turns it into an adjective.Walk becomes walked, feather becomes feathered.
-ateAct on.Fortune becomes fortunate.
-ismManner of action or behaviour.Magnet becomes magnetism.
-ingAction or process.Sing becomes singing.
-mentThe resulting state of something.Enjoy becomes enjoyment.

 

Often it isn't as simple as adding the suffix – you need to change the ending of the in some way. How we add a suffix often depends in whether the root word ends in a vowel of a consonant.

To understand the suffix patterns, it helps to know the difference between a vowel – a, e, i, o, u – and a consonant – all the other letters in the alphabet.

Doubling the consonant and tenses

The tense of a indicates when the action is happening. You can add a group of letters to the end of a word to change the tense of a verb. For example, if the suffix ‘-ing’ is added to the end of the verb ‘look’, the new word ‘looking’ turns it into the . The suffix ‘-ed’ could be added to make it .

When a verb ends with a single vowel followed by a single consonant, usually, you double the consonant before adding the suffix to change tense:

  • run becomes running
  • stop becomes stopped
  • fog becomes foggy
  • rot becomes rotted

One exception to this rule is words that end in 'x', for example:

  • box becomes boxed
  • fix becomes fixed
  • relax becomes relaxing
  • mix becomes mixing

Dropping the ‘e’

The ‘e’ usually gets dropped from the end of a word when a vowel suffix is added. A vowel suffix is a suffix that starts with a vowel, like ‘-ing’ and ‘-able’:

  • write becomes writing
  • excite becomes excitable
  • love becomes lovable
  • adventure becomes adventurous

However, there are some words that keep the ‘e’ when a vowel suffix is added. For example, with words ending in ‘ce’ or ‘ge’:

  • knowledge becomes knowledgeable
  • notice becomes noticeable
  • advantage becomes advantageous

Keeping the ‘e’

When you are adding a consonant suffix you usually keep the ‘e’ at the end of the word. A consonant suffix is a suffix that starts with a consonant, like ‘-ly’, ‘-less’ or ‘-ment’:

  • definite becomes definitely
  • late becomes lately
  • lone becomes lonely
  • effective becomes effectively
  • manage becomes management
  • home becomes homeless

There are a few words that don’t follow this rule, for example, the word argument does drop the ‘e’ even though it has a consonant suffix.

Adding ‘-ied’

When a word ends with a consonant and a ‘y’ you almost always add an ‘i’ to the ‘-ed’ suffix. These words are usually verbs that are being changed into the past tense:

  • try becomes tried
  • hurry becomes hurried
  • marry becomes married
  • worry becomes worried
  • party becomes partied

Adding ‘-ful’

When you change a into an you often add a suffix. For example, sometimes you drop the letter ‘y’ and add an ‘i’ to the suffix ‘-ful’:

  • beauty becomes beautiful
  • mercy becomes merciful

It’s useful to remember that very few suffixes end in a double ‘l’. For example, the suffix ‘ful’ is spelt with only one ‘l’ and is not spelt ‘-full’ - even though the suffix does mean ‘full of’:

  • thought becomes thoughtful
  • care becomes careful
  • power becomes powerful

When the word is turned into an , the suffix does have a double ‘ll’.

  • power becomes powerfully
  • general becomes generally

Key points

Remember

Suffix rules can be confusing and are often explained in different ways. Notice how many times the word ‘usually’ or ‘often’ is used in the explanations on this page. That’s because there are also words that don’t follow the rules. Keep a note of suffixes that you find tricky and then go to our guide on tricky spellings to see some tips and tricks for remembering irregular words.

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