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Prefixes and Suffixes

The English language contains an enormous and ever-growing number of words. Enhancing your vocabulary by learning new words can seem overwhelming, but if you know the common prefixes and suffixes of English, you will understand many more words.

Mastering common prefixes and suffixes is like learning a code. Once you crack the code, you can not only spell words more correctly but also recognize and perhaps even define unfamiliar words.

Prefixes

A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a word to create a new meaning. Study the common prefixes in Table 3.2 “Common Prefixes”.

Tip

The main rule to remember when adding a prefix to a word is not to add letters or leave out any letters. See Table 3.2 “Common Prefixes” for examples of this rule.

Table: Common Prefixes

PrefixMeaningExample
disnot, opposite ofdis + satisfied = dissatisfied
miswronglymis + spell = misspell
unnotun + acceptable = unacceptable
reagainre + election = reelection
interbetweeninter + related = interrelated
prebeforepre + pay = prepay
nonnotnon + sense = nonsense
superabovesuper + script = superscript
subundersub + merge = submerge
antiagainst, opposinganti + bacterial = antibacterial

Suffixes

A suffix is a word part added to the end of a word to create a new meaning. Study the suffix rules in the following boxes.

Rule 1:

When adding the suffixes –ness and –ly to a word, the spelling of the word does not change.

Examples:

  • dark + ness = darkness
  • scholar + ly = scholarly

Exceptions to Rule 1:

When the word ends in y, change the y to i before adding –ness and –ly.

Examples:

  • ready + ly = readily
  • happy + ness = happiness

Rule 2:

When the suffix begins with a vowel, drop the silent e in the root word.

Examples:

  • care + ing = caring
  • use + able = usable

Exceptions to Rule 2:

When the word ends in ce or ge, keep the silent e if the suffix begins with a or o.

Examples:

  • replace + able = replaceable
  • courage + ous = courageous

Rule 3:

When the suffix begins with a consonant, keep the silent e in the original word.

Examples:

  • care + ful = careful
  • care + less = careless

Exceptions to Rule 3:

Examples:

  • true + ly = truly
  • argue + ment = argument

Rule 4:

When the word ends in a consonant plus y, change the y to i before any suffix not beginning with i.

Examples:

  • sunny + er = sunnier
  • hurry + ing = hurrying

Rule 5:

When the suffix begins with a vowel, double the final consonant only if (1) the word has only one syllable or is accented on the last syllable and (2) the word ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant.

Examples:

  • tan + ing = tanning (one syllable word)
  • regret + ing = regretting (The accent is on the last syllable; the word ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant.)
  • cancel + ed = canceled (The accent is not on the last syllable.)
  • prefer + ed = preferred

Key Takeaways

  • A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a word that changes the word’s meaning.
  • A suffix is a word part added to the end of a word that changes the word’s meaning.
  • Learning the meanings of prefixes and suffixes will help expand your vocabulary, which will help improve your writing.
 

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