All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated

SUFFIX An AFFIX added at the end of a WORD, BASE, or ROOT to form a new word: -ness added to dark to form darkness; -al added to leg to form legal. Two distinctions are usually made: (1) Between a derivational suffix proper, such as -ness and -al, which creates derivative words, and an inflectional ending, such as -s added to form the plurals of nouns, which changes the inflection of a word. (2) Between a productive suffix, which actively forms words (-ness: darkness, newness, quaintness, wordiness) and a non-productive suffix, which does not (-ledge: knowledge). There is a continuum from the highly through the mildly and rarely productive to the dormant and dead, and usage can vary according to time and place: the suffix -y has generally been added to vernacular nouns to form ADJECTIVES (ease/easy, oil/oily, rain/rainy) with some disyllabic bases (paper/papery, powder/powdery). In the 20c, however, -y has increasingly been added casually and often for nonce purposes to longer bases (sometimes with idiosyncratic or debatable spellings), including compounds and classical words: chocolat(e)y, drybiscuity, gardeny, linguisticky, statusy, teenagey, uppercrusty.


In 1882, the philologist Walter W. Skeat noted: ‘The number of suffixes in MODERN ENGLISH is so great, and the forms of several, especially in words derived through the FRENCH from LATIN, are so variable that an attempt to exhibit them all would tend to confusion’ (Etymological Dictionary of the English Language). The diversity of the backgrounds from which the suffixes of English have been drawn, the different periods in which they have entered the language, and the different processes involved all contribute to the complexity of the subject. Most suffixes, however, fall into one of three groups:

1. Vernacular.

Suffixes in the main from OLD ENGLISH and other GERMANIC LANGUAGES: -ish as in childish is from Old English an is cognate with GERMAN -isch as in kindisch.

2. Romance.

Suffixes that have come especially from Old French and Latin: -al as in legal and natural derives either directly or through Old French from Latin -alis as in legalis and naturalis, and is cognate with the Modern French forms -al in légal and -el in naturel.

3. Greek.

Suffixes that have come mainly through NEO-LATIN and French: -oid as in anthropoid and steroid is from the combining form -(o)eidḗs as in anthrōpoeidḗs (human-like), and is cognate with French -oïde as in anthropoïde and Spanish -oide(o) as in both antropoide (adjective) and antropoideo (noun).

Some suffixes fall into more or less parallel sets according to use and background; for example, three suffixes for causative and inceptive verbs: vernacular -en (harden to make or become hard), Latinate -ify (purify to make or become pure), and GREEK -ize (systematize to make or become systematic). The conditions for using such suffixes are strictly circumscribed: no *hardize, *puren, *systemify (although the third is conceivable, on the model of humidify). Great variation is possible in a single form or group of related forms, as with the Latin form whose masculine is -arius, feminine -aria, neuter -arium. This has entered English in at least four ways: original forms unchanged, as ? in denarius, urticaria, aquarium; as the genderless -ary in aviary, honorary, primary, salary; as French -aire (contrast legionnaire/legionary, commissionaire/commissioner); in the complex forms -arian in disciplinarian, -arious in hilarious. In Latin, -arius was close to -aris (as in similaris, English similar); many words, especially from French, that contain the element -ar- derive from either -arius or -aris. In addition, a part of a word may look as though it contains a member of the -ar- group but does not, as with barbarian, whose division is barbar/ian, not *barb/arian.


The functions of a suffix are: to form a noun, adjective, or verb from another noun, adjective, or verb, in such patterns as noun from verb and verb from adjective; to provide a more or less clear-cut element of meaning in the complex word so formed: when -y is added to rock, an adjective is formed from a noun and the meaning of the phrase a rocky coastline can be paraphrased as ‘a coastline made up of rocks/covered with rocks/with a rock-like aspect’. Some suffixes function in isolation (for example, -ard in such words as communard, drunkard); no other element attaches to these words except the plural -s (but note bastardy). Others belong in sets, both associatively (-ist, -ism, -ize) and cumulatively (-ist, -istic, -istical, -istically). Such a cumulative set forms a derivational paradigm, a pattern whose potential can be exploited as needed. There are some 14 patterns of cumulative suffixation in English. Of these, four are vernacular and ten Neo-Latin, sometimes blending Latin and Greek. The VERNACULAR paradigms belong to the language at large, while the Neo-Latin PARADIGMS tend to be limited to educational, technical, and scientific registers. Such paradigms indicate a higher level of regularity in English suffixation than is often supposed to exist, but for every more or less regular system there are many incomplete or idiosyncratic arrangements in all areas and levels in which suffixes are involved. For example:

1. Vernacular.

The nouns sand, milk provide the usually literal sandy and milky, but the nouns brain, hand provide brainy and handy, which are figurative and do not refer directly to brain or hand.

2. Latinate.

The noun nation is the base of the adjective national. The noun nationality is formed from it, but not usually the noun nationalness. Compare the noun use, the etymological base of the adjective usual, which has little to do with using things. From it, usualness is formed, but not *usuality.

3. Greek.

The adjective syllogistic derives from the noun syllogism, not from *syllogy, but eulogistic currently derives from the noun eulogy, not eulogism. Where biology begets biological and not *biologistic, eulogy begets eulogistic and not in present-day English *eulogical.

Gradations of meaning and use

Suffixes display all kinds of relationships between form, meaning, and function. Some are rare and have only vague meanings, as with the -een in velveteen. Some have just enough uses to suggest a meaning, as with -iff in bailiff, plaintiff, suggesting someone involved with the law, and -ain in captain, suzerain, suggesting someone with power. Some may be rare and apparently inert, yet come to life when needed: the Greek suffix -ad marks a nymph (dryad, oread), a number group (monad, triad), an epic (Iliad, Dunciad), and an activity occurring on an epic scale (Olympiad). Few nymphs and number groups are now created, but the recent Asiad as the name for pan-Asian games indicates that -ad is still available for epic events, at least in the context of athletics. See ABBREVIATION, CAUSATIVE VERB, COMPLEX WORD, DIMINUTIVE.


The major semantic groups of suffixes and suffix-like elements are listed, with examples of their use, in the groups below. The same element or a variant of an element may appear in more than one group, because many elements have more than one meaning and use. No attempt is made to signal the degree of productivity of any suffix listed.

Forming agents, people, instruments

(feminine forms marked with an asterisk). -ad* naiad, -aire legionnaire, -al general, -an human, Cuban, sacristan, -ant claimant, -ar beggar, -ard sluggard, -ary fritillary, legionary, -ast enthusiast, -aster usageaster, -ate affiliate, magistrate, -ator aviator, -atrix* aviatrix, -ean epicurean, -ee employee, -eer engineer, -ener sharpener, -ent resident, -er mixer, runner, -ess* hostess, -ete athlete, -ette* usherette, -i Pakistani, -ian Australian, electrician, historian, simian, -ic cleric, stigmatic, herpetic, syphilitic, -id aphid, druid, -ier soldier, fusilier, -iff plaintiff, -ifier humidifier, -ile hostile, -ine* actorine, -ion hellion, -ist cyclist, mentalist, semanticist, -ister chorister, -ite ammonite, Hittite, Thatcherite, -ive captive, -izer/iser atomizer, -oid anthropoid, -oon octoroon, -or actor, -ot pilot, -ote zygote, -ster youngster, -yst analyst.

Forming objects, items, concepts, substances

(scientific usages marked with an asterisk). -a* lava, ammonia, -ad* monad, -ade fusillade, lemonade, -al* methylal, -alia* mammalia, -ane* methane, -ar* pulsar, -ary capillary, -ase* oxidase, -asm orgasm, -ate* nitrate, -eme* phoneme, -ene* benzene, -ese manganese, -iac ammoniac, -ian obsidian, -id plasmid, -ide cyanide, -il fossil, -in insulin, protein, -ine caffeine, cocaine, plasticine, -ino neutrino, -ism organism, -ite dynamite, phosphite, -ma magma, -mo sixteenmo, -ode* electrode, nematode, -oid alkaloid, -ol* glycerol, -oma* carcinoma, -ome* genome, -on* photon, -one silicone, -ose* glucose, -tron cyclotron, -um platinum, -us phosphorus, -yl* methyl, -yne* alkyne, -ysm aneurysm.

Forming states, conditions, situations, and instances.

-acy accuracy, -age baggage, blockage, wharfage, -al renewal, -ale morale, -ance clearance, -ancy occupancy, -asm enthusiasm, -ation communication, -dom kingdom, serfdom, -efaction liquefaction, -ence munificence, -ency consistency, -erie lingerie, -ese journalese, -hood adulthood, -iasis elephantiasis, -ics statistics, -ie bonhomie, -ification purification, -ing running, bridge-building, swimming pool, -ion junction, fusion, -ism Darwinism, euphemism, -ition tradition, -itis arthritis, telephonitis, -ity nudity, formality, humanity, ferocity, -ization/isation atomization, -ledge knowledge, -ment development, -ness darkness, -or/our color, labour, -osis osmosis, psychosis, -red hatred, -ship chieftainship, hardship, -sis synthesis, -sy1 minstrelsy, -sy2 epilepsy, -th warmth, -tude magnitude, -ure debenture, departure, -ution distribution, -y infamy.

Forming groups, collections and classifications.

-a arthropoda, -acea cetacea, -aceae rosaceae, -age assemblage, -alia marginalia, -ana Americana, Shakespeariana, -aria filaria, -ata chordata, -dom Christendom, -hood brotherhood, -ia amphibia, bacteria, -iana Darwiniana, -idae Formicidae, -ilia reptilia, -ish the British, -kind humankind, -oidea Crinoidea, -ry circuitry, peasantry, -ship readership.

Forming places, lands, locations, and institutions.

-a Cuba, Java, hacienda, veranda, -ada Nevada, -ades the Cyclades, -aea Judaea, -age hermitage, vicarage, -ain Britain, -aine Aquitaine, -alia Australia, -an the Vatican, -ana Montana, -ania Romania, -any Brittany, -arium aquarium, -ary aviary, formicary, -ate caliphate, emirate, -ea Judea, -ery monastery, nunnery, rookery, -ia India, Somalia, -iana Louisiana, -ides the Hebrides, -ory dormitory, priory, observatory, -um asylum, mausoleum, Elysium, -y county, Italy.

Forming national and ethnic types and associations.

-ad nomad, -al Oriental, Vandal, -alian Australian, -an American, Cuban, Moroccan, -ard Savoyard, -arian Bavarian, -ch French, -ck Canuck, Polack, -ean Galilean, -ee Chinee, Maccabee, Shawnee, Yankee, -er Londoner, Icelander, islander, villager, westerner, -ese Chinese, Japanese, Viennese, Congolese, -i Iraqi, Pakistani, -ian Brazilian, Canadian, Romanian, -ic Asiatic, -ie Scottie, townie, -ish British, Yiddish, -ite Hittite, Manhattanite, -ot Cypriot, Epirot, -s(e) Erse, Scots, -tch Dutch, -wegian Glaswegian, Norwegian, -x Manx, -y gypsy, Romany, Taffy.

Forming adjectives.

-able teachable, -aire doctrinaire, -al doctrinal, ducal, incremental, royal, -alian Episcopalian, -alic vocalic, -an human, -ane humane, -ant concomitant, radiant, -ar solar, -arian vegetarian, -aric velaric, -ary arbitrary, -astic enthusiastic, -atic dramatic, phlegmatic, -eal laryngeal, -ean subterranean, -en brazen, golden, drunken, priest-ridden, -ent current, nascent, -erly southerly, -ern southern, -ernal fraternal, -ernmost southernmost, -esque Bunyanesque, grotesque, -e(u)tic phonetic, therapeutic, -iac cardiac, -iacal maniacal, -ial circumstantial, colonial, residential, -ian draconian, -iar peculiar, -ible tangible, -ic civic, comic, -ical ethical, heretical, -id horrid, -il civil, -ile fertile, -ine adamantine, feminine, -ique oblique, -ish owlish, sevenish, greenish-yellow, -itic arthritic, -ly princely, yearly, -mental incremental, developmental, -oidal adenoidal, -ory inflammatory, -sy cutesy, tricksy, -uble voluble, -ular granular, molecular, -y naughty, sandy, tidy, worthy.

Forming verbs of causation and inception.

-ate accentuate, -efy liquefy, -en harden, -esce effervesce, -ify purify, -ize/ise atomize.

Forming diminutives and hypocorisms.

-cle tabernacle, icicle, er(s) champers, rugger, soccer, -ette cigarette, -ie Jackie, lassie, -ikin(s) mannikin, sleepikins, -ipoo drinkipoo, -let leaflet, -ling darling. duckling, -nik beatnik, peacenik, -o arvo, cheapo, journo, reffo, -ock hillock, -ola granola, payola, -ula uvula, -ule granule, molecule, -ulus cumulus, -y Molly, Tommy.


Many suffixes of Latin and Greek origin trigger a shift in STRESS (technically, stress shift or accent shift) when added to polysyllabic bases: for example, -ity attracts stress to the syllable preceding it (cómplex/compléxity). No vernacular suffixes cause stress shift, nor do all classical suffixes do so: for example, there is no shift in the vernacular set shárp/shárpen/shárpener, nor in the Romance set devélop/devélopment, but a shift occurs when this set is extended with -al: devélopment/developméntal. In terms of stress shift, there are three groups of suffixes:

1. Vernacular: no shift

Suffixes and compounding elements which do not cause stress shift: -dom kingdom, -ed salted, red-haired, -en darken, -er writer, -erly easterly, -ern northern, -erner westerner, -ernmost southernmost, -ful hopeful, fulness truthfulness, -hood adulthood, -iness dirtiness, -ing startling, soap-making, -ish roundish, -ishness reddishness, -less useless, -lessness meaninglessness, -let leaflet, -like stone-like, -liness loneliness, -ling hireling, -ly womanly, -ness darkness, -ship readership, -y sandy.

2. Romance and classical: no shift

Suffixes and compounding elements which do not cause stress shift: -able breakable, -age marriage, -al renewal, -ant dependant, -ar similar, -ary legionary, -cy accuracy, normalcy, -ible incorrigible, -ion attention, -ism Darwinism, -ist socialist, -ite meteorite, -ive suggestive, -ment development, -or dictator, -ure fixture. Although they do not themselves affect stress, they may occur in composites which do, such as -ability, in which the -ity attracts the stress to the syllable preceding it: téachable/teachabílity.

3. Classical: causing shift

The lists indicate the form which the shift takes when the words containing the suffixes are pronounced in isolation. Minor changes relating to primary or secondary stress may occur in the flow of longer utterances. When the suffix is attached, stress falls: (a) on the only syllable of the suffix: -ee referée, refugée, -eer auctionéer, enginéer, -ese Japanése, Vietnamése, -esque picturésque, Junoésque, -ette cigarétte, usherétte. (b) on the first syllable of a composite suffix with two syllables: -ation commendátion, degradátion, transformátion, -ition composítion, definítion, edítion, -ution dissolútion, revolútion, -atic dogmátic, systemátic, -etic energétic pathétic, -iety sobríety, socíety -mental developméntal, experiméntal, -ental continéntal, -ential presidéntial, (c) one syllable before the (composite) suffix: -an subúrban, -ian Canádian, -ial torréntial, -eal larýngeal, -ual resídual, -ify humídify, -ic económic, históric, -ical económical, histórical, -ity compléxity, informálity, (d) two syllables before the suffix: -al colónial, indústrial, -ar molécular, rectángular, -ize decéntralize, réalize, -ous censórious, labórious.

views updated

suffix •hanging • headbanging •straphanging • cliffhanging •mud-slinging • gunslinging •bell-ringing • upbringing • longing •tonguing •tapping, wrapping •camping • kneecapping •backslapping •kidnapping (US kidnaping) •helping •scraping, shaping •safekeeping, sweeping, unsleeping •gamekeeping • station-keeping •greenkeeping • peacekeeping •wicketkeeping • timekeeping •shopkeeping • housekeeping •goalkeeping • bookkeeping •minesweeping •chipping, clipping, dripping, snipping, whipping •dropping, sopping, stopping, topping •clodhopping • show-stopping •wife-swapping •coping, roping •grouping • showjumping •Bakst, unrelaxed •next, oversexed, sext, text, undersexed •teletext • context • subtext •hypertext •betwixt, unmixed •suffix •biz, Cadíz, Cadiz, fizz, frizz, gee-whiz, his, is, jizz, Liz, Ms, phiz, quiz, squiz, swizz, tizz, viz, whizz, wiz, zizz •louis, Suez •scabies •Celebes, heebie-jeebies •showbiz • laches • Marches • breeches •Indies • undies • hafiz • Kyrgyz •Hedges • Bridges • Hodges • Judges •Rockies • walkies •Gillies, Scillies •pennies • Benares •Jefferies, Jeffreys •Canaries •Delores, Flores, furores •series • miniseries • Furies •congeries • Potteries • molasses •glasses • sunglasses • missus • suffix •falsies • fracases • galluses •Pontine Marshes • species •subspecies • conches • munchies •treatise •civvies, Skivvies •Velázquez • exequies • obsequies •Menzies • elevenses •cosies (US cozies), Moses •Joneses

views updated

suf·fix • n. / ˈsəfiks/ a morpheme added at the end of a word to form a derivative, e.g., -ation, -fy, -ing, -itis. • v. / ˈsəfiks; səˈfiks/ [tr.] append, esp. as a suffix. DERIVATIVES: suf·fix·a·tion / ˌsəfikˈsāshən/ n.

views updated

suffix element attached to the end of a word XVIII; (math.) inferior index XIX. — suffixum, n. pp. of L. suffigere, f. suf- SUB- + figere FIX.
So suffix vb. subjoin XVII; add as a suffix XVIII. Partly f. L. suffixus, partly f. the sb.

views updated

suffix of a string α. Any string β where α is the concatenation γβ for some string γ. Compare prefix.