When trying to dissect and detect the meaning of a new word, there are certain helpful hints. Knowing small parts of words can help us put the whole together.
We have looked before at just a few of the endless list of prefixes. Suffixes, or endings, are equally valuable.
Noun suffixes can certainly lead us in interpretation. The suffix “-ist” means “one who” (geologist, individualist).
If we add “-ism” to a word, it speaks of a state, quality or belief in (socialism, patriotism). Adding “-ence” or “-ance” to a word speaks of the state of being (importance, independence).
A feminine ending for nouns may well be “-ess” (princess, goddess).
Another common ending for nouns, meaning “one who” or “that which,” is “-or” or “-er” (motor, worker).
There are also some telling suffixes for adjectives. A word ending in “-ous” or “-ious” means “full of” (joyous, delicious). Using “-al,” “-ic,” “-ical,” “-il,” “-ile,” “-ory” or “-some” at a word’s end can mean “pertaining to” or “like” (legal, comic, classical, civil, juvenile, auditory, tiresome).
Very common adjective suffixes can help us break down certain words. Two, “-ible” and “-able,” mean “capable of being” (perceptible, unconquerable).
If we see “-ish” on a word’s conclusion, look for “the nature of” its root word (impish, amateurish). A word ending in “-less” indicates it is without the root meaning (fearless, doubtless).
Most English texts (even very old ones) and numerous internet sites will provide lists of suffixes, examples of their use with various roots, and explanations of their meanings.
Being aware of these endings and many others, and combining them with the roots, can help decipher a word’s full meaning.
Verbs have notable suffixes, too. The ending “-fy” means “to make” (magnify, gratify). Using “-ate” or “-ize” can also mean “to make” or “make like” (dedicate, stylize).
One of our most used suffixes is “-ly,” creating adverbs that show how something is done (lovingly, carefully). Using varying degrees also creates an adverb ending (kindly, kindlier, kindliest; freely, more freely, most freely).
Basically there is never a reason to remain in the dark on new words. Learn as many suffixes as possible and you will find them endlessly helpful and productive.
Sandi Ekberg taught high school English in Medford for 30 years. If you have grammar questions, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.