Suffixes in English Grammar

Common suffixes

ThoughtCo / Claire Cohen

In English grammar, a suffix is a letter or group of letters added to the end of a word or root (i.e., a base form), serving to form a new word or functioning as an inflectional ending. The word "suffix" comes from the Latin, "to fasten underneath." The adjective form is "suffixal."

There are two primary types of suffixes in English:

  • Derivational suffix (such as the addition of -ly to an adjective to form an adverb) indicates what type of word it is.
  • Inflectional suffix (such as the addition of -s to a noun to form a plural) tells something about the word's grammatical behavior.

Discover what famous writers, linguists, and other notable people have had to say about suffixes throughout history.

Examples and Observations of Suffixes in English

"It is often possible to tell the era of a product's development by its termination. Thus products dating from the 1920s and early 1930s often end in -ex (Pyrex, Cutex, Kleenex, Windex), while those ending in -master (Mixmaster, Toastmaster) generally betray a late-1930s or early-1940s genesis." (Bill Bryson, Made in America. Harper, 1994)
"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 law." (Tom McArthur, The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Oxford University Press, 1992)
"In English, only three colours become verbs by adding -en: blacken, redden, whiten." (Margaret Visser, The Way We Are. HarperCollins, 1994)
"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." (Walter W Skeat, Etymological Dictionary of the English Language, 1882)
"Gazebo: The name is an 18th-century joke word combining 'gaze' with the Latin suffix 'ebo,' meaning 'I shall.'" (Encyclopedia Britannica Online)

On Suffixes and Word Formation

"Primary school children would be better at spelling if they were taught about morphemes—the units of meaning that form words—researchers claim today...For instance, the word 'magician' consists of two morphemes: the stem 'magic' and the suffix 'ian.'...Children find the word difficult to spell because the third syllable sounds like 'shun.' But if they knew it was made up of the two morphemes, they could make more sense of the way it is spelled, researchers suggest." (Anthea Lipsett, "Spelling: Break Words Up Into Units of Meaning." The Guardian, Nov. 25, 2008)

On the -ers Suffix

"Call it a vast linguistic conspiracy: proponents of the major conspiracy theo­ries of the day—the truthers, the birthers, the deathers—share a suffix that makes them all sound like whackdoodles. 'It looks like conspiracy theorists might acquire a permanent suffix in -er, just like political scandals now have a permanent suffix in -gate,' Victor Steinbok, a frequent contributor to the American Dialect Society’s online discussion board, observed recently in that forum...Today’s -er groups are not -ists; their beliefs are not -isms or -ologies, theories of social organization like communism or fields of study like sociology. Nor are they -ites, devout followers of a domineering visionary figure, like Trotskyites, Benthamites or Thatcherites. The -ers, the caricature asserts, are not sophisticated enough for that. That is perhaps why -er words, long before truther, have been used to deride political opponents, as in tree hugger, bra burner and evildoer—not to mention the catch-alls for extremists, wingers and nutters (from wing nut)." (Leslie Savan, "From Simple Noun to Handy Partisan Put-Down." The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 18, 2009)
"[E]ven though writers write, bakers bake, hunters hunt, preachers preach, and teachers teach, grocers don't groce, butchers don't butch, carpenters don't carpent, milliners don't millin, haberdashers don't haberdash—and ushers don't ush." (Richard Lederer, Word Wizard: Super Bloopers, Rich Reflections, and Other Acts of Word Magic. St. Martin's Press, 2006)

On American -or and British -our

"[T]he o(u)r suffix has quite a confused history. The Online Etymology Dictionary reports that our comes from old French while –or is Latin. English has used both endings for several centuries. Indeed, the first three folios of Shakespeare’s plays reportedly used both spellings equally...But by the late 18th and early 19th centuries, both the US and the UK started to solidify their preferences, and did so differently...The US took a particularly strong stand thanks to Noah Webster, American lexicographer and co-namesake of the Merriam-Webster dictionaries...He preferred to use the –or suffix and also suggested many other successful changes, such as reversing -re to create theater and center, rather than theatre and centre...Meanwhile in the UK, Samuel Johnson wrote A Dictionary of the English Language in 1755. Johnson was far more of a spelling purist than Webster, and decided that in cases where the origin of the word was unclear, it was more likely to have a French than Latin root...And so he preferred –our to –or." (Olivia Goldhill, "The Case of the Missing 'u's' in American English." Quartz, January 17, 2016)

On the Problem With -ish

"Although there is no exact count, Merriam-Webster says there could be as many as one million-plus words in the English language...And yet, with all of those words at our disposal,...we seem to make a competitive sport out of creating brand new ones...[T]here's the suffix -ish, which is increasingly called-upon, fairly indiscriminately, to describe an approximation, or a likeness of something, when in most cases there is an existing word, or two, that would serve just as well: 'warmish,' 'tired-ish,' 'doing a good job-ish,' 'Clinton-ish.' Instead, -ish may be chosen for reasons of expediency, or cuteness. A sampling of some recent headlines from around the web include '5 Ways To Secure Your Happy-ish Ever After' (The Huffington Post) because, as the author writes, 'Happily Ever After is not a thing' and 'Ten(ish) Questions With...WR Jeremy Ross' (ESPN) because there are, in fact, 16...-Ish...requires no cleverness whatsoever. It's lazy, non-committal, and confoundingly ambiguous, a symbol of a society ever more inclined to take the easy way out or blur the lines." (Peggy Drexler, "The Problem With -ISH." The Huffington Post, January 9, 2014)

On Some -Somes

"My favorite word: 'gigglesome.'...Familiar words like 'lonesome, 'handsome,' and 'adventuresome' are from a whole family of words that include some surprises that have fallen into disuse. I heard Red Barber one morning on the radio say the air was 'chillsome.' Others are 'grievesome,' 'toilsome,' and 'boresome.' My favorites of these old words are 'gigglesome' and 'playsome,' both usually applied to high-spirited children." (Bobbie Ann Mason, quoted by Lewis Burke Frumkes in Favorite Words of Famous People. Marion Street Press, 2011)

On the Lighter Side of Suffixes

"Good things don't end in -eum; they end in -mania or -teria." (Homer Simpson, The Simpsons)
"We're words, too: burgle, burglar, burglary. The Americans go about it differently: burglar, burglarize, burglarization. Maybe they'll move on, soon, and we'll have burglarizationeers who burglarizationize us, leaving us victims of burglarizationeerage." (Michael Bywater, The Chronicles of Bargepole. Jonathan Cape, 1992)
"I've heard of many chocoholics, but I ain't never seen no 'chocohol.' We got an epidemic, people: people who like chocolate but don't understand word endings. They're probably 'over-workaholled.'" (Demetri Martin, 2007)
mla apa chicago
Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Suffixes in English Grammar." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Nordquist, Richard. (2023, April 5). Suffixes in English Grammar. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Suffixes in English Grammar." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 2, 2023).