Making New Words With Affixation

A row of houses in a suburban American neighborhood
An affix is used to alter the meaning or form of a word. It can be either a prefix or a suffix. For example, suburban neighborhood. fStop Images/Getty Images

In English grammar and morphology, affixation is the process of adding a morpheme — or affix— to a word to create either a different form of that word or a new word with a different meaning; affixation is the most common way of making new words in English. 

The two primary kinds of affixation are prefixation, the addition of a prefix, and suffixation, the addition of a suffix, while clusters of affixes can be used to form complex words. A large majority of new words in the English language today are either a result of blending — mashing two words or partial words together to form a new one — or affixation. 

Uses of Affixes

Simply put, an affix is a word element of English grammar used to alter the meaning or form of a word and comes in the form of either a prefix or a suffix. Prefixes include examples like "un-" "self-" and "re-" while suffixes come in the form of ending elements like "-hood" "-ing" or "-ed." 

While prefixes typically maintain the word class (noun, verb, adjective, etc.) of the word it's modifying, suffixes oftentimes change the form entirely, as is the case with "exploration" compared to "explore" or "highlighter" compared to "highlight." 

Further, one can use multiple iterations of the same affixation to modify a word like grandmother to mean an entirely different person — as in "great-great grandmother," who would be your mother's mother's mother's mother or a "re-re-re-make of a film" wherein this film would be the fourth iteration of its kind.

The same can be applied to different prefixes and suffixes being used on the same word. For instance, the word nation means a country, but national means "of a nation," nationalize means "to make part of a nation," and "denationalization" means "the process of making something no longer part of a nation." This can continue ad nauseam, but becomes increasingly odd — especially in spoken rhetoric — the more affixes one uses on the same base word.

Difference Between Affixation and Blending

One form of word alteration and invention that is commonly mistaken for being an example of affixation is the process of blending words to form new ones, most notably present in the example of the marketing term "cranapple," where people naturally assume the root word "cran-" from "cranberry" is being applied as an affix. 

However, affixes must be able to universally be attached to other morphemes and still make sense. This is not the case with the "cran-" root, which is only seen attached to another morpheme in marketing examples of juices that also contain cranberry juice like "crangrape" and "cranapple." Instead of being a stand-alone morpheme which conveys "of cranberry," the suffix "cran-" can only make sense when applied to other juices and is therefore considered a blend of two reduced words (cranberry and apple).

Though some words and prefixes can be both stand-alone morphemes or parts of blended words, meaning the phrases aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, most often words that are products of blending do not contain any actual productive affixes.