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Meeting the Most Often Used Suffixes

Some suffixes are used so frequently in the English language that you may not even think of them — much less recognize them — as suffixes. These include -d/-ed, which are used to indicate tense on a verb, and -s/-es, which are used to indicate number. Other suffixes are easy to identify, but you see them so often that they merit mention right up front.

Picking favorites: -ment, -ence/-ance, -able/-ible, and -ion

Who's to say which suffixes are most important? Sure, some folks support -ness, -ity, and -ful, and certainly -ate, -less, and -ly have their fans. Nonetheless, there are good reasons to be especially fond of the suffixes -ment, -ence/-ance, -able/-ible, and -ion. You'll find these suffixes exceedingly useful for deciphering unfamiliar words. Table 1 shows what these suffixes mean and gives examples of their use.

Table 1: Suffixes -ment, -ence/-ance, -able/-ible, and -ion

Suffix

Meaning

Example

Part of Speech

Definition

ment

an action, process, or act of a specified kind

encouragement (en-kur-ij-ment)

noun

the act of encouraging; helpfulness

 

 

argument (ahr-gyoo-ment)

noun

the act of arguing or discussing; a dispute

ence/ance

quality or state; an action or process

conference (kon-fur-uhns)

noun

a meeting; the process of conferring

 

 

reverence (rev-er-ens)

noun

deep respect mingled with awe; the state of being revered

 

 

clearance (klear-uhns)

noun

giving the go-ahead; instance of clearing

able/ible

capable or worthy of, fit for; tending to, causing, given to, or liable to

manageable (man-ij-uh-bul)

adj.

submitting to control; capable of being managed

 

 

sustainable (suh-stayn-uh-bul)

adj.

tolerable; able to be sustained

 

 

lovable (luv-uh-bul)

adj.

worthy of love

 

 

peaceable (pee-suh-bul)

adj.

tranquil; given to peace

 

 

collectible (kuh-lek-tuh-bul)

adj./noun

desirable; worthy of collecting

 

 

forcible (for-suh-bul)

adj.

vigorous; given to force; accomplished by force

ion

act, result of an act, or state or condition

ablution (ab-loo-shun)

noun

act of washing

 

 

affirmation (af-er-may-shun)

noun

act of agreeing

 

 

rebellion (rih-bel-yuhn)

noun

act of resisting

 

 

convocation (kon-voh-kay-shun)

noun

act of coming together

The difference between the suffix -able/-ible and the other suffixes in the table is that -able/-ible creates adjectives. The other suffixes create nouns. Another suffix that creates nouns is -age, which means "place of" (orphanage, a place of orphans), "an act of" (breakage, the act of breaking), and "charge for" (postage, charge for post).

Showing action: -ate, -en, -ite, and -ize

The suffixes -ate, -en, -ite, and -ize all mean "to make or do." Examples of words using these suffixes include alienate, liberate, weaken, moisten, unite, ignite, visualize, and sanitize. As you may have noticed, each of these words is a verb (a word that conveys action).

Like just about every other word element in English, suffixes have multiple meanings and can change the definition of a word. For example, the suffix -ite, when it means "to make" or "do," creates verbs. However, -ite can also mean "one who." In this case, the suffix creates a noun (socialite, for example). Always examine the word in context, and if you're not sure, consult a dictionary.

Changing tense: -d/-ed and -ing

Suffixes can change a word's tense (or time). For example, adding the suffix -d or -ed to the end of a verb changes it from present tense to past tense. Adding the suffix -ing changes a present-tense verb into a present participle, or gerund. Table 2 shows the past tense, present participle, and gerund forms of several verbs.

Table 2: Suffixes and Verb Tenses

Word

Past Tense

Present Participle/Gerund

live

lived

living

fasten

fastened

fastening

run

ran

running

walk

walked

walking

Notice that the past tense of "run" is not formed with -d or -ed. Many verbs, such as am/was, buy/bought, and sell/sold, form irregular past tenses. The suffix -ing, however, works for all verbs.

Tense is a form of a verb that shows time, action, or state of being. Verbs are the only words in English that can show tense. English verbs have six tenses: present (walk), past (walked), future (will walk), present perfect (have walked), past perfect (had walked), future perfect (will have walked). Adding a suffix to a word to change its tense is called conjugating the verb. For four of the six tenses you also add a "helping verb" such as have or will.

Adding amounts: -s, -es, and others

How many of a certain thing do you have? One? More than one? To indicate number, you use suffixes. In particular, you use the following suffixes: -s and -es. By attaching these suffixes to a singular noun (house, tree, boat, and box, for example), you make the noun plural (houses, trees, boats, and boxes).

Of course, not all English plurals are made by adding a simple -s or -es. Sometimes the ending of the word is changed in other ways. Child, for example, becomes children. Ox becomes oxen. And then you have the ever-popular Latin words that retain their Latin plurals: Radius becomes radii (ray-dee-eye), and alumna (uh-lum-nuh) becomes alumnae (uh-lum-nee).

Suffixes can show amount or number — something that can come in handy in your daily conversation and writing when you want to explain how many or how much.

Don't forget the suffixes that produce adjectives that show amount in a more subtle fashion: -ful, -ose/-ous, and -y all mean "full of."

  • -y produces risky (full of danger) and wily (full of sly tricks).
  • -ful gives you healthful (full of physical well-being) and cheerful (full of gladness).
  • -ose/-ous leads to morose (full of sadness) and perilous (full of danger).
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