An excellent way to expand your vocabulary and to increase your understanding of what you read and hear is to learn to recognise and understand the meaning of prefixes and suffixes. By doing this you will be able to decode the meaning of many words without having to look them up in a dictionary. Many English words are built in 3 parts. A prefix, a root and a suffix.

If we look at the word ‘abnormality’ for example, we probably have an understanding of the word ‘normal’, this is the root, but what about the prefix ‘ab’ and the suffix ‘ity’? What effect to they have to change the meaning? Well, ‘ab’ has the function of indicating that something is away from or separate from another thing. So, in this case, separate from what is ‘normal’. And, ity, this suffix is used to create a noun which has a particular, state or quality. So, in the sentence ‘The results are showing an abnormality’, the results have a characteristic which is away from the normal.

Below, I have drawn up two lists of what I think are some of the most common prefixes and suffixes. The lists are not nearly complete, but if you can get to grips with the meanings and the uses of these you will be able to go a very long way towards enormously increasing your vocabulary and your understanding of unfamiliar words.

Prefix

Meaning

Example

 

Suffix

Meaning

example

ab

Away, apart from

Abandon, abnormal

 

able,

Able to be

Dependable, portable

ad

To, towards

advance

 

al

Relating to

anti

Opposed to, opposite of, acting to prevent

Anti-war, anti-climax, antibiotic

 

age

Action/process

Voyage, passage

auto

Self, working by itself

Autograph, automated

 

an, ian

Relating to, belonging to

African, Italian

Co, com, con

      With / together

Cooperate, company contract

 

ant

Person who

Defendant, applicant

dis

Opposite of,

Disagree, disallow

 

ary

of/relating to

Literary, customary

ex

Out of, from

Extract, explode

 

ation

Action/process

Creation, elimination

extra

Beyond, more than

Extramarital, extraordinary

 

cide

Act of killing

Genocide, homicide

hetero

different

heterogeneous

 

ee

Receiver, performer of an action

Employee, devotee

homo

The same

homogeneous

 

en

Changes a word into a noun

Awaken, enliven

hyper

Over, more, too much

Hyperlink, hypersensitive, hyperactive

 

ency

Condition/quality

Dependency, consistency

Il, im, in*, ir

Not / without

Illogical, imperfect, invalid, irregular

 

ess

female

Huntress, lioness

in

Into / towards

insert

 

hood

State, condition, quality

Likelihood, neighbourhood, childhood

Micro

small

Microscope, microbrewery

 

ible

ability

Inaudible, illegible

Mono

one

monotone

 

ily

In a manner

Busily, happily

multi

many

Multicultural

 

ist

One who does an action

Dentist, chemist

omni

All, every

omnivore

 

less

without

Childless, penniless

post

after

postpone

 

like

Resembling, similar to

childlike

pre

before

previous

 

ness

State, quality

Likeness, tiredness, childlessness*

re

Back, again

Reverse, repeat

 

ology

Study or science of

Criminology, biology

sub

Under, below

Subtract, submarine

 

phile

One who loves

bibliophile

syn

Together, at the same time

synchronous, syndicate

 

phobia

Abnormal fear

Claustrophobia, agoraphobia

trans

Across, change

Transfer, translate

 

ship

State or condition, skill

Membership, musicianship*

tri

three

Triangle, tripod

 

sion

State or quality

Confusion, tension

Un*

not

Unlikable

 

ward

direction

Backward, toward

under

Below, lower than

Underground, underweight

 

y

Made up of, characterised by

Brainy, tasty, rainy

* in – used with root words of Latin & French origin. Un – used with root words from Old English

* many words contain more than one suffix as in childlessness and musicianship

Categories: Vocabulary

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