Suffixes and Parts of Speech

Learning something about how suffixes function in the English language can help you improve general reading comprehension; suffixes help you use context and etymological clues to make educated guesses about the meaning of unfamiliar words. Knowledge of parts of speech can be very useful in graduate and professional school entrance exams -- especially the GRE. This list is not exhaustive. Many important uffixes do not appear here (I will update the list from time to time). In addition, the functions I list do not cover all the possibilities for every suffix. I have tried to include those that are more common and/or more likely (in my experience) to appear on the GRE.

Note: The fourth column "Function or Characteristic Usage" indicates the part of speech (noun, verb, adjective, adverb) of words with this suffix. Notations with an arrow between two parts of speech (noun ® adjective) indicate that the suffix also functions to alter the part of speech to which a word belongs. An example would be the suffix ish, which may change a noun to an adjective. Thus, the fourth column will contain the following: noun ® adjective. useful information, because it alerts you to the existence of other (perhaps unfamiliar) forms of the word.

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Suffix

Meaning

Examples

Function or Characteristic Usage

Notes in this column refer to common functions of these suffixes. However, these are generalizations only, and you will find exceptions to many of them.

able, ible

able, can do

capable, agreeable, visible

verb ® adjective

ade

result of action

blockade, lemonade

verb or noun ® noun

age

act of, state of, collection of

salvage, storage, forage

added to root words (often French) to form a noun

al

relating to

sensual, gradual, manual, natural

verb or noun ® adjective

algia

pain

neuralgia

noun

an, ian

native of, pertaining to

American, Martian, antediluvian

noun ® adjective

ance, ancy

action, process, state

assistance, allowance, defiance

verb ® noun

ant

performing, agent

assistant, servant

verb ® noun

ary, ery, ory

relating to, quality, place where

dictionary, bravery, dormitory, aviary, ordinary

noun or adjective

adjective ® noun

adjective or noun ® noun

ate

cause, make

liquidate, segregate

noun or adjective ® verb

cian

having a specific skill

magician, optician, physician

noun

cule, ling

very small

molecule, miniscule,

noun or adjective

cy

action, function

advocacy, hesitancy, prophecy, normalcy

noun

dom

quality, realm, office

freedom, kingdom, wisdom, thralldom

noun

ee

one who receives the action

employee, nominee, refugee

noun

en

made of, make

silken, frozen, oaken, wooden, lighten

adjective or verb (ex: widen)

ence, ency

action, state of, quality

difference, conference, urgency

noun

er, or

on who, that which

baker, carpenter, brewer

noun

escent

in the process of

adolescent, obsolescent, convalescent

adjective or noun

ese

a native of

Javanese, Vietnamese

noun or adjective

esis, osis

action, process, condition

genesis, hypnosis, neurosis, osmosis

noun

ess

female

poetess, goddess

noun

et, ette

small one, group

midget, octet, baronet,

noun

fic

making, causing

scientific, specific

adjective

ful

full of

frightful, beautiful, helpful

adjective

fy

make

fortify, simplify

verb

hood

order, quality

neighborhood, motherhood

noun

ic

nature of, like

metallic, heroic, poetic

adjective

ice

condition, state, quality

justice, malice

noun

id, ide

something connected to or belonging to

fluid, fluoride, torrid, canid

noun or adjective

ine

having the nature or characteristic of

feminine, masculine, medicine

adjective or noun

ion, sion, tion

act of, state of, result of

contagion, infection, aversion

noun

ish

origin, nature, resembling

Spanish, foolish,

noun ® adjective (however, often the adjective is used as a noun. ex: "The Spanish" meaning the people of Spain)

ism

system, manner, condition

alcoholism, feminism, heroism, communism

noun

ist

one who, that which

pianist, elitist

noun

verb ® noun

ite

nature of, quality of

dynamite, graphite, sulfite, neophyte

noun or adjective

verb or adjective ® adjective or noun

ity, ty

state of, quality

captivity, clarity

noun

ive

causing

conclusive, festive, restive, abusive

adjective or nouns derived from adjectives

ize

to make (like)

emphasize, anthropomorphize

verb

less

without

worthless, mindless, guileless

adjective

ly

like

clearly, fearlessly

adverb

ment

act of, result

contentment, amendment

noun

verb ® noun

ness

state of

carelessness, uselessness

adjective ® noun

oid like (often suggests flawed or partial resemblance) asteroid, tabloid, anthropoid, rhomboid, ovoid noun or adjective ® noun or adjective that is similar to or has the qualities of the original word
(o)logy

 

study, science, theory

 

biology

 

noun

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Greek and Latin Roots and Affixes

Vocabulary

Easily Confused Words

Homonyms

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Slippery Words

Words can change the part of speech to which they belong by the addition of a suffix. They can also occupy more than one part of speech without any change in spelling at all. For example, talk may function as a verb or a noun. Being aware of this can be very helpful when you’re solving GRE analogy questions. Prompts often contain words that function as more than one part of speech or have more than one meaning. To figure out the correct match (analogous word pair) to the prompt, you frequently need to "redefine" the word. That is, you often have to come up with alternate and (often) less familiar senses for the prompt word.

Here's a simple example. Say you’ve got the following problem

dance : choreography ::

a)conducter : orchestra

b)play : plot

c)sob : cry

d)mix : cake

c)ore: mine

Which is the correct answer? If you b) play : plot,congratulations. That’s the correct answer. However, many people would be tempted to a) conducter : orchestra, partly because, like the prompt pair, this choice has to do with music or entertainment. Play,can be either a verb (as in play cards), a noun (as in drama), or even an adjective (as in play clothes). If the first thing that pops into your head when you see the word play is the verb, you might pass this choice over without giving it any real consideration. However, if you analyze the prompt and the choices, you will see that you need to look or an analogy with a noun : noun relationship. That realization should lead you to reconsider your initial definition for play and look for a noun usage. Then the correct choice becomes clear.

More confusing may be words that have more than one meaning -- in addition to or in the absence of a change in the part of speech to which the word belongs. Here's an example that might appear on the GRE analogies section

pride : lion::(pride is to lion as__)

The first thing most people think of when they see the word pride is probably not a related group of lions. Fortunately, as soon as you see lion, you'll likely realize that this is the meaning that is needed here.

Or look at this example

wax : moon::

a)break : vase

b)candle : floor

c)rise : tide

d)walk : exit

e)alter : change

How long did it take you to figure out that you needed to look for a verb : noun pair? You might realize the correct relationship as soon as you see the word moon. However, if you’re thinking of wax as a noun – as in car wax, you might get confused when you see the answer choices. Analysis of the choices, though will tell you that you need wax the verb and c)rise : tide is the best answer In this example, the correct sense is more likely to be to grow or grow full, as in "The moon waxes and the tide rises." Although these two examples may seem obvious, there are other times when the needed definition might not be so evident. For more information on words that have multiple meanings, see the Homonyms page.

Copyright © 2000 Jessica DeForest. All rights reserved. __