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4.4 Prefixes and Suffixes

Learning Objectives

  1. Identify the meanings of common prefixes.
  2. Become familiar with common suffix rules.

The English language contains an enormous and ever-growing number of words. Enhancing your vocabulary by learning new words can seem overwhelming, but if you know the common prefixes and suffixes of English, you will understand many more words.

Mastering common prefixes and suffixes is like learning a code. Once you crack the code, you can not only spell words more correctly but also recognize and perhaps even define unfamiliar words.


A prefixA word part added to the beginning of a word to create a new meaning. is a word part added to the beginning of a word to create a new meaning. Study the common prefixes in Table 4.2 "Common Prefixes".


The main rule to remember when adding a prefix to a word is not to add letters or leave out any letters. See Table 4.2 "Common Prefixes" for examples of this rule.

Table 4.2 Common Prefixes

Prefix Meaning Example
dis not, opposite of dis + satisfied = dissatisfied
mis wrongly mis + spell = misspell
un not un + acceptable = unacceptable
re again re + election = reelection
inter between inter + related = interrelated
pre before pre + pay = prepay
non not non + sense = nonsense
super above super + script = superscript
sub under sub + merge = submerge
anti against, opposing anti + bacterial = antibacterial

Exercise 1

Identify the five words with prefixes in the following paragraph, and write their meanings on a separate sheet of paper.

At first, I thought one of my fuzzy, orange socks disappeared in the dryer, but I could not find it in there. Because it was my favorite pair, nothing was going to prevent me from finding that sock. I looked all around my bedroom, under the bed, on top of the bed, and in my closet, but I still could not find it. I did not know that I would discover the answer just as I gave up my search. As I sat down on the couch in the family room, my Dad was reclining on his chair. I laughed when I saw that one of his feet was orange and the other blue! I forgot that he was color-blind. Next time he does laundry I will have to supervise him while he folds the socks so that he does not accidentally take one of mine!


Please share with a classmate and compare your answers.

Exercise 2

Add the correct prefix to the word to complete each sentence. Write the word on your own sheet of paper.

  1. I wanted to ease my stomach ________comfort, so I drank some ginger root tea.
  2. Lenny looked funny in his ________matched shirt and pants.
  3. Penelope felt ________glamorous at the party because she was the only one not wearing a dress.
  4. My mother said those ________aging creams do not work, so I should not waste my money on them.
  5. The child’s ________standard performance on the test alarmed his parents.
  6. When my sister first saw the meteor, she thought it was a ________natural phenomenon.
  7. Even though she got an excellent job offer, Cherie did not want to ________locate to a different country.
  8. With a small class size, the students get to ________act with the teacher more frequently.
  9. I slipped on the ice because I did not heed the ________cautions about watching my step.
  10. A ________combatant is another word for civilian.


A suffixA word part added to the end of a word to create a new meaning. is a word part added to the end of a word to create a new meaning. Study the suffix rules in the following boxes.

Rule 1

When adding the suffixes -ness and -ly to a word, the spelling of the word does not change.


  • dark + ness = darkness
  • scholar + ly = scholarly

Exceptions to Rule 1

When the word ends in y, change the y to i before adding -ness and -ly.


  • ready + ly = readily
  • happy + ness = happiness

Rule 2

When the suffix begins with a vowel, drop the silent e in the root word.


  • care + ing = caring
  • use + able = usable

Exceptions to Rule 2

When the word ends in ce or ge, keep the silent e if the suffix begins with a or o.


  • replace + able = replaceable
  • courage + ous = courageous

Rule 3

When the suffix begins with a consonant, keep the silent e in the original word.


  • care + ful = careful
  • care + less = careless

Exceptions to Rule 3


  • true + ly = truly
  • argue + ment = argument

Rule 4

When the word ends in a consonant plus y, change the y to i before any suffix not beginning with i.


  • sunny + er = sunnier
  • hurry + ing = hurrying

Rule 5

When the suffix begins with a vowel, double the final consonant only if (1) the word has only one syllable or is accented on the last syllable and (2) the word ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant.


  • tan + ing = tanning (one syllable word)
  • regret + ing = regretting (The accent is on the last syllable; the word ends in a single vowel followed by a single consonant.)
  • cancel + ed = canceled (The accent is not on the last syllable.)
  • prefer + ed = preferred

Exercise 3

On your own sheet of paper, write correctly the forms of the words with their suffixes.

  1. refer + ed
  2. refer + ence
  3. mope + ing
  4. approve + al
  5. green + ness
  6. benefit + ed
  7. resubmit + ing
  8. use + age
  9. greedy + ly
  10. excite + ment

Key Takeaways

  • A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a word that changes the word’s meaning.
  • A suffix is a word part added to the end of a word that changes the word’s meaning.
  • Learning the meanings of prefixes and suffixes will help expand your vocabulary, which will help improve your writing.

Writing Application

Write a paragraph describing one of your life goals. Include five words with prefixes and five words with suffixes. Exchange papers with a classmate and circle the prefixes and suffixes in your classmate’s paper. Correct each prefix or suffix that is spelled incorrectly.