Altering words in English usually seems simple enough, such as changing the verb 'run' to 'running'. What makes prefixes and suffixes more complicated is that they can completely alter the meaning of a word. When you take the word 'ordinary' and add the prefix 'extra' you end up with a word which is the opposite of ordinary: 'extraordinary'. The use of 'extra' here can be confusing as it would usually mean more than one, such as the sentence 'he ordered extra bread to his soup'.


How can we cut down any confusion in regard to prefixes and suffixes? It can be done, but first we need to break the subject down.


Death by affixation


'Affixation' sounds like a scary word, but it doesn't mean to do harm to someone. Affixation is the process of creating a word by using the addition of a prefix or suffix. A lot of English words are made, and still made, using this process.


Starting with the roots


Before expanding on what prefix and suffix mean, you must understand and know how root words are used. This may all be Greek to you, but many English root words come from the Greek language such as the following examples:


'Dec' which means ten in English.

'Psych' which means spirit in English.

'Therm' which means heat in English.


Many other root words in English come from the Latin language. The Latin language was created during the rule of the Roman Empire and is around two thousand years old. Latin was considered the language of the Church and to this day is taught in schools in England, particularly in private and grammar schools. 


Here are three examples of Latin root words:


'Uni' which means one in English.

'Tri' which means three in English.

Both 'Aqua' and 'Aque' mean water in English.


Now that we understand what root words are, and where many of them come from – it's time for some affixation.




You add a prefix to the front of a root word. This is to modify the root word slightly, or even to completely change the meaning of the root word. If we look at the word 'house' we immediately understand this is a property which someone can live in.


By adding a prefix we can modify the word house to give a little more detail, such as:


Outhouse (comprised of the word house and the prefix 'out').


This is easy enough to understand and below we have another example:


Reapply (comprised of the word apply and the prefix '-re' which means again).


Example sentence: They previously refused to give him a job, but  nevertheless he decided to reapply anyway.


As discussed, we can also use a prefix to completely change the meaning of a root word. We use the root word 'social' to mean talking to people, getting on harmoniously or also to have a good time such as the below sentence:


My daughter said she had a wonderful social life since moving to Bangkok.


If we add the prefix 'anti-' this creates a word which is the total opposite to social. The word 'antisocial' has become an increasingly popular word in England in the last twenty years. It is seen to mean behaviour that is damaging, offensive, or criminal. See the below example sentence which may make this a little clearer:


There has been an increase of antisocial behaviour in Manchester during November. Crimes such as vandalism to property are on the rise.




The use of a suffix is very similar to the use of prefixes. The root word is affected by the suffix which is placed at the end of the root word. In adding a suffix the root word can take on many different qualities. As an example the suffix '-ish' can be used to describe a person's personality:


She is very childish at times. (The suffix '-ish' added to the word child).


I can't believe how selfish he can be! (The suffix '-ish' added to the word self).


Here, the suffix '-ish' is meaning that someone's personality has a particular quality. It has recently become a common word to give a scale on someone's reaction:


Janice: 'Was your wife angry when you told her you were leaving her for me, John?'


John: 'Well... ish. She wasn't too bothered as she mentioned she's been having an affair with our gardener for the last ten years.'



Affixes old and new


We've looked at examples of prefixes and suffixes, and seen how they can affect root words. As mentioned, many English root words often originate from Greek and Latin words. These languages are as old as time, but new words are providing the catalyst for more and more inventions of new prefixes and suffixes.


This is down to the rapid advance of technology and the increasing use of computer speak. Everybody knew what a cigarette was until we began to see people smoking 'electronic cigarettes'. I'm old enough to remember when people began to talk about 'electronic mail' and there was talk about people visiting cafes where you could use a computer to access the internet.


Prefixes have now appeared to help shorten words for these items such as:






I'm sure we'll live to see more prefixes for new technology to come, but what will it be? E-toilet, cyberchicken, or e-plants? Who knows what's coming soon?

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