A suffix is a letter or a group of letters added to the end of a word to alter its meaning or to ensure it fits grammatically into a sentence.

Suffixes (added to the back of words) contrast with prefixes (added to the front). Suffixes and prefixes are known as affixes.

Easy Examples of Suffixes

Often, a suffix that alters a word's meaning changes it from one part of speech to another (e.g., from a noun to an adjective).
  • joyous
  • (This is an example of a suffix that alters a word's meaning. It has changed the noun joy into an adjective.)
  • tenderness
  • (Here, the suffix has changed the adjective tender into a noun.)
  • She runs a brothel.
  • (This is an example of a suffix that ensures a word fits grammatically in the sentence. Here, it makes the verb fit because She run a brothel would be plain wrong.)

Real-Life Examples of Suffixes

The four most common suffixes are -ed, -ing, -ly and -s. (These account for over 95% of suffixed words.) Here they are in some short quotations.
  • If God wanted us to bend over, he'd put diamonds on the floor. (Comedian Joan Rivers)
  • If I could read while I was driving, showering, socializing or sleeping, I would do it. (American author Elizabeth Gilbert)
  • A wise person decides slowly but abides by these decisions. (Tennis player Arthur Ashe)
  • Vices are often habits rather than passions. (French writer Antoine Rivarol)
There is a list of common suffixes in the entry on affixes.

Why Should I Care about Suffixes?

Learning suffixes is a good way to expand your vocabulary. For example, once you know the root word pay, then payable, payee, payer, paying, and payment all come "free". This is particularly useful if you're learning English. If you're not, the vocab-expansion-by-learning-suffixes method works with most other languages too.

From the perspective of improving your writing, the most useful suffix is -ing. The -ing suffix is used to form present participles and gerunds, both of which are commonly used to create shorter, better flowing texts. Put simply, using a present participle will allow you to convey two ideas at once, and using a gerund will reduce your word count. (As they both end -ing, present participles and gerunds look the same, but present participles are usually adjectives (e.g., I need baking powder) while gerunds are nouns (e.g., I like baking cakes). This is covered in more detail in the entries on present participles and gerunds.)

(1) Using present participles to say two (or more) things at once

  • Believing he'd been spotted, Jack raised his arms, exposing the explosive belt.
  • (In this sentence, Jack did three things (believed, raised and exposed). Using present participles to convey two other actions alongside raised is not only efficient in terms of word count but also highlights the simultaneity of the actions.)
  • Smiling wryly, he flashed a cheeky wink.
  • (Here, we have two simultaneous actions: smiling while flashing.)
  • Knowing trees, I understand the meaning of patience. Knowing grass, I can appreciate persistence. (American author Hal Borland)
  • (Here, we have two simultaneous actions in each sentence: knowing while understanding and then knowing while appreciating.)

(2) Using gerunds to create more succinct texts

  • Knowing others is wisdom. Knowing yourself is enlightenment. (Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu)
  • (Here, the gerund knowing is a more succinct way of saying to know or knowledge of.)
  • He wants to discuss developing the plan.
  • (Developing the plan is a more succinct way of saying the development of the plan. Our gerund (developing) saves us two words, and the text flows better.)
In the entry on affixes, we talk about how you can use your understanding of prefixes and suffixes to:

(1) Improve your spelling by breaking a word down into prefixes and suffixes and tackling the parts one at a time (e.g., un-ful-fill-ment).

(2) Decipher the meaning of a word (e.g., abductor, abductees).

Key Point

  • The appendment of -ing, which creates a present participle or a gerund, can help with the expression of ideas with efficiency.

  • Or, to put it another way…

  • Appending -ing, creating a present participle or a gerund, can help with expressing ideas efficiently.
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