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English Spelling Rules for Suffixes & Endings

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  • 0:02 What Are Suffixes?
  • 1:15 Suffixes for Nouns
  • 2:24 Suffixes for Verbs
  • 2:56 Suffixes for…
  • 3:27 General Spelling Rules
  • 5:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Suffixes change much about words, including the spelling. This lesson outlines some of the guidelines for using suffixes, ensuring correct spelling of the word.

What Are Suffixes?

Our writing in the English language consists of letters coming together to form word parts. The parts are then combined to form words. The suffix is defined as a word part that is attached to the end of a word. Some common suffixes include '-s', '-ed', and '-ing'.

Suffixes are very important in our language because they imply slight changes in the meaning of the base or root word. Remember, bases and roots give the main meaning of the word. A base word can stand alone as its own word, but a root must have other word parts to be a complete word. For example, the root 'circ' cannot stand alone. It needs a suffix, like in 'circle', to make it a whole word.

In addition, suffixes can also determine the word's part of speech. Certain suffixes make the base or root word a noun, a verb, an adjective, or even an adverb. For example, look at the base word 'real', which is an adjective. Add the suffix '-ity' to get 'reality', which is a noun. Add '-ize' to make it 'realize', which is a verb. Last, add '-ly' to make it 'really', which is an adverb. Do you see now how important suffixes can be?

There are certain rules as far as spelling goes for adding various suffixes. Let's look at some of the most used suffixes and then some common guidelines for spelling.

Suffixes for Nouns

There are specific suffixes that will make a base or root word into a noun. Here are some of those suffixes, including the meaning of each.

  • -er, -ist, -or: means doer or performer
  • -ation, -ment: means action or process
  • -ism: means idea or theory
  • ity, -ness, -ship, -tude: means a condition, quality, or state

Now let's look at a list of examples for all of these suffixes. Note how each one slightly changes the meaning of the base:

  • Painter
  • Columnist
  • Actor
  • Adoration
  • Development
  • Idealism
  • Agility
  • Sadness
  • Friendship
  • Attitude

Look over that list of words. Notice that for many of the suffixes, the spelling of the base or root word did not change. The suffix was simply added on to the end. For suffixes that begin with consonants, like '-ship' and '-ness', the spelling of the base word usually does not change. There are some exceptions to this, but we will focus on the more common spelling issues. On the other hand, for suffixes beginning with vowels, the spelling often changes. We will look at those rules later on.

Suffixes for Verbs

Next, let's look at the suffixes that make bases and roots into verbs:

  • -ate: means to act upon
  • -en, -ize: means to become or to cause

Remember, there are other endings for verbs, but these endings, in particular, change a word's part of speech. Here are some examples of words with those suffixes:

  • Dissipate
  • Lighten
  • Terrorize

Besides dissipate, which has a root and not a base, the suffixes are added onto the bases without changing the spelling. Remember these examples, as the reasons for this will be discussed later.

Suffixes for Adjectives and Adverbs

Lastly, let's look at suffixes that make words into adjectives or adverbs:

  • -able, -ible: means to be able or to include
  • -ant: means to act a certain way
  • -ful, -ous: means to be full of

There are only two suffixes to make a word an adverb. These are '-ily' and '-ly', and both mean 'in the manner of.' Here are examples of words using these suffixes for adjectives and adverbs:

  • Flammable
  • Horrible
  • Important
  • Mindful
  • Famous
  • Creepily
  • Quickly

General Spelling Rules

For the suffixes that begin with a vowel, there are some general rules to follow about changing the spelling of the base or root. Remember, this list is not exhaustive; there are some other rules in the English language, but these are the main ones.

Firstly, the final consonant must be doubled for two-syllable words ending with a vowel preceding a consonant. Some examples include:

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