What is an Affix? - Definition & Examples

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  • 0:00 What Are Affixes?
  • 0:40 What Are Prefixes?
  • 1:57 What Are Suffixes?
  • 4:10 Using Multiple Affixes
  • 5:10 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christina Boggs

Chrissy has taught secondary English and history and writes online curriculum. She has an M.S.Ed. in Social Studies Education.

When you read and write English, how much attention do you pay to the parts of a word? Odds are, you don't think about things like affixes! This lesson explains the types of affixes and how they are used to modify root words.

What Are Affixes?

Have you ever had to attach something to another object? Perhaps you wanted to set up a new video game console, but the cord was too short to reach the plug, so you had to attach an extension cord. Maybe you had to send your homework or a project to your teacher; you would have done this by attaching a document to your email. Instead of using the verb 'attach,' you can also use the verb 'affix' to describe your actions.

The word 'affix' also has a second meaning. When studying the English language, an affix is a group of letters that are added to the beginning or the end of a root word that can change the word's meaning.

What Are Prefixes?

An affix that comes at the beginning of a word is called a prefix. In the English language, there are about 50 different common prefixes. Each of these prefixes gives the reader a clue about the word's meaning. You may recognize many prefixes from this list:

  • an-, meaning to be without
  • anti-, meaning against
  • bi-, meaning two
  • contra-, meaning against
  • dis-, meaning not
  • ex-, meaning without or not including
  • homo-, meaning the same
  • inter-, meaning between
  • micro-, meaning small
  • pre-, meaning before
  • tetra-, meaning four
  • tri-, meaning three
  • un-, meaning not
  • uni-, meaning one

Let's look at how prefixes can be used to change a word. Take for example the word cycle. What prefixes from the list can be added to change the word's meaning? You could add the prefixes uni-, bi- or tri-:

A unicycle is a vehicle with just one wheel.
A bicycle is a vehicle with two wheels.
A tricycle is a vehicle with three wheels.

See how simply adding a few letters at the start of a word makes a big difference?

What Are Suffixes?

Unlike a prefix, a suffix is a series of letters added at the end of a word. Suffixes fall into one of two categories: inflectional and derivational.

Inflectional suffixes change the way you understand a word without changing its meaning. For example, what happens when you add the letter s to the word cookie? It forms the word cookies. The meaning doesn't change, but now you know there is more than one cookie, which is always a good thing!

Inflectional suffixes can also change the tense of a base word from present to past by adding the letters -ed - like when we change walk to walked - or they can make the root word comparative or superlative by adding -er or -est, like when big becomes bigger or biggest. Again, the words have changed, but the meaning has not.

Derivational suffixes change the meaning of a word. In addition to changing the meaning of a word, derivational suffixes can change an adjective to a noun or a verb or change a noun to an adjective.

Let's look at some common derivational suffixes that you encounter on a daily basis:

  • -able, which means able to do
  • -acy, which means quality
  • -er, which means someone who does something
  • -esque, which means similar to
  • -ish, which means having a similar quality
  • -ism, which means a belief
  • -ist, which means someone who does something
  • -less, which means without

Let's take a look at a suffix in action. Think about the suffix -less and how it changes the nouns fear, friend, and emotion:

fear becomes fearless, meaning without fear
friend becomes friendless, meaning without friends
emotion becomes emotionless, meaning without emotion

In this instance, these words change from nouns to adjectives.

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