What are the different types of English suffix?

This is the second of three lessons about Suffixes. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Discuss derivational and inflectional suffixation

– Categorise inflection into adjectives, nouns and verbs

– Provide examples suffixes to demonstrate each category

Lesson 2

Being able to recognise the different types of suffix that exist is an important step towards being a confident English speaker. By recognising whether a particular suffix affects a word’s class, number, tense or aspect, you should be better prepared to use these grammatical features in your own speech and writing – as well as be better equipped to fix any errors that you may make. This lesson deals with precisely how the various suffixes may be categorised in the English language, separating these suffixes into two major types of affixation, which are derivational and inflectional.


1. Derivational Suffixation

Much in the same way that a prefix may be added to the start of a word to change that word’s meaning, a suffix may be attached to the end of a particular word to change that word’s class. When affixes are used to produce new words in this way (either through altering the word’s original meaning or its class), this is called derivation. Although there are eight core word classes in the English language, only four of these are lexical and carry meaning. It is these four words classes – adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs – that may be changed through derivational suffixation to create different word forms, as is shown in the table below:

Suffixes 2.1 Derivational Suffixation

What this table shows is that most but not all words may change their form to represent adjectival, adverbial, nominal and verbal classes within a sentence.


2. Inflectional Suffixation

While derivational affixation produces new words either by changing the meaning (through prefixes) or the word class (through suffixes) of the original word, inflection simply produces grammatical variants of that same word. In the English language, there are seven different types of inflection to learn, with only suffixes being able to fulfil these grammatical responsibilities.


Inflecting Adjectives with Suffixes

There are two ways in which adjectives are inflected through suffixation, and this is to create both comparative and superlative adjectives:

Suffixes 2.2 Regular Comparatives and Superlatives

This table shows that the suffixes ‘-er’ and ‘-est’ may be used to create comparative and superlative adjectives, respectively. What this table doesn’t demonstrate, however, is that a student must also remember to correctly form any such irregular adjectives that do not require suffixation to create comparatives or superlatives:

Suffixes 2.3 Irregular Comparatives and Superlatives

Inflecting Nouns with Suffixes

Like adjectives, nouns may also be inflected through suffixation in two fairly easy-to-remember ways. The first is the addition of an ‘-s’ suffix to the end of a regular noun to change that noun from singular to plural, while the second uses that same ‘-s’ as well as an apostrophe (‘) to indicate possession:

Suffixes 2.4 Plurals and Possessives

However, as with most aspects of the English language, there are many irregular nouns that should be remembered so as not to overextend this rule. For plurals, watch out for irregular nouns such as ‘man/men’ and ‘mouse/mice’ as well as uncountable nouns such as ‘hair’ or ‘rice’. For the possessive ‘-s’, remember to also be careful of nouns already ending in ‘-s’, such as plural nouns or names such as ‘James’. In cases such as these, only the apostrophe needs to be added (even though the second ‘-s’ is pronounced), creating sentences such as ‘it’s James’ bike’.


Inflecting Verbs with Suffixes

The final three types of inflection through suffixation all occur on verbs in the English language. The first such inflection (and the third use of the suffix ‘-s’) is to demonstrate subject-verb agreement for third-person subjects in the present tense. Simply put, if the subject of a sentence can be replaced with ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘it’, then the ‘-s’ suffix should be added to the end of the associated verb:

Suffixes 2.5 Subject-Verb Agreement

Notice in this example how the first-person subject ‘I’ agrees with the verb ‘read’, while the third-person ‘he’ and ‘Jane’ (which could be replaced with ‘she’) require the verb form to be ‘reads’ to demonstrate proper agreement.

The second type of verbal inflection through suffixation is used to show the past tense. Here the ‘-ed’ suffix is added to regular verbs to show that the time period of the proposition is in the past and not the present. However, as can be seen from the two tables below, the English language has many irregular verbs (such as ‘sing’ or ‘write’) that do not follow this general rule of suffixation:

Suffixes 2.6 Regular Verbs
Suffixes 2.7 Irregular Verbs

The final type of inflection shows the aspect of a proposition, such as whether an action happens over a period of time (continuous aspect) or whether an action is completed or happened in the past and relates to the present (perfect aspect). For all verbs in English, continuous aspect is demonstrated by using a present participle, in which an ‘ing’ suffix is added to the end of the main verb, such as in the example ‘I am reading a book’. To add perfect aspect to most verbs, however, the past participle instead uses either the ‘-ed’ or ‘-en’ suffix, such as in the example ‘I have eaten lunch’. Of course, as the following table shows, there are still many irregularities to remember here, such as with the verbs ‘become’ or ‘sing’.

Suffixes 2.8 Participles

Now that you’ve been introduced to both derivational and inflectional suffixation in the English language and how they affect adjectives, adverbs, nouns and verbs, the final lesson on this topic provides you with the most common academic suffixes for these four lexical word classes.

2 of 3 Lessons Completed


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