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Affixation

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Affixation

Amazement, Quickly, Impossible, Intergalactic. What do all of these words have in common? The answer is that they all contain affixes. Read on to learn all about affixes in English, the different types of affixes, and the affixation process, and see some examples.

Affixation Linguistics Definition

Affixation is a morphological process whereby a group of letters (the affix) is attached to a base or root word to form a new word. Sometimes the new word takes on a whole new meaning, and sometimes it simply gives us more grammatical information. For example, adding the affix '-s' to the end of the word 'apple' tells us there is more than one apple.

Morphological process - Changing or adding to a root word to create a more suitable word for the context.

Affixes are a type of bound morpheme - this means they cannot stand alone and must appear alongside a base word to get their meaning.

On its own, the affix '-ing' doesn't really mean anything. However, placing it at the end of a base word, such as 'walk' to create the word 'walking,' lets us know that the action is progressive (ongoing).

Understanding the meaning and usage of affixes can help us 'decipher' the meaning of unknown words.

There are three types of affixes: prefixes, suffixes, and circumfixes. Let's take a closer look at these now.

Affixation, diagram showing affixation process, StudySmarterAffixes are added to base words to form new words

Types of Affixation

To begin, let's look at the different types of affixes we can add to a base word. The two main types are suffixes and prefixes, and the third, less common, are circumfixes.

Prefixes

Prefixes are affixes that go at the beginning of a base word. Prefixes are very common in the English language, and thousands of English words contain a prefix. Common English prefixes include in-, im-, un-, non-, and re-.

Prefixes are commonly used to make based words negative/positive (e.g., unhelpful) and to express relations of time (e.g., prehistoric), manner (e.g., underdeveloped), and place (e.g., extraterrestrial).

Here are some common English words with prefixes:

  • impolite
  • autobiography
  • hyperactive
  • irregular
  • midnight
  • outrun
  • semicircle

A more complete list of all English prefixes can be found towards the end of this explanation!

Prefixes and Hyphens (-)

Unfortunately, there aren't any set rules as to when you should use a hyphen (-) with a prefix; however, there are a few guidelines you can follow to help you decide when to use a hyphen.

  • If the prefixed word can easily be confused with another existing word, e.g., re-pair and repair (to pair again and to fix something)
  • If the prefix ends in a vowel and the base word begins with a vowel, e.g., anti-intellectual
  • If the base word is a proper noun and should be capitalized, e.g., un-American
  • When using dates and numbers, e.g., mid-century, pre-1940s

Suffixes

Whereas prefixes go at the beginning of a base word, suffixes go at the end. Common suffixes include -full, -less, -ed, -ing, -s, and -en.

When we add suffixes to base words, the process is either derivational or inflectional. So, what exactly does that mean?

When the word's meaning or the word class (e.g., noun, adjective, verb, etc.) completely changes, the process is derivational. For example, adding '-er' to the end of the based word 'teach' changes the verb (teach) to a noun (teacher).

Derivational affixes are one the most common ways new words are formed in English!

Some example words with derivational suffixes include:

  • laughable (changes the verb laugh to an adjective)
  • joyous (changes the abstract noun joy to an adjective)
  • quickly (changes the adjective quick to an adverb)

Affixation, Image of teacher, StudySmarterSuffixes can change word classes, such as a verb to a noun

On the other hand, inflectional suffixes show a grammatical change within a word class - this means the word class always remains the same. For example, adding the suffix '-ed' to the verb 'talk' to create the verb 'talked' shows us that the action happened in the past.

Some example words with inflectional suffixes include:

  • walking (shows the progressive aspect)
  • shoes (shows plurality)
  • likes (shows 3rd person singular, e.g., he likes coffee)
  • taller (a comparative adjective)
  • tallest (a superlative adjective)
  • eaten (shows the perfect aspect)

Circumfixes

Circumfixes are less common than prefixes and affixes and typically involve adding affixes to both the beginning and the end of a base word.

  • enlighten
  • unattainable
  • incorrectly
  • inappropriateness

Affixation Examples

Here are some useful tables outlining some of English's most common prefixes and suffixes:

Prefixes

Prefix Meaning Examples
anti-against or opposite antibiotics, antiestablishment
de-removalde-iced, decaffeinated
dis-negation or removaldisapprove, disloyal
hyper-more thanhyperactive, hyperallergic
inter-between interracial, intergalactic
non-absence or negation nonessential, nonsense
post-after a period of time post-war
pre-before a period of time pre-war
re-again reapply, regrow, renew
semi-halfsemicircle, semi-funny

Derivational Suffixes Forming Nouns

Suffix Original wordNew word
-erdrive driver
-ciandietdietician
-nesshappyhappiness
-mentgoverngovernment
-yjealousjealousy

Derivational Suffixes Forming Adjectives

Suffix Original wordNew word
-alPresidentPresidential
-aryexemplarexemplary
-abledebatedebatable
-ybutterbuttery
-fulresentresentful

Derivational Suffixes Forming Adverbs

Suffix Original wordNew word
-lyslowslowly

Derivational Suffixes Forming verbs

Suffix Original wordNew word
-izeapologyapologize
-atehyphenhyphenate

Rules for Affixation

There aren't any rules for which words can go through the affixation process. Language is an ever-evolving and developing thing created by the people, and, as we previously mentioned, adding affixes is one of the most common ways new words enter the English dictionary.

However, there are few rules regarding the affixation process. Let's take a look at those now.

The Affixation Process

When we add affixes to a base word, there are a few guidelines regarding spelling that should be followed. Most of these rules apply to adding suffixes and making plurals (a type of suffix).

Suffixes

  • Double the final constant when it comes after and before a vowel, e.g., running, hopped, funny.

  • Drop the 'e' at the end of the base word if the suffix begins with a vowel, e.g., closable, using, adorable

  • Change a 'y' to an 'i' before adding the suffix if a consonant comes before the 'y', e.g., happy --> happiness.

  • Change 'ie' to 'y' when the suffix is '-ing,' e.g., lie --> lying.

The most common way to show the plurality of nouns is to add the suffix '-s'; however, we add '-es' when the base word ends in -s, -ss, -z, -ch, -sh, and -x, e.g., foxes, buses, lunches.

Remember that not all words will follow these rules - this is the English language, after all!

Why not have a go at affixation yourself? You never know; your new word could end up in The Oxford English Dictionary one day.

Affixation - Key Takeaways

  • Affixation is a morphological process, meaning letters (affixes) are added to a base word to form a new word.
  • Affixes are a type of bound morpheme - this means they cannot stand alone and must appear alongside a base word to get their meaning.
  • The main types of affixes are prefixes, suffixes, and circumfixes.
  • Prefixes go at the beginning of a base word, suffixes go at the end, and circumfixes go at the beginning and the end.
  • Suffixes can be either derivational (meaning they create a new word class) or inflectional (meaning they express grammatical function).

Frequently Asked Questions about Affixation

Affixation is a morphological process whereby a group of letters (the affix) is attached to a base or root word to form a new word. An example is adding the suffix 'ing' to the verb 'walk' to create 'walking'.

The two main types of affixation are adding prefixes (affixes at the beginning of a root word) and suffixes (affixes at the end of a word). Another type is circumfixes, which are added to the beginning and end of a base word.

Affixation refers to the process of adding affixes (e.g., prefixes and suffixes) to a base word to form a new word.

Prefixes, such as un-, im-, in-, and auto-, and suffixes, such as -ful, -less, ly, and -able.

Affixation is used to create new words. The new words can either have different meanings and different word classes than the base word, or they can show grammatical functions.

Final Affixation Quiz

Question

What is an affix?

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Answer

A small group of letters added to a base word to form a new word.

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Question

Fill in the blank:


Affixation is a type of ___ ____.

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Answer

Morphological process

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Question

What are the two main affixes?

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Answer

Prefixes and suffixes 

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Question

Which type of affix goes at the beginning of a word?

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Answer

A prefix 

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Question

Which type of affix goes at the end of a word?

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Answer

A suffix

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Question

Which type of affix goes at the beginning and end of a word?

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Answer

A circumfix 

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Question

Are affixes free or bound morphemes?

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Answer

Bound morphemes 

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Question

Fill in the blank:


Bound morphemes ___ stand alone.

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Answer

can't 

Show question

Question

When should you use a hyphen when adding a prefix to a base word?

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Answer

  • If the prefixed word can easily be confused with another existing word, e.g., re-pair and repair (to pair again and to fix something)
  • If the prefix ends in a vowel and the base word begins with a vowel, e.g., anti-intellectual 
  • If the base word is a proper noun and should be capitalized, e.g., un-American
  • When using dates and numbers, e.g., mid-century, pre-1940s

Show question

Question

When suffixes are added to a base word, the word can go through different processes. What are they? 

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Answer

Derivational and inflectional 

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Question

Which type of affixation process changes the word class of the base word?

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Answer

Derivational 

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Question

Which type of affixation process shows grammatical function?

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Answer

Inflectional 

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Question

What does the prefix anti- mean?

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Answer

Against or opposite 

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Question

What does the prefix re- mean?

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Answer

Again 

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Question

What affixation process has this base word gone through?


drive --> driver 

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Answer

Derivational. The word has changed word classes (verb to a noun)

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Question

What affixation process has this base word gone through?


smile --> smiling

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Answer

Inflectional. It shows grammatical function 

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