Learning Prefixes and Suffixes to Improve Your Vocab

A lot of us learn the definition of an unfamiliar word by reading its surrounding context. By using what comes before and what comes after, you, as the reader, are able to figure out how this new word is supposed to fit in. The next time you come upon that word, you’re able to remember where you saw it last, and by doing so, you build upon the definition you’ve created in your head. This works for a lot of cases, but what about when the context isn’t enough? How do you go about figuring out the definition of a word then? 

Luckily for you, a lot of words have hints towards their meanings embedded right into the structure of the words themselves. This is because a lot of English words are formed by adding prefixes (additions that come before) and suffixes (additions that come after) to already existing words, called root words. Root words are words by themselves. They carry their own meaning, and they are often more simple to recognize and understand. In contrast, affixes (what prefixes and suffixes are collectively called) don’t carry their own meaning, and instead add on to/alter the meaning of the root word they are attached to. 

So what does this mean for you? It means that if you learn some commonly used affixes, you can break down the meaning of a complicated word into its separate components and figure out its definition, all without having to rely on context. 

Here are some examples of commonly seen prefixes and their meanings: 

  • anti- : against
    • Examples: anticlimax, antibody 
  • mid- : middle
    • Examples: midfield, midcentury 
  • en-, em- : cause to
    • Examples: enact, empower
  • semi- : half; partly; not fully
    • Examples: semifinal, semicircle 
  • non- : not
    • Examples: nonviolent, nontoxic
  • over- : over; too much
    • Examples: overestimate, overeat 
  • in-, im- : in
    • Examples: income, impulse
  • in-, im-, il-, ir- : not
    • Examples: indirect, immoral, illiterate, irreverent

Similarly, here are some examples of commonly seen suffixes and their meanings: 

  • -en : made of
    • Examples: golden, harden 
  • -ful : full of
    • Examples: joyful, helpful
  • -able, -ible : is; can be
    • Examples: affordable, sensible
  • -ion, -tion, -ation, -tion : act; process
    • Examples: submission, motion, relation, edition
  • -ous, -eous, -ious : having qualities of
    • Examples: riotous, courageous, gracious
  • -ic : having characteristics of
    • Examples: poetic, panoramic 
  • -ment : state of being; act of
    • Examples: enjoyment, contentment
  • -ly : how something is
    • Examples: lonely, lovely

By learning root words, prefixes, and suffixes, you’re able to expand your vocabulary in a way that can be applied to many different difficult words all at once, and not just the one you’re currently learning. It’s a pretty valuable skill that you’ll build upon your entire life! Hopefully this short article helps with figuring out the basics. 

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