Suffixes can change the word-class and the meaning of the word.
Common noun suffixes
-er is used for the person who does an activity, e.g. writer, worker, shopper, teacher.
You can use -er with a wide range of verbs to make them into nouns.
Sometimes, the -er suffix is written as -or instead of -er. It is worth making a special list of these as you meet them, e.g. actor, operator, sailor, supervisor.
-er/-or are also used for things which do a particular job, e.g. pencil-sharpener, bottle-opener, grater, projector.
-er and -ee can contrast with each other meaning ‘person who does something.’ (-er) and ‘person who receives or experiences the action’ (-ee), e.g. employer/employee, sender/addressee, payee (e.g. of a cheque).
-(t)ion /J(a)n/ is used to make nouns from verbs.
complication pollution reduction alteration donation admission
-ist [person] and -ism [activity or ideology]: used for people’s politics, beliefs and ideologies, and sometimes their profession (compare with -er/-or professions above), e.g. Marxism, Buddhism, journalism, anarchist, physicist, terrorist.
-ist is also often used for people who play musical instruments, e.g. pianist, violinist, cellist.
-ness is used to make nouns from adjectives. Note what happens to adjectives that end in -y: goodness, readiness, forgetfulness, happiness, sadness, weakness.
-able/-ible with verbs, means ‘can be done’.
drinkable washable readable recognizable countable forgivable
Examples with -ible: edible (can be eaten) flexible (can be bent)
-ise (or -ize) makes verbs from adjectives, e.g. modernise, commercialise, industrialise.
Other suffixes that can help you recognise the word class
-ment: (nouns) excitement enjoyment replacement
-ity: (nouns) flexibility productivity scarcity
-hood: (abstract nouns especially family terms) childhood motherhood
-ship: (abstract nouns especially status) friendship partnership membership
-ive: (adjectives) passive productive active
-al: (adjectives) brutal legal (nouns) refusal arrival
-ous: (adjectives) delicious outrageous furious
-ful: (adjectives) forgetful hopeful useful
-less: (adjectives) useless harmless cloudless
-ify: (verbs) beautify purify terrify
Note: the informal suffix -ish, which can be added to most common adjectives, ages and times to make them less precise, e.g. She’s thirtyish. He has reddish hair. Come about eightish.
The following are some examples of suffixes along with their meanings.
-able, -ible (capable or worthy of)
-acy (state or quality)
-al (act or process of, or pertaining to)
-ance, -ence (state or quality)
-ary (related to)
-dom (place or state of being)
-en (make or become)
-er, -or (one who)
-esque (like or reminiscent of)
-gram, -graph (written or drawn)
-ic, -ical (pertaining to)
-iou, -ous (characterized by)
-ish (having the quality of)
-ive (having the nature of)
-log, -logue (speech)
-logy (the study of)
-ory, -tory (relating to)
-phile (strong love for)
-phobe, -phobia (fear of)
-ship (position held)
-y (characterized by)
The -er/-or, -ee and -ist suffixes. Use the suffixes to give the names of the following.
Example: A person who plays jazz on the piano. a jazz pianist
1. The thing that wipes rain off your car windscreen. ________
2. A person who plays classical violin. ________
3. A person who takes professional photographs. ________
4. A person who acts in amateur theater. ________
5. The person to whom a cheque is made out. ________
6. A machine for washing dishes. ________
7. A person who donates their kidneys upon their death. ________
8. The person to whom a letter is addressed. ________
Each picture is of an object ending in -er. Can you name them?
List six jobs you would like to have in order of preference. How many different suffixes are there in your list? Do any of the job names not have a suffix? (e.g. pilot, film star)
Do these things mean a thing, a person, or both?
1. a cooker 2. a typewriter 3. a ticket-holder 4. a record player
5. a cleaner 6. a smoker 7. a drinker
Spelling changes. Rewrite each sentence by changing the underlined words, using a suffix from the left-hand page. Make any spelling changes needed.
1. Most of his crimes can be forgiven.
Most of his crimes are ________.
2. The Club refuses to admit anyone not wearing a tie.
The Club refuses ________ to anyone not wearing a tie.
3. Her only fault is that she is lazy.
Her only fault is ________.
4. This firm has produced a lot in recent years.
This firm has been very ________ in recent years.
5. I found the book very easy and pleasant to read.
I found the book very ________.
Can you think of anything in your country which should be nationalised (e.g. banks, steel works), standardised, modernised, computerised or centralised?
Which word is the odd one out in each group and why?
1. brotherhood neighbourhood manhood priesthood
2. hair-restorer plant-holder step-ladder oven-cleaner
3. appointment involvement compliment arrangement
4. tearful spiteful dreadful handful
5. worship kinship friendship partnership
1. windscreen wiper(s)
2. classical violinist
3. professional photographer
4. amateur actor
7. kidney donor
3. can-opener (or tin-opener)
1. a cooker – a thing (the stove on which you cook); the person who cooks is a cook.
2. a typewriter – a thing (machine for typing); the person is a typist.
3. a ticket-holder – person or thing; a person who has a ticket, e.g. for a concert, or a kind of wallet for holding tickets, e.g. a season ticket for the train/bus.
4. a record player – a thing (machine for playing records).
5. a cleaner – person or thing; person who cleans, e.g. in an office or other place of work; a substance or instrument for cleaning, e.g. ‘this cleaner will get the grease off your oven’.
6. a smoker – person or thing; a person who smokes; a short name for a seat in the smoking area of a plane or train (or the whole smoking compartment on a train).
7. a drinker – person (someone who drinks alcohol, usually regularly or in large quantities).