English Suffixes

English Suffixes

We normally use suffixes to change a word to a different part of speech:

teach (verb) + er = teacher (noun)

Sometimes a suffix produces a change in meaning:

king + dom = kingdom

Some of the most common suffixes to make nouns are:

  • verb + er → forms a noun that describes somebody’s occupation, or what somebody does → teacher, driver, employer, builder
  • verb + or → forms a noun that describes somebody’s occupation, or what somebody does →  investor, narrator, navigator, cooperator
  • verb + er → forms a noun that describes what something does → mixer, blender, cooker, grater
  • verb/noun + ee → forms a noun that describes what somebody does, or who somebody is → refugee, employee, interviewee, attendee
  • verb/noun + ing → forms a noun that describes an example or act → painting, cooking, building, writing
  • noun + eer → forms a noun that says what activity somebody does → mountaineer, puppeteer, auctioneer, engineer
  • noun/verb/adjective + ist → forms a noun that expresses somebody’s belief or occupation → communist, nationalist, violinist, journalist

Suffixes for forming abstract nouns:

  • adjective + ity → reality, personality, flexibility, mortality
  • adjective + ness → happiness, sadness, faithfulness, darkness
  • noun + hood → brotherhood, neighborhood, motherhood, parenthood
  • noun + ship → friendship, statesmanship, companionship, citizenship
  • verb + ance/ence → admittance, repentance, emergence, divergence
  • verb + ment → excitement, employment, enjoyment, improvement
  • verb + ation/ition/sion → occupation, transition, revision, provision
  • verb/adjective + th → warmth, growth, depth, length
  • verb/adjective + ure → closure, pressure, pleasure, nature
  • verb/adjective + y → discovery, jealousy, honesty, modesty
  • adjective + cy → buoyancy, fluency, frequency, efficiency
  • verb + al → approval, denial, survival, proposal
  • adjective/noun + dom → freedom, officialdom, kingdom, stardom

Note that the use of abstract nouns often makes a sentence rather formal:

There is a wide divergence of opinion on this issue. (divergence /daɪˈvɜː(r)dʒ(ə)ns/ is a difference in the way that two or more things develop from the same thing) 

They showed no repentance during their trial. (repentance /rɪˈpentəns/ is the act of showing that you feel ashamed and sorry because you recognize that you have done something wrong)

Even if you use more common nouns, they still sound a little more formal than the verbs they are formed from:

We need to preserve nature. Nature preservation is very important. (the second sentence is a bit more formal)

Note that usually abstract nouns are uncountable (e.g. happiness is what I’m looking for), but not always (e.g. the Committee acknowledges improvements). Whether a noun is countable or uncountable depends on its meaning. Use a dictionary to make sure a noun is countable (e.g. dog), uncountable (e.g. happiness) or variable (e.g. improvement).

You may have noticed that some letters in original words are omitted when a suffix is added. Other transformations are also possible. For example, flexible + ity = flexibility; admit + ance = admittance; close + ure = closure; long + th = length, etc. Make sure to consult a dictionary to make no spelling mistakes.

Some of the most common suffixes to make adjectives are:

  • al → seasonal, natural, accidental, tribal
  • ive → active, native, supportive, passive
  • ous → dangerous, fabulous, nervous, glorious
  • ful → careful, useful, painful, hopeful
  • less → careless, useless, painless, hopeless
  • cal → geographical, biological, surgical, musical
  • ish → childish, British, foolish, reddish
  • ese → Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese, Maltese
  • an/ian → Russian, Palestinian, Ukrainian, Norman
  • able/ible → impossible, incredible, unspeakable, understandable
  • ic → artistic, majestic, fantastic, terrific

Some of the most common suffixes to make verbs are:

  • ate → celebrate, locate, operate, regulate
  • en → sadden, thicken, brighten, darken
  • ify/efy → fortify, exemplify, justify, liquefy
  • ish → accomplish, diminish, embellish, furnish
  • ize/ise → realize, publicize, prioritize, finalize
  • yze/yse → analyze, paralyze, crystallize, utilize
  • er → flatter, shiver, prefer, order


Words which end in –our in British English are usually spelt –or in American English:

Anna was sick of her brother’s behaviour. (Br.E.)

Anna was sick of her brother’s behavior. (Am.E.)

Do me a favour. (Br.E.)

Do me a favor. (Am.E.)

The drink has a very strong flavour of citrus fruit. (Br.E.)

The drink has a very strong flavor of citrus fruit. (Am.E.)

Both –ise (e.g. realise, publicise) and –ize (e.g., realize, publicize) spellings are acceptable in British English, but American English uses only –ize. The same goes for –yse and –yze: analyse (Br.E.) / analyze (Am.E.)

Remember that there is no specific rule which makes it clear which suffix exactly should be used to build a particular word. So, use a dictionary every time you have doubts or don’t know a word. Our post “How to Learn Vocabulary” may give you a couple of fresh ideas for how to memorize words.


For questions 1-11, read the text below. Use the word given in capitals to form a word that fits the space.

Australian Aborigines /ˌæbəˈrɪdʒəniz/ are famous for their (1) ___________ (EXCITE) stories, which are read not from a text but from their (2) ___________ (SURROUND). These (3) ___________ (TRADITION) stories form the body of Aboriginal culture and (4) ___________ (KNOW), which make up their unique worldview. 

The stories, which are often very (5) ___________ (THEATER), are told by pointing out and walking along large tracks of land; it can be said, therefore, that the (6) ___________ (LIFE) of Aborigines are lived out as if in a giant natural storybook. It is also (7) ___________ (BELIEF) that Aboriginal land has a strange way of creating its own (8) ___________ (PERSONAL). 

When they talk about a place of (9) ___________ (IMPORTANT), Aborigines say that the land has a gi that either likes you or makes you feel disturbed and (10) ___________ (COMFORT). In fact, if you sit under a tree, there is a (11) ___________ (POSSIBLE) that it is watching you, listening to you and that it may even talk to you. 

From “First Certificate Practice Tests Plus 2”

Australia is a land of contrasts…

Answer key: 1. exciting 2. surroundings 3. traditions 4. knowledge 5. theatrical 6. lives 7. believed 8. personality 9. importance 10. uncomfortable 11. possibility

Materials used: “Grammar and Vocabulary for First Certificate” by L.Prodromou

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