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Prefixes and suffixes

Prefixes and suffixes are sets of letters that are added to the beginning or end of another word. They are not words in their own right and cannot stand on their own in a sentence: if they are printed on their own they have a hyphen before or after them.


Prefixes are added to the beginning of an existing word in order to create a new word with a different meaning. For example:

word prefix new word
un- unhappy
cultural multi- multicultural
work over- overwork
space cyber- cyberspace
market super- supermarket


Suffixes are added to the end of an existing word. For example:

word suffix new word
child -ish childish
work -er worker
taste -less tasteless
idol -ize/-ise idolize/idolise
like -able likeable

The addition of a suffix often changes a word from one word class to another. In the table above, the verb like becomes the adjective likeable, the noun idol becomes the verb idolize, and the noun child becomes the adjective childish.

Word creation with prefixes and suffixes

Some prefixes and suffixes are part of our living language, in that people regularly use them to create new words for modern products, concepts, or situations. For example:

word prefix or suffix new word
security bio- biosecurity
clutter de- declutter
media multi- multimedia
email -er emailer


Email is an example of a word that was itself formed from a new prefix, e-, which stands for electronic. This modern prefix has formed an ever-growing number of other Internet-related words, including e-book, e-cash, e-commerce, and e-tailer.

You can read more about prefixes and suffixes on the OxfordWords blog. Here you will find guidelines, examples, and tips for using prefixes and suffixes correctly.


Back to grammar

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