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What is an affix? — Affixation: an introduction


Affix — An Introduction

Affixation is the process of adding an affix (either a prefix, infix, or suffix) to a root word (i.e., the root of the adverb “undoubtedly” is “doubt”). In essence, by inserting an affix (either a prefix or a suffix) to the root of a word, we can change the meaning of said word.

  • un = a prefix (negative prefix — to negate words).
  • ed = a suffix (verbal suffix — to make verbs).
  • ly = a suffix (adverbial suffix — to make adverbs).

If you want to be more dynamic, concise, and proficient in English, you need to know how and when to use affixation correctly. By having a solid understanding of affixation, you can alter a word in many ways and change it in many ways too.

Let’s take the root word from above, which is also a noun and a verb: “doubt” and see how many ways in which we can alter this word just by knowing which prefixes and suffixes to apply.

Affix prefixes and suffixes: an example for a root word ‘doubt’

WordAffix (prefix or suffix)New wordExample
Verb:  doubt.I doubt you’ll be able to resolve the problem.
Noun: doubt.There are still many doubts, I’m afraid.
Adjectival suffix: –ful.Doubtful.I’m doubtful about your plans.
Adverbial suffix: –ly.Doubtfully.He worked doubtfully.
Adjectival suffix meaning “without” or “not having”: –less.Doubtless.We’re doubtless because we have no idea.  
Prefix meaning “negation”: –un.Undoubted.I am the undoubted champion of the world.
Prefix meaning “negation”: –un + adverbial suffix: ly.Undoubtedly.Undoubtedly, you were right.  

More on the affix, and more specifically: prefixes and suffixes

So, aside from the fact that “doubt” takes the same form as a noun and a verb, just by knowing the affixes: –ful, –ly, less, –un, and the combination of –un and –ly, we can create five different forms of the word!

Therefore, instead of having to learn five new words, if you know about affixation, you can simply just add affixes to the word to create new words!

Moreover, there are many types of affixes and the same affixes (prefixes and suffixes) can be used for all the words, however, some words take varying affixes i.e., impolite not *unpolite. The prefix to make the adjective negative is im, hence impolite.  

How to use the affix (prefixes and suffixes) correctly

It should also be noted that there’s no rule as to the correct utilisation of affixes. However, generally speaking, if your level of English is of a medium to a high level you will be able to know which is the correct affix due to it just sounding better. For example, what sounds best to you?

Both sion and ­ment are nominal suffixes (suffixes to make nouns), but only the first one is correct, “comprehension.

Moreover, the nominal suffix, ment does, nevertheless, function with many other words to make nouns. I.e., achievement, betterment, appointment, equipment, pigment, anointment, commitment, arrangement and many, many more!

Many affixes (both prefixes and suffixes) can be used to make more than just one type of word.

An affix can make nouns, adjectives, and verbs.  

Examples of a prefix (-super) to create different categories of words

Prefix: super.

Word categoryNew wordExample
NounsuperintendentThe superintendent of our school wants to make some new rules.
AdjectivesupernaturalI don’t believe in supernatural events.
VerbsuperimposeDon’t superimpose me, please.

In the examples above, the prefix, –super is used to create a noun, an adjective, and a verb.

Certainly, the prefix -super can make other words as well. This is advantageous for you, the learner because in the majority of cases, it’s only a question of knowing the correct affix so that you make different word forms without having to think too much.

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