Vocabulary helper (prefix and suffix)


A prefix is placed at the beginning of a word to modify or change its meaning. Sometimes, knowing the prefix can help you to understand difficult words.

  • For example, “pro” means favouring or in support of, and when you know this, you also know that words beginning with the prefix “pro” will more likely have a positive than a negative meaning, for example “proactive”, “progressive”.
  • “Pre” means before in time or in place. So then we know that a "precondition" is a condition that must be present before something can occur and a "prefix" comes at the front of a word.
  • “Re” means again. This can help us to understand what "reiterate" or "reappraise" mean.
  • The English language often gives a word negative meaning by putting a few letters in front of a word. For example, you are happy when you win but unhappy when you lose.There are many prefixes that make a word negative, here are some:


dis-         agree/disagree

in-           active/inactive

im-          possible/impossible

ir-            responsible/irresponsible

un-          happy/unhappy

il-             legal/illegal

ab-           normal/abnormal

anti-        climax/anticlimax

mal-        content/malcontent


Make a table. As you work with the textbook write in the adjectives that are negated in this way. Leave room for more prefixes in case you find them. Your table can look like this:
And so on.


A suffix is a group of letters placed at the end of a word to make a new word. A suffix can make a new word in one of two ways.

  • A suffix can change a word from singular to plural (book – books) or from present to past (talk – talked). When we use suffixes in this way they do not change the meaning of the word, the function of the suffix is grammatical.
  • But a suffix can also give a new meaning to a word. For example, in school you have the verb to teach and if we add the suffix “er” we have the noun teacher. Another suffix is “ful”. We can like art (noun) but we can also be artful (and adjective meaning exhibiting skill). We can care for (verb) or provide care (noun) to the sick, but we might also be careful (adjective meaning cautious).

In the language courses in Access to International English we talk about referring to adjectives and adverbs when analyzing texts. These words are often made using suffixes, and this knowledge can help to remind you that the text is using adjectives and adverbs. Here are the most common suffixes:

“al”: incident/incidental
“ary”: imagine/imaginary
“able”: do/doable
“ly”: friend/friendly
“y”: laze/lazy
“ful”: forget/forgetful

“ly”: ready/readily, faithful/faithfully


Suffixes can also turn nouns into verbs:
“ize”: terror/terrorize, final/finalize
“ate”: hyphen/hyphenate

Suffixes that turn verbs into nouns:
“ment”: develop/development
“ation”: realize/realization
“sion”: decide/decision
“er”: teach/teacher
“cian”: music/musician

And suffixes can change the meaning of nouns:
“ess”: prince/princess
“ness”: mad/madness
“al”: arrive/arrival
“ary”: diction/dictionary
“y”: jealous/jealousy

Vocabulary table
As mentioned above, it is a good idea to keep a list of new words you learn. When doing this it is a good idea to also include a sample sentence to see how the word is used.
Word type
Sample sentence
to expose the sham or falseness of
The book debunks many longstanding myths surrounding the historical event.
meager; measly; very little
Nora was struggling to support herself on the paltry wages from her day job, so she began to wait tables at night.
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Sist oppdatert: 15.10.2012

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