Prefixes and Suffixes

From The Anglish Wiki

The English tongue has many foreign prefixes and suffixes many of which can be easily taken out, since their meanings are already found in native ones. Thus, we can use many of the native prefixes and suffixes for translation. Other native affixes are put here as well for historical interest.

Living prefixes



After- matches Latin post.

  1. postscript - afterword
  2. post-Victorian - after-Victorian


All- matches Latin omni.

  1. omniscient - all-knowing
  2. omnipotent - almighty

The prefix is also found in common words like also, altogether, and already. The word alone is literally all one, keeping the old pronunciation of one, and the all element became unstressed, whence the shortened form lone.


Back- shows that something is situated or done in the back, e.g., backyard, backhand, background. It is also used to betoken the idea of returning, e.g., backtalk, backlash, backscatter.


By- means the same thing as the preposition and the adverb, but it also has the meaning of secondary, e.g., byproduct, byform.


Down- means the same thing as the preposition and the adverb; it mainly shows a lowering in position, be it literal or figurative, e.g., downstream, downturn.


Fore- matches Latin pre and ante. In many cases, the spelling has been mixed up because of the unrelated prefix for-, but it ought to be spelled fore when used with the meaning of before.

  1. predict - foretell
  2. preface - foreword
  3. precede - forego
  4. pre-Victorian - fore-Victorian
  5. anteroom - foreroom


Full- shows fullness and thus pureness, e.g., full-bred, full brother. It can also show completion or emphasis, e.g., full-grown, full-bodied, full-blown.

The only common verb with this prefix is fulfill.


Great- is used in familial terms to betoken a degree of separation, e.g., great-grandfather, great-aunt.


Half- matches Latin semi and demi, and Greek hemi.

  1. demigod - halfgod
  2. semicircle - halfcircle
  3. hemisphere - halftrendle (trendle is an Old English word for sphere)

When used with words for familial relations like brother, the prefix shows that the person mentioned is related only through one parent. Thus, someone who has a half-brother only has one parent in common with him.

Half- also can be used to show incompleteness and thus low quality, e.g., half-baked, half-done.


In-, as one can see, means in, into. Some words with this prefix are insight, input, and ingrown. Note that the prefix in- as in inseparable is from Latin and means something else wholly. There is also a Latin prefix in- that means the same thing as English in, e.g., invade.


Mid- means the middle of or in the middle and can be used to make words such as midway, midseason, and midsection.

Note that in the word midwife, the mid is not from the usual word mid but from the obsolete preposition mid, which denotes association.


Off- means away from. It is found in a few words, e.g., offspring, offshore, offhand.


On- has the same meaning as the preposition and adverb, e.g., onset, oncoming, onslaught.


Out- means out, outwards, and some words with this prefix are outland, outbound, and outcast. It can also mean exceeding, surpassing, e.g., outwit, outdo.


Over- matches Latin super and has the following meanings:

  1. Means above, e.g., overhang, overshadow, oversee.
  2. Shows betterness, e.g., overman (oversetting of German Übermensch).
  3. Shows excess, e.g., overdo, overambitious.
  4. Means utterly, e.g., overjoyed, overawe.


Self- is used to show that something involves itself or the involved agent only, e.g., self-hatred, self-love, self-explanatory.


Under- matches Latin sub.

  1. subordinate - underling
  2. subterranean - underground
  3. subaqueous - underwater
  4. sublingua - undertongue


Up- means the same thing as the preposition and the adverb, and it can be used literally or figuratively, e.g., upriver, upturn, uprising, uphold, upset.


Well- shows goodness in many words, e.g., welfare, well-intentioned, well-being, well-founded. In some words, it appears to be there for emphasis, e.g., well-established, well-nigh. In well-read, the adverbial meaning is used, but the adjectival read in this word is used in the sense of having read a lot, whence educated, and such a meaning is not found when read alone is used.

The word welcome may appear to be made up of well and come, but in truth, the Old English word was wilcuma (will-comer, wherein will expresses desire, and comer means guest). The change of the former element into well came later.



Be- has a wide range of meanings, having come from an unstressed form of the Old English preposition (by). The meanings of be- are:

  1. Means around, all about, e.g., bespatter, bestrew.
  2. Means thoroughly, soundly, essentially used as an intensive, e.g., bedazzle, bewilder, begrudge.
  3. Means off, away, e.g., behead, bereave.
  4. Makes intransitive verbs expressing some kind of prepositional relation transitive, e.g., bemoan, bespeak.
  5. Forms verbs from nouns and adjectives with the meaning of making the object have that quality, e.g., belittle, befoul, befriend, besot, beclown.
  6. Means affected by something, e.g., becloud, befog, bedew, bedevil, bewitch.
  7. Means covered or furnished with something with adjectives ending in ed, e.g., bejewelled, beribboned, bespectacled.


Mis- has a negative meaning to show badness (factual or moral), e.g., misunderstand, misspeak, mistake. Some of the words in truth come from French, the prefix being from Old French mes (e.g., misadventure), but the prefix had the same meaning and almost the same form as mis- and so easily became one with it. Mis- matches Latin mal.

  1. malfunction - miswork(ing)
  2. malpractice - misdoing


Step- is used before words of familial relations to show that the person identified is not a blood relative but someone who has become a family member through marriage, e.g., stepmother, stepbrother. The prefix is from a Germanic word that meant pushed out, whence forsaken, bereft, and has no relation to the word step.


Note that un- used for negation came from Old English un-, whereas un referring to reversal was originally a variant of Old English on- (an unstressed variant of the Old English prefix and-). Because of the strong fellowship between the concepts of negation and reversal, it is no surprise that the two prefixes have more or less become phonetically confused with each other.

un (negation)

Un- matches Latin non and in (as in inaccurate) and Greek a(n) (as in asymmetry), and has the following meanings:

  1. (for nouns and adjectives) shows the lack of a thing or a quality, e.g., unrest, uncertain.
  2. (for nouns) shows bad quality, e.g., unluck, unrede (whence the nickname Æthelred the Unready).
un (reversal)

Un- has the following meanings:

  1. (for verbs) shows reversal, e.g., undo, untie.
  2. (for verbs) shows removal, e.g., unmask, uncage.

Living suffixes


-dom is an ending that shows state and condition. It was once a selfstanding word meaning judgment, but became productive as a suffix in the Old English period. The selfstanding word now lives on as doom (the noun from which deem comes). -dom has the following meanings:

  1. Shows condition or state, e.g., freedom, boredom.
  2. Shows rank or office, e.g., earldom, stardom.
  3. Shows jurisdiction or domain, e.g., kingdom, Christendom.

-dom is used with a few adjectives, e.g., freedom, wisdom (wise-dom), Christendom, halidom (holy-dom).


All three endings were once said fully, so asked was once said as ask-id, and haired as hair-id. Over time, the ending became shortened, whence the ways to say it now are:

  1. If the last consonant is a t or a d, it is outspoken fully, e.g., wanted, ended.
  2. Otherwise, after an unvoiced consonant, it is outspoken as t, e.g., asked (askt), washed (washt).
  3. Otherwise, after a voiced consonant, it is outspoken as d, e.g., wronged (wrongd), learned (learnd).

Formerly, these forms were written phonetically or shown with -'d, e.g., stept for stepped, kill'd for killed. For forms in which the vowel is shortened, the phonetic spelling is generally used, e.g., wept, crept, kept (but meant, leapt, and dreamt do not follow this convention). Sometimes, in poetry or modern editions thereof, for forms spoken in the old way, the full outspeech is betokened by a grave accent, e.g., lovèd. touchèd.

There are irregular forms that use -t where -d is expected, e.g., smelt, dwelt, burnt, spoilt, learnt. These are far commoner in British English than in American English.

ed (past tense)

-ed is the past tense suffix for regular verbs. In Old English, it was -de/te, which distinguished it from the past participle suffix, -ed/od; when the last e was dropped, the two became formally indistinguishable.

ed (past participle)

-ed is the past participle suffix for regular verbs. It is found in adjectives formed from past participles, e.g., bored, confused. In some of these adjectives, the ending is fully pronounced, e.g., beloved, learned (as in learned society). Some adjectives that are not truly past participles but now look like such are pronounced likewise, e.g., naked, wretched, wicked.

In derivatives formed with the adverbial ending -ly or the nominal ending -ness, the full ending is often pronounced, e.g., allegedly, fixedly, composedness, markedness.

ed (adjective)

-ed is put at the end of nouns to make adjectives that show the having of what the noun denotes, e.g., horned, brown-haired, talented.


en (past participle)

-en is the past participle ending for a few but important irregular verbs, e.g., be - been, speak - spoken, eat - eaten. There are a few verbs that once had this ending, but whatever the reason may be, the old past participle forms are no longer used, e.g., come - comen, hold - holden, sing - sungen. See here for more about verbs whose past participle ends with -en.

Some obsolete past participle forms have become adjectives that keep their verbs' meaning, e.g., drunken, sunken, shrunken. A few past participle adjectives have meanings that differ from those of their verbs, e.g., beholden, sodden (originally the past participle of seethe, which meant boil).

en (adjective)

-en is an adjectival ending with two meanings:

  1. To be made up of
  2. To pertain to

Examples are golden, wooden, ashen, brazen, and elven. Though there is a tendency now to drop the ending, it is still often used, be it in its literal or its figurative meaning.

en (verb)

-en is a verbal ending that can be put at the end of adjectives or nouns. Roughly, the meaning is to make something have a certain quality, e.g., whiten means to make something white, strengthen means to give something strength. It can be used to translate Latin -ify and Greek -ize.


er (comparison)

-er is the comparative suffix for adjectives and adverbs, e.g., high - higher, great - greater, early - earlier. Unlike Dutch and German, the comparative ending is generally used for one-syllable words and a few two-syllable ones only; many adjectives and adverbs generally use the more form instead, e.g., more ridiculous, more ancient. In the English tongue's older stages, there was no such limitation.

er (agent)

-er is the standard agent suffix used for words showing a deed's doer, e.g., reader, farmer.

It is also used to show association with a group or a certain quality, e.g., New Yorker, Icelander, foreigner, northerner. This Germanic suffix may have a connection with the Latin -ārius, though the relationship is uncertain. Even with the possible Latin connection, however, it has no connection to the homophonous suffix or (as in survivor and activator), which comes from Latin.

The suffix once had a feminine equivalent in -ster, but over time, -ster lost its feminine meaning (see -ster below for more).


A suffix that appears only in words for directions, i.e., northern, southern, western, eastern.


The superlative suffix for adjectives and adverbs, e.g., high - highest, soon - soonest. The same tendencies for the -er suffix apply for this one as well; that is, many adjectives and adverbs generally use the most form instead, e.g., most enjoyable, most troublesome.


An adjectival and adverbial suffix that is used with numbers to show multiplication. For example, twofold betokens that the amount is now twice as much, so a twofold rise means that the amount has been doubled.

The suffix also shows a certain number of parts. For example, in my reasoning is twofold, it means that the reasoning comes in two parts.


An adjectival suffix that shows that something is "full" of a certain quality, e.g., sorrowful, shameful. It is also used with verbs to show tendency, e.g., forgetful, watchful.

When used with some nouns, it may have a secondary meaning of showing amount, and the resulting word is a noun, e.g., handful, bucketful.


-hood is another ending that shows state. It was once a selfstanding word, and in Old English, it meant condition among a bunch of other meanings. The selfstanding word, however, has died out and would have become hode under normal sound changes. -hood has the following meanings:

  1. Shows status, e.g., childhood, parenthood.
  2. Shows a group or collection, e.g., brotherhood, monkhood.
  3. Shows other concrete meanings, e.g., neighborhood, manhood meaning penis.

The suffix is generally added to nouns, but in some cases, it is gotten from adjectives, e.g., falsehood, likelihood, hardihood. Note that the word livelihood appears to be of this formation, but it is truly an alteration of the obsolete word lifelode (literally course of life and later meant means of keeping alive). The word's form was changed from association with lively and -hood.

In Middle English was the suffix -head, which seems to be an umlauted variant of -hood (see here for more about umlaut). But unlike -head, -hood is well attested in Old English, and -head begins to be clearly attested only in Middle English (Old English evidence therefor is shaky).

It appears that originally, -head was used with adjectives, as opposed to -hood, which was mainly used with nouns instead. However, the distinction between the two was later blurred. Words with the -head suffix included lustihead and sainthead. This variant and its many words became obsolete, as the suffix was replaced with -hood (which in turn was generally substituted with -ness in derivatives from adjectives), and the only survivors are godhead (mostly replaced with godhood, though still used in some religious contexts with a specific meaning) and maidenhead (now an archaic variant of maidenhood, though sometimes used to refer to the hymen).


Note that a nonstandard pronunciation of this is written as -in', as if the g had been dropped (but phonetically speaking, there is no g in ing). This pronunciation is used oftener for present participles than for verbal nouns.

The -in' pronunciation has been for some time, even if the spelling has not always reflected it; in a few classical rhymes, -ing is shown to have been pronounced as -in'. However, some texts from 18th-century writers in regard to pronunciation suggest that the -ing pronunciation was used as well. Gradually, -in' lost its prestige (mainly because of the middle class), and it soon became a marker of lower-class and (paradoxically enough) upper-class speech (but now, -in' is deemed colloquial at best).

ing (present participle)

-ing is the present participle ending. Like the past participle, the present participle is the root of a few adjectives, e.g., exciting, interesting, charming.

Originally, it was the ending for the verbal noun, e.g., a small building. In Old English, the present participle ending was instead -ende, and if this form had lived on regularly, it would have simply become -end (which would match Dutch and German -end). For instance, swimmend would be the present participle of swim, and swimming the verbal noun.

  1. There are fish swimmend in the water.
  2. The knight's earnest asking shall be fulfilled.

In other words, originally in Old English, -ende had an adjectival function, and -ing a nominal function.

This ending was replaced at some point by -ing in Middle English, perhaps because of phonological confusion between -ing and -inde, the Southern variant of this ending. However, the Northern variant, -and (which variant is said to have been an alteration of -ende by analogy with the OE infinitive ending -an and was reinforced later by the Old Norse present participle ending), lasted longer; Elizabethan poets and playwrights such as Edmund Spenser and Ben Jonson sometimes used -and whenever they wanted to sound rustic or archaic, e.g., glitterand, stinkand. Also, in Middle English, because of confusion or conflation with the French present participle ending -ant, the -and form was found as an alteration of a few French words with that suffix, e.g., rampand instead of rampant.

ing (verbal noun)

-ing is the ending for the verbal noun, e.g., a good painting, a grisly killing. The verbal noun betokens a few different concepts:

  1. An instance of a deed, e.g., The fighting must stop.
  2. Material related to a certain thing or deed, e.g., I need more piping.
  3. Something that does a certain deed, e.g., Let me get you a covering.
  4. The result of a deed, e.g., That is a very dear painting.

Note that in phrases like go fishing and go hunting, the -ing words are not present participles but verbal nouns. Historically, these phrases were truly go a-fishing and go a-hunting, where the a- is a reduced form of the preposition on (meaning in); therefore, go a-fishing means go in fishing. The a- was later dropped, which makes the verbal noun look as if it were truly a present participle instead.

In archaic phrases like the house is building, in which passivity is expressed, it looks as if the -ing word were an active present participle used in a passive sense. This, however, is truly a reduction from the original phrase the house is a-building, in which the a- was later dropped.

Remarkably, the verbal noun is used as a gerund, e.g., I enjoy writing letters, Not doing anything is not an option, in which the verbal noun is essentially equivalent to the infinitive in meaning, but not necessarily in syntactical use. The gerund was not in Old English and early Middle English; it arose around the latter half of the Middle English period.


-ish can be used to translate Latin -ian, -ic, and -ese. For example:

  1. Icelandic - Icelandish (compare it with outlandish)
  2. Arabic - Arabish
  3. Egyptian - Egyptish
  4. Japanese - Japannish
  5. gigantic - ettinish (ettin is an Old English word for giant)

This works for the adjective only. To overset Egyptian in its noun meaning (when the word talks about men), however, we can say Egyptishman, as we do for English and Irish.

In other derivatives, the suffix is used for characterization, sometimes with a depreciative sense, e.g., boyish, impish, bookish, childish, churlish,

In colloquial speech, -ish is also used to show approximation, e.g., yellowish, grayish, sixish, tennish.


An adjectival suffix that shows the lack of something, e.g., penniless, shameless. Notwithstanding what the form may suggest, it has nothing to do with the adjective and the adverb less. Instead, it is gotten from an Old English adjective that had the meaning of devoid of; the adjective itself became lease, which is now obsolete and has only the meaning of untrue, false, lying.

The suffix is generally added to nouns, but occasionally, it is added to verbs to show the lack of potential to do the verb's action, e.g., fathomless, tireless, dauntless, reckless (reck is a verb meaning pay heed to).


A suffix that has the same meaning as its base word; that is, it shows resemblance and similarity to something and thus can be used to show suitability. For example, a childlike voice means that the voice is like a child's voice, and ladylike behavior refers to behavior befitting a lady. This can be used to make adjectives and adverbs, e.g., knightlike speech, to sit Buddha-like.

Often, there is overlap in meaning with the suffix -ly, to which -like is etymologically connected.


A diminutive suffix. Originally, it was simply a nominal suffix and did not necessarily show diminutiveness. In deathling, it means mortal, and in darling, it means someone who is dear. The suffix might have some diminutive force, as seen in starling, which is gotten from the Old English word stær (not star, from Old English steorra), but only later on did its diminutive meaning become its main one (which rise is generally thought to be of Old Norse influence).


Both -ly endings are gotten from a Proto-Germanic word that meant body (and thus betokened likeness and thence manner). The word today in English is lich, which means dead body, corpse. In Old English, the adjectival -ly was -līċ, and the adverbial -ly was -līċe, the lone e at the end being an adverbial ending. However, by Shakespeare's time, the two had become alike in form.

This suffix is also akin to -like, and words formed with this suffix often overlap in meaning with words formed with -like.

ly (adjective)

An adjectival ending to show that the adjective has qualities that the noun to which it is added has, e.g., kingly, brotherly. It is also used to show quantity of time, e.g., daily, yearly.

There are some formations made from adjectives, and often, the formations have a different meaning or connotation, e.g., sickly (habitually sick), lowly (low in status), cleanly (habitually clean), only (which refers to exclusivity as opposed to one), lonely (which is emotional in meaning, unlike lone).

ly (adverb)

The ending generally used to form adverbs from adjectives, e.g., happy - happily, quick - quickly. For -ly adjectives showing quantity of time, the adverbial form is the same, e.g., daily is both an adjective and an adverb. When attached to ordinal numbers, the suffix shows serial position, e.g., firstly, secondly.

Formerly, this suffix was often used with adjectives ending with -ly, e.g., lovely - lovelily, godly - godlily, friendly - friendlily. However, nowadays, these forms are thought to be awkward and so are seldom used. The bare forms are occasionally used for the adverbial form (e.g., he spoke friendly), but this too is felt to be awkward. The commonest way now is to use such phrasing as in a lovely way instead.


-ness is the usual ending used with adjectives to form nouns expressing state or condition; other endings like -dom, -hood, and -ship formerly had this function as well, but they are now seldom used thus.

The ending is generally applied to adjectives, but in some cases, it is applied to nouns, e.g., nothingness, wilderness (wherein wilder comes from wild deer meaning wild animal). The attachment of this ending to words of not only adjectives but also other parts of speech is occasionally done to express the word's nature, e.g., thatness, whenness.

Generally, -ness refers to quality and has an abstract meaning, but in some cases, it has concrete reference, e.g., wilderness, fastness (a fortified place), likeness (a portrait).


s (third-person singular)

-s is the third-person singular present indicative suffix. It is from OE -es and was used only in the Northumbrian dialect; the West Saxon ending was -aþ, which later became -eth. Etymologically, this was originally the second-person singular suffix; in the other dialects, the ending became -est as it was often used before thou and thus the initial consonant of thou was transferred to the ending (and th after s naturally becomes t). Meanwhile, in the Northumbrian dialect, -es came to be used not only for the second-person singular but also for the third-person singular and all persons of the plural.

How this ending came to be extended to the third-person singular is still highly contested, but it is often said that it is modeled on Norse conjugation. For Norse verbs, the second-person singular and the third-person singular present indicative share the same inflections, and so the extension of -es may have been due to structural borrowing. In other words, the suffix itself is native, but its use for the third-person singular may have been due to Norse influence.

Sometime in Early New English, -s began to spread from the north to the south and soon was used alongside -eth; often, the difference between the two had something to do with poetic meter or formality. Eventually, -s replaced -eth fully.

s (plural)

-s is the plural ending for nouns, though there are a few exceptions, e.g., oxen, mice. It was originally only one of the sundry plural endings in Old English, as it belonged to the strong declension of masculine nouns. Over time, however, it became used for nouns in general and so replaced -en in many nouns wherein the -en plural is the older form.

s (genitive)

-s is the genitive case ending for all nouns and is now written as 's. Originally, however, not all nouns had -s as their genitive ending, as in Old English, the suffix was used for the masculine and the neuter singular in the strong declension. Hence, feminine nouns did not use this ending. For example, lady had over time lost its distinct genitive ending because of sound changes and so had a genitive form that looked the same as the nominative. Though the genitive singular is now lady's, the old genitive form is preserved in Lady Day (literally lady's day). A few other words in which the old genitive is preserved are Monday (moon's day) and Sunday (sun's day).

In a few words, this ending appears as a connecting element, e.g., huntsman, craftsman, monkshood.

There are a few but important adverbs that have the genitive ending, e.g., always, once, besides, hence, afterwards. This is the adverbial genitive, but it is not so obvious to speakers nowadays that these are genitives.

In the sentence I work days and nights, days and nights may seem like plural forms used as adverbial accusatives, but historically speaking, they are in truth adverbial genitives. Interestingly enough, nights (Old English nihtes) was not even the true genitive of night (the Old English genitive was instead nihte); in truth, it was an adverb formed by analogy with the adverb days (Old English dæges, which was truly the genitive of dæg). This analogical formation is found in German as well, i.e., the adverb is nachts, even though the genitive of Nacht is Nacht.

In some words like against and amidst, the s is the adverbial genitive ending, but the t is a needless addition.


-ship is another ending that shows state. It is akin to the word shape and has the following meanings:

  1. Shows condition, e.g., friendship.
  2. Shows rank or office, e.g., ambassadorship, kingship.
  3. Shows a group, e.g., membership, readership.

The suffix is generally added to nouns, but it is attached to adjectives in hardship and worship (truly worth-ship).


some (characterization)

A suffix that shows that something is characterized by a certain thing or quality. For example, burdensome means leading to burden and thus difficult, taxing. And wholesome means productive of wholeness (that is, good health and soundness). It can be used to replace the foreign ending -ous.

some (group)

A suffix that betokens a group of a certain number, e.g., twosome means group of two, duo, pair. It is truly the same word as the adjective and pronoun some; in Old English, some was often used after a genitive plural, e.g., sixa sum means one of six. However, as the genitive plural's inflections became lost, the true meaning of some became lost as well, so the word was seen as a suffix instead.

The suffix is handy to replace foreign words referring to groups. For example, threesome can be used for trio, triad.


A suffix that nowadays shows association, often with a derogatory connotation, e.g., youngster, gangster.

Historically, it was the feminine equivalent of -er. For example, in Old English, the feminine of bæcere (baker) was bæcestre (which later became the surname Baxter). Other words include songster, brewster, and webster. Not long after the Old English period, however, -ster soon began to lose its feminine meaning, and soon, words ending in -ster came to be used for men as well.

The only remnant of the original meaning is the word spinster, which is used only for women, but no longer means she who spins; the meaning of unwed woman came from the historical fact that unwed women often spun thread for their livelihoods.

Interestingly, Dutch still uses -ster in its feminine meaning, but German has lost it wholly; to translate she who leads, Dutch uses leidster, but German uses Leiterin (see -en (feminine) below for more).


The suffix found in the cardinal numbers from thirteen to nineteen. This was originally an inflected form of ten, as thirteen was originally thought to be "three and ten", a remnant of the Germanic way of forming numbers greater than twelve and less than one hundred, e.g., five and twenty as an old-fashioned way of saying twenty-five (which is of French influence).


The suffix for ordinal numbers that are greater than three, e.g., fourth, fifth. Of course, numbers that have one, two, or three in their name use their ordinal forms instead, e.g., twenty-first, fifty-second, eighty-third. The suffix is also used for the number zero (i.e., zeroth). As it is the default suffix for ordinal numbers, it is also often used in mathematics for variables, e.g., nth.

With numbers ending in y such as twenty and fifty, the suffix becomes -eth; thus, the ordinal versions thereof are twentieth and fiftieth.


The suffix found in multiples of ten from twenty to ninety. The -ty comes from a Germanic word that meant group of ten, so twenty means two groups of ten. The suffix was also extended to the numbers ten, eleven, and twelve, as seen in the Old English words hundtēontig (100), hundendlefontig (110), and hundtwelftig (120). If they had survived, they might have become tenty, eleventy, and twelfty; the second was used in J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy.


A suffix that specifies direction, e.g., forward (more accurately spelled foreward), backward. It has two forms: -ward and -wards.

The difference between the two is only etymological: originally, in Old English, -ward simply formed adjectives, whereas -wards was the genitive form. Because the genitive could be used to form adverbs, -wards was the adverbial of adjectives ending in -ward. Of course, even early on, words ending in -ward could be used as adverbial accusatives as well. There are still a few tendencies that separate the two forms, however:

  1. Nouns do not use -wards, e.g., to the northward.
  2. Adjectives do not end in -wards, e.g., a backward land.

In other words, the two forms are fully interchangeable for adverbs, but apparently, in British English, adverbs tend to use -wards only.


A suffix that shows direction or manner, e.g., clockwise, stepwise. It comes from the old noun wise, which means way, manner. In informal speech, it is common to use -wise to mean with regard to, e.g., weather-wise, things look rather good.


A suffix that has roughly the same meaning as the base word. The notion of worthiness has two applications:

  1. Safety, e.g., seaworthy, roadworthy.
  2. Deservingness, e.g., newsworthy, trustworthy.


A suffix that shows quality or tendency, e.g., healthy, cloudy, sticky. Note that this is an adjectival suffix; it has nothing to do with the nominal suffix -y in honesty and modesty, in which words the -y is from Latin -ia.

The suffix has sometimes been added to words that were originally adjectives, perhaps because they were no longer thought to be such, e.g., ready, dusky, slippery.

Dead prefixes



At- is an obsolete prefix that denoted at, to, and from, which meanings the preposition showed in Old English. It is now found only in atone, which is truly a combination of at and one (meaning be at one and thus be in agreement; the meaning of making reparations is of a later development).

Moreover, the word twit was originally a shortened form of the Middle English verb atwiten (from Old English ætwītan, meaning reproach, upbraid; the verb to which it was attached was wītan, meaning blame).

The word ado is from the phrase at do, which was, in Middle English, the Northern variant of the infinitive phrase to do; the use of at as a sign of the infinitive was due to Scandinavian influence.


Forth- has the same meaning as the adverb and thus expresses the idea of going forwards. It is found in a few words like forthcoming and forthright.


Hind- has the same meaning as the adjective and thus means behind. It is found in a few words like hindsight and hindquarters.


To- is the same as the preposition to, which also meant at in Old English. Hence, today, tonight, and tomorrow truly mean on this day, on this night, and on the morrow, respectively. It is also found in together and heretofore, wherein the tofore means in front of (whence the meaning of before).

In the word to-do, the to is the sign of the infinitive, which was originally the preposition to.


Through- means the same thing as the preposition. Originally, there were many compounds formed with this prefix, but very few compounds are now used in English. Examples are throughout and throughfall.

The preposition and the prefix had two distinct forms: through and thorough (which one can see has a specialized meaning of through in that it refers to the quality of going through something in detail). These forms were interchangeable, so words like thoroughfare and thoroughbred can be found as well. Nowadays, if any words with this prefix are made at all, the through form is used, e.g., through-arch, throughfall.


With- is a prefix that means against or away, as the preposition with originally denoted opposition (the preposition for association and instrumentality was mid, as in midwife). Thus, withhold roughly means hold away and thus refuse to give away, and withstand means stand against.



a (in)

A- is an unstressed form of Old English an. It means on, in, to and thus is found in a few adverbs denoted state or manner, e.g., aside, asleep, afire, aloud. It is occasionally found in words like a-hunting and a-fishing, wherein the -ing is the suffix for the verbal noun.

a (of)

A- is from an unstressed form of Old English of (which itself was an unstressed variant of off). It means of, e.g., anew, athirst, afresh.

a (perfective)

A- is a reduced form of the prefix ge-, which was commonly used to show completion and thus was used for past participles (see y- below for more). It is found in words like aware, alike, and ago (formerly agone), in which words all meaning of the prefix is now lost.

a (motion)

A- is from Old English ā-, and it was originally an unstressed form of the prefix or- (which originally meant out, see below). It betokened motion from a position, and later on, because the derivative words and their root words had roughly the same meaning, the prefix was then thought to show a vague level of intensity, or thought to be simply a stylistic variant, e.g., arise, awake, amaze.


Afore- is a prefix from the obsolete word afore, which means before, and thus the prefix means previously. It is found only in some words like aforesaid and malice aforethought.


Alder- was a prefix that meant of all and was attached to superlatives to essentially mean very, e.g., alderbest literally means best of all and thus very best. It is etymologically the plural genitive of all; its original form was aller, the -er being an obsolete inflectional suffix (see -er (genitive plural) below), and the d is intrusive. By Shakespeare's time, the prefix had become obsolete and lived on in a few words such as alderliefest (very beloved). Other Germanic tongues use their cognates of the prefix likewise, e.g., German allerliebst.


An- was a prefix that originally showed opposition and response. In Old English, it had two forms: stressed and- and unstressed ond-. Hence, nouns, adjectives, and verbs gotten thence used the former form. Verbs that used the latter generally lost the last consonant of the prefix and became an- or on-, e.g., onfōn. Over time, however, both variants were reduced to one unstressed form, an-. In many later cases, the ending was further reduced to a-.

The only word with the historically stressed form is answer (both the noun and the verb). The reduced form is found in along (Old English andlang). In the word dread, the d seems to be from the original ending; the original word in Old English was ondrǣdan, which was later reduced to adreden in Middle English. The prefix was then later dropped, whence the modern form.

The prefix also had un- as a variant, whence we get the prefix un- showing reversal (see the second un- entry above).


For- is a prefix that is found in a few common English words, but it is no longer productive, and the exact meaning is no longer remembered. As a verbal prefix, it has the following meanings:

  1. That an action is done with an adverse effect, e.g., forbid, forsake, forgo.
  2. Intensity or completion of the action, e.g., forgive.

When used with adjectives, it has an intensive force and thus means very, e.g., the dialectal word fornigh (very nigh), the Old English word fōrmaneg (very many).

Note that in the word forsooth, the for is not this prefix but the ordinary preposition for, which is not used as a prefix.

The prefix is often mixed up in spelling with the prefix fore-.


Gain- is an archaic prefix that means against and can be used to mean Latin counter, contra and Greek anti. Note that though the prefix is native, the form has been influenced by Old Norse, since it would have normally become yen-.

The only word with this prefix now is gainsay, which is literally say against.


Or- is an obsolete prefix that originally meant out and later on came to mean without. It is akin to German ur-, which is used to mean proto-, so or- can be used likewise. The prefix is now found only in the word ordeal (that is, that which is dealt out by the gods, and thus judgment, and the word was used for trials of physical test in Old English, whence the current meaning of painful experience).


Sam- was a prefix that meant half and was used generally with adjectives; a noun formed with this suffix is the Old English word sāmbryce (sam-breach, a partial breach), and a verb formed herewith is sāmwyrcan (sam-work, to do something incompletely).

An obscure word with this prefix is samsodden (half-cooked, whence the meaning of stupid). The word sandblind appears to be a corruption of samblind that came from the idea that sand hinders one's eyesight. The prefix is also the first half of Samwise, the name of a character of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings.


Sen- means ever, everlasting and thus often had an intensive or figurative application, e.g., Old English sinceald (ever so cold), seonuwealt (an adjective that refers to always having the potential of being rolled, whence the meaning of round). The only word that still has this prefix is sengreen (the common houseleek, literally evergreen).


To- is an obsolete prefix that betokened separation or intensive force. By Early New English, the prefix had died out, but was preserved in the verb tobreak, as seen in the King James Bible passage "And a certain woman cast a piece of a millstone upon Abimelech's head, and all tobrake his skull." (Judges 9:53). Note that all in the passage is adverbial, and the to is not the same as the preposition and the infinitive sign to.


Twi- is a prefix that means two and can be used to overset Latin bi, duo and Greek duo. The suffix now little known, the most well-known word in which this prefix lives is twilight, though the application of twi- here is unclear. A word in which the meaning of twi- is apparent is twibill, which refers to an ax with two blades.

The prefix for three was, in Old English, þri-, though it does not appear to have survived; the thri in the obscure word thrifallow (to plow for the third time in summer) is likely from thrice or a formation based on the obsolete verb twifallow.


Wan- was a prefix that showed a lack of something. Old words with this prefix include wanhope (despair), wantrust (mistrust), and wanspeed (misfortune). The only word in which wan- has survived is wanton, wherein ton is truly the past participle of an obsolete verb.


Y- was a prefix that showed completion or association. Thus, in the form of ge-, it was very productive in Old English and because of its use to show completion, it was often used for past participles; Dutch and German still have this as ge-. Sometime in the Middle English period, however, it became y- and step by step was dropped; by Shakespeare's time, it had become an archaism, and Edmund Spenser, one well-known writer of his time, used it often by putting it before past participles, e.g., ythundered, yclad.

The only remnant of its use with past participles is yclept (e.g., I am yclept Alfred, that is, I am called Alfred). Yclept is the past participle of the obsolete verb clepe (call). Moreover, ge- took on a few other forms, and they are hidden in such words as aware, handiwork, and enough.

Dead suffixes


-and was a variant of the old present participle -ende. See ing (present participle) for more on its history.


en (plural noun)

-en was an old noun ending. In Old English, it was used much oftener, as it is the plural nominative form used in the weak declension, e.g., nama - naman (name), tunge - tungan (tongue). In Middle English, the ending still remained, but its use became more due to dialectal preferences rather than any cleaving to the old paradigm. In the Southern dialects, -en was the main plural ending, but eventually, -s won out as the standard plural ending. Now, there are only three words with this plural ending:

  1. oxen - the only true remnant.
  2. children - the old plural of child was once childer, but when -er was no longer seen as a plural ending, the -en ending was added to it so as to make it plural.
  3. brethren - the plural of brother had sundry forms in Middle English. One form was brether, which was seldom used in Old English and appears to have been formed by analogy with OE nouns with an umlauted form of the dative singular. The -en ending was later added to brether, and the standard plurals ultimately became brothers and brethren, the latter being used only figuratively nowadays. Incidentally, sistren, a plural form for sister, was formed by analogy with brethren, but is now archaic or dialectal (though perhaps occasionally used alongside brethren in its figurative uses).

In archaic speech, there were a few other nouns that had this ending, whether or not the ending were truly from the Old English plural nominative form. A few examples are:

  1. kine - plural of cow. The Old English form was , and kine was formed from the umlaut plural along with the plural ending, so like brethren, the word is a double plural.
  2. eyne - plural of eye. The Old English form was ēagan, so eyne is the older form.
  3. hosen - plural of hose (as in the article of clothing). The Old English form was hosan, so hosen is the older form.
  4. housen - plural of house. The Old English form was hūs (in other words, the singular and the plural had the same form in the nominative), so houses and housen are both innovations.
  5. shoon - plural of shoe. The Old English form was scōs, so shoes is truly the older form.

In Old English, there were a few neuter nouns that formed their plurals not only with the strong declension neuter plural ending -u but also with an r, and to this class belonged child, i.e., the plural nominative of Old English cild was cildru. In Middle English, the ending became -er, and the suffix was then combined with -en after the original ending was no longer felt to be plural. These double plurals are:

  1. eyren - plural of ey, the native word for egg (which is from Old Norse). The original plural was eyre.
  2. lambren - plural of lamb. The original plural was lamber.
  3. calveren - plural of calf. The original plural was calver.

en (feminine)

-en was the inlandish equivalent of ess. It is now found only in vixen, the feminine of fox. The change in vowel resulted from umlaut (see more here), and the voicing of the first consonant was a characteristic of one of the Middle English dialects. The change in vowel can be found in its German equivalent, Füchsin, the feminine of Fuchs. One archaic word with this ending is minchen (the feminine of monk and thus meaning nun).

The following words can now be overset thus:

  1. goddess - gidden (from Old English gyden; the vowel change was due to the addition of the ending in Proto-Germanic, as seen in the related adjective giddy, and the regularized version would be godden)
  2. lioness - lionen
  3. shepherdess - shepherden
  4. heroine - helethen (heleth is an archaic word meaning hero and is cognate to German Held, feminine Heldin).

There happened to be another feminine suffix: -ster, which was essentially the feminine equivalent of -er. See -ster above for more.

en (diminutive)

-en is a diminutive suffix, though it is no longer felt as such. It is found in the word maiden, which is the dimunitive of the Old English word mægþ (woman), which would now be maith.

The word chicken apparently has this suffix, but the exact etymology is uncertain.

The word kitten appears to be a diminutive from French and not a native diminutive of cat.

en (infinitive)

-en was an old ending for the infinitive, e.g., the old infinitive of love was loven. This ending can be found in Dutch and German.

In Old English, the infinitive ending was -an, and its dative form was enne, e.g., cuman, tō cumenne (come). In Middle English, both endings had been reduced into one -en. Sometimes, the n was dropped, which yielded e as the infinitive ending. Therefore, when final e was dropped, the infinitive ending was lost wholly, and the preposition to became the lone sign of the infinitive and became meaningless in most of its uses. Edmund Spenser, a poet of Shakespeare's day, often used the old infinitive ending to sound archaic or rustic.

en (plural verb)

-en was an old verb ending to show that the subject was plural in the present or the past tense, e.g., we loven, ye showen, they camen. This ending is used likewise in Dutch and German (though in the latter, there is a special ending for the second-person plural).

In Old English, it was only in the plural past, but in Middle English, it had become used for the present as well. The ending sometimes lost the n, which yielded an ending identical to that for the first-person singular. Therefore, when final e was dropped, the ending was lost wholly. In Shakespeare's day, the well-known poet Edmund Spenser often used en in his works so as to sound archaic or rustic.

en (accusative)

-en was the old accusative masculine singular ending for adjectives in the weak declension. It disappeared in Middle English as part of the breakdown of the adjective's inflectional system, but it is preserved in the obsolete words halfendeal, thirdendeal, and farthingdeal (in which farthen was changed by association with farthing). Of course, by the time those words died out, all meaning of the suffix had already become lost.


An agent suffix -end that came from the original present participle ending (see -ing for more information). For instance, Old English berend meant bearer, and helpend meant helper. This suffix was very productive in Old English, but it was replaced with -er later on. Now, it is only found in friend (from the present participle of free, which had the meaning of love) and fiend (from the present participle of the Old English verb fēogan, which meant hate).


er (frequentative)

-er is a suffix found in a few frequentative verbs, e.g., wander (from wend), flicker, quaver, swelter.

er (genitive plural)

-er was formerly the genitive plural suffix for adjectives. It is preserved only in the obsolete prefix alder-, an alteration of aller, the genitive plural of all (see alder- above).

The Childer in Childermas is also historically a genitive plural, but it is not an example of this suffix, as it is simply a phonetic development of a genitive plural form of Old English cild (child). The genitive plural suffix for nouns was not ra but a, and it was attached to the plural form cildru, which yielded cildra.


-est is the second-person singular verb ending. For instance, the second-person singular present indicative of go is goest. Interestingly, the t in the ending came from thou; by the Old English period, the pronoun had been so often put after the verb that part of it naturally became a part of the verb ending.

In Old English, strong verbs did not use this ending for the past tense, e.g., singest, sunge, sincest, sunke. Weak verbs, on the other hand, had -est, e.g., fremedest, lufodest. In Middle English, this generally stayed the same way, but by the Early New English period, by strong fellowship of thou with -est, the ending became attached to the past tense of any verb, whether it were strong or weak, e.g., camest, knewest, lovedst.

See here on more information on the second-person singular's verbal inflections.


-et is an obsolete ending used for making nouns from verbs, adjectives, and other nouns. This suffix was in a few Old English words, but the only remnant is thicket, which is gotten from the adjective thick.

Note that this has nothing to do with the -et ending as in hatchet, as the ending has diminutive meaning and comes from French.


-eth is an archaic verb ending for the third-person singular present indicative. It works exactly like the current ending -s, e.g., he hath, he doth, he goeth, he loveth, he showeth.

In Old English, it often had the same form as the plural ending, wherefore the simplifying of inflections in the transition to Middle English left the two endings to be the same. In the Southern dialect, which was among the more traditional Middle English dialects, -eth was used as both the third-person singular present and the plural present of all persons. Meanwhile, in the East Midlands dialect, it was restricted to the third-person singular only.

By the Early New English period, in the standard dialect (which was mainly based upon the East Midlands dialect), -eth became used for the third-person singular only, as seen in the King James Bible, one of the most well known Early New English works.


-ing is an ending that shows that something belongs to a certain group or has a certain quality. For example, a sweeting (meaning sweet apple) has the quality of sweetness, and a gelding obviously has the quality of being gelded.

It can also be found in patronymic words. For example, the historical word atheling refers to the son of an athel (noble), and the surname Browning originally referred to a man who is the son of a man named Brown.


Note that for this suffix, it is spelled -el after ch, soft g, n, r, sh, th, and v. After m, it becomes -ble, e.g., nimble.

le (frequentative)

-le is found in a few frequentative verbs, e.g., nestle, twinkle, wrestle, bobble, scuttle.

le (adjective)

-le is an adjectival suffix added to verbs to make words that show tendency and inclination, e.g., nimble (from the archaic verb nim, meaning take), brittle (from the archaic verb brit, meaning break).

le (instrument)

-le is added to verbs to make words with an agentive or instrumental meaning, e.g., bridle, handle, thimble, shovel, beadle. In some words like riddle (as in puzzle) and burial, they originally had the unrelated ending -els; at some point later, the s was confused for a plural ending, so the ending was changed into -le.

le (diminutive)

-le is found in a few diminutive words formed from nouns, e.g., bramble, runnel. Note that there are a few diminutives that have this ending, but come from Old French instead, e.g., bottle, chapel.


-ledge is an ending used to make verbs from nouns and adjectives. Etymologically, it is apparently akin to the -lock suffix, which was used to make nouns showing deed, practice, or state. The only word that shows this suffix now is acknowledge (a combination of two obsolete verbs, acknow and knowledge, which looks to be etymologically distinct from the noun knowledge).


-ling is an obsolete adverbial ending that showed manner, direction, or position. A variant of -ling is -lings, wherein the s is simply the genitive ending in its adverbial use. The ending lives on in a few words, albeit hidden:

  1. In headlong and sidelong, the -ling has been changed into long by association with other words ending with long.
  2. The verbs grovel, sidle, and darkle come from misunderstanding the -ling forms as present participles ending in -ing. That is, speakers thought that groveling was the present participle of the verb grovel, when there was no such verb back then.

In a few British dialects, there are still a few words with the true ending, e.g., arseling, flatling.


-lock was an old ending that denoted deed, practice, or state and was used with nouns and verbs. The suffix was gotten from a word that meant gift, offering, sacrifice, and how this word became a suffix is somewhat unclear. The only surviving word with this ending is wedlock, which means marriage, matrimony.

The suffix in knowledge was originally -leche, apparently an umlauted form of -lock (see here for more about umlaut).


-meal is an archaic adverbial ending that showed a fixed measure or portion at a time. It came from the dative plural of the Old English word mǣl (meal), and over time, its dative plural suffix dropped, which yielded meal. It is the same word as meal referring to food or the time when it is eaten; the word once betokened time and measure in general, so the word meal later became specialized to refer to the time when food is eaten. The ending is thus a remnant of its old meaning. The only current word that has this ending is piecemeal, which means one piece at a time.

Incidentally, the ending meal has nothing to do with meal as in oatmeal, wherein meal refers to the edible part of any grain or pulse ground to powder.


A suffix used for the comparatives of certain adjectives and adverbs that are already comparative, whence double comparatives are formed, e.g., innermore. This is no longer productive and lives only in the word furthermore.


A suffix used for the superlatives of certain adjectives and adverbs. It comes from the Old English suffix -mest, which is truly a combination of two superlative suffixes, one of which is the usual -est. The suffix became confused with the usual word most, however. It lives on in a few words such as foremost and innermost, but it is no longer productive.


An old diminutive ending. The only well-established word in which it lives on as a diminutive ending is hillock, and though the ending is present in a few other words, the diminutive force is now gone or applied figuratively, e.g., buttock, bullock, bollocks (interestingly, bull and ball are not attested in Old English and may have entered English through their Norse cognates).


-om was formerly the dative plural suffix for all nouns and adjectives. It had been replaced with -an in late Old English, and the new ending became -en in Middle English before disappearing. The original suffix is preserved in the adverb whilom, etymologically the dative plural of while. It is somewhat unusual that the ending has survived since the aforesaid change would have yielded a form such as whilen instead. One reason for the modern form may be that whilom was no longer seen as an inflection of while and thus was not subject to the leveling of inflections.

The adverb seldom may appear to be an old dative plural, but the original form was seldan. The form had already begun to be changed in Old English by analogy with adverbial datives such as whilom.


-red is an archaic ending that showed condition or state, much like -dom, -hood, and -ship. It comes from Old English rǣden, which meant condition, state. In New English, there are only two words with this ending: hatred and kindred.


-ric is an archaic ending that showed jurisdiction. For example, a bishopric is the jurisdiction of a bishop. -ric comes an obsolete noun meaning realm (and it is also linked to the adjective rich; both words in the end come from Celtic); it is akin to German Reich and Dutch rijk. The other Germanic tongues use this word far more than English, which leans toward using -dom instead, e.g., German Königreich - kingdom. Note that since the Old English word would have yielded rich, it seems that the form was later influenced by its Norse cognate.

The ending is still found in bishopric (and its derivative archbishopric).


-se is a suffix used to make verbs from nouns and adjectives. For example, cleanse is formed from clean. Cleanse is the only clear surviving word showing this suffix, but it is hidden in a few other words: bless is formed from blood (since the original meaning was mark with blood as part of a special ceremony), and whinge was a dialectal form of the derivation from whine (the Old English word was hwinsian, which would have regularly become whinse).


An abstract nominal suffix that shows action or condition, e.g., warmth betokens the state or sensation of being warm. This suffix is used with verbs and adjectives. In some words, the suffix has become t instead, e.g., height betokens the condition of being high. Though no longer productive, it is found in many common words, e.g., wealth, length, breadth, truth, strength, health.


A suffix that shows direction or manner, e.g., sideways, lengthways. It has the same meaning as the suffix -wise, but -wise is much commoner than ways except in a few words like sideways and always (which has a temporal meaning). The suffix -ways is simply the genitive of way used adverbially. Though present in some common words, the suffix is no longer productive.