46 Most Common Suffixes with their Meanings
August 2, 2023
“Googleable” and “searchable” are both forms of internet slang that describe the ease of locating data or people online. As words, they seem difficult to think of outside of our smartphone present. But these neologisms of the digital age are also part of a very old grammatical tradition. Like so many words before them, they involve a transitive verb (“Google” or “search”) modified by a suffix. Suffixes are parts of words that are added at the end of base words or roots to change their meaning. Before we get into our list of the most common suffixes with their meanings, an example…
The suffix “-able” is one of the most common suffixes in English. It attaches to an incredible range of verbs to convey the idea of an activity that is possible to do. Think “believable” or “desirable” or even “inimitable.” Whenever our language evolves to capture new forms of human activity, the “-able” suffix has been useful. (For better or worse, “meme-able” is fast entering common parlance.)
Most Common Suffixes (Continued)
This article provides an overview of common suffixes with their meanings. It is a follow-up to our previous article dedicated to the most common prefixes in English. Prefixes and suffixes are alike in modifying the meaning of a range of base words and roots. But while prefixes attach at the beginning of words, suffixes always arrive at the end. Notably, some words can have both a prefix and a suffix, such as when a task is “undoable.” In this case, the prefix “un-” results in a word that means the opposite of the base word (“do”). Meanwhile, the suffix “-able” changes the word from a verb to an adjective, meaning “not possible to do.”
You can use our list of the most common suffixes to improve comprehension when encountering unfamiliar words. It can also help you develop a better vocabulary by familiarizing yourself with a fuller range of words using suffixes. We recommend spending time with both lists on common prefixes and common suffixes to get the most out of studying these closely related forms of speech!
Things to Consider about Using Most Common Suffixes
Before the list of common suffixes with their meanings, let’s consider a few challenges that arise when using suffixes. In the article on prefixes, we discussed how they can have multiple, contradictory meanings. Similarly, suffixes with the same spelling can signify in different ways. For example, the common suffix “-en” can mean “made from” or “become.” But notably, these different meanings also result in entirely different parts of speech. It can be used in adjectives that describe what something is made from (i.e. “earthen”). And it can also be deployed in verbs that describe a process of becoming like something (i.e. “enlighten”). There are many such cases when the same suffix is used to form different parts of speech.
Suffixes also present unique difficulties with regard to norms of spelling, unlike their prefix counterparts. While common prefixes can be added to words without altering the spelling, suffixes frequently change how words are spelled. In the example above, using “-able” drops the ‘e’ in believe and desire to form believable and desirable. It also radically alters the spelling of “imitate” to form the word “inimitable.” But sometimes, it doesn’t alter the spelling at all, such as in the case of “agreeable.” These seemingly arbitrary differences mean that you’ll have to get accustomed to norms of spelling when using most common suffixes.
Yet another spelling difficulty arises when considering how the same suffixes can be spelled multiple ways. In some cases, “-ible” takes the place of “-able” to form words that mean possible to do (think “edible”). And the spelling of common suffixes can even vary depending on the region you are in. For example, the suffix “-ize” used in American English is spelled “-ise” in British English. All of these differences can enhance the difficulty of knowing the correct spelling of words with common suffixes.
The final difficulty involved in using suffixes to consider involves knowing which suffixes attach to which base words or roots. A base word is a word that can stand alone and has meaning without a prefix or suffix (like “help”). Similarly, a root is a part of a word that a prefix modifies, but which doesn’t necessarily have independent meaning. There are innumerable base words and roots that use suffixes, and some that can use multiple suffixes. However, it’s not as simple as adding any suffix you know to any base word or root. Base words and words come with a fixed set of suffixes that can be used to change their meaning. In other words, you must know the meanings of suffixes and which base words or roots they typically modify.
We’ve tried to address some of these concerns in the list below. There, we’ve divided the common suffixes out by the parts of speech they help form (adjectives/adverbs, nouns, or verbs). We’ve also included multiple ways that common suffixes, creating separate entries in cases like “-able” and “-ible.” The included examples also exemplify how suffixes can commonly change the spelling of base words and roots. The examples included can also help toward learning which base words and roots go with which common prefixes. You can also check out our lists of the top 130 GRE vocabulary words and 250 SAT vocabulary words if you are eager to add more words that use prefixes to your vocabulary.
Common Suffixes with their Meanings: The List
In the following, we’ve broken down the most common suffixes with their meanings and examples into three grammatical categories. Use this list to consider how the most common suffixes typically work within adjectives/adverbs, nouns, or verbs.
Most Common Suffixes in Adjectives/Adverbs:
1) -able: possible to do (believable, adorable, agreeable)
2) -al: like, suitable for (theatrical, regional, emotional, comical)
3) -an: person who identifies with a place or practice (historian, mathematician, Canadian)
4) -ance: state, quality (brilliance, malfeasance, circumstance)
5) -ence: state, quality (permanence, decadence, reticence)
6) -ant: state of being (arrogant, vacant, tolerant)
7) -ar: relating to (solar, muscular, titular)
8) -en: made from (golden, earthen, waxen)
9) -er: more (older, kinder, greater)
10) -fic: characterized by (civic, prophetic, prolific)
11) -id: state, condition (fluid, morbid, lucid)
12) -ible: possible to do (indefensible, discernible, perceptible)
13) -ile: relating to (exile, servile, infantile)
14) -ious: characterized by (studious, nutritious, pious)
15) -ive: relating to (creative, emotive, destructive)
16) -less: without (emotionless, helpless, penniless)
17) -ous: full of (famous, portentous, zealous)
18) -some: tending to (troublesome, wholesome, fearsome)
19) -ward: direction, course (forward, westward, backward)
Common Suffixes Continued—Verbs:
20) -ate: to make (create, generate, liberate)
21) -en: become (weaken, brighten, enlighten)
22) -er: activity, characterized by (decipher, banter, encumber)
23) -ify: make or become (electrify, fortify, exemplify)
24) -ize*: to make or become (dramatize, Americanize, symbolize)
25) -fy: make or become (satisfy, rarefy, stupefy)
Most Common Suffixes in Nouns:
26) -acy: state or quality (immediacy, fallacy, lunacy)
27) -age: condition of being (postage, wreckage, drainage)
28) -ant: person (defendant, entrant, occupant)
29) -ar: person who does (scholar, registrar, bursar)
30) -ary: place where (boundary, library, dictionary)
31) -ation: condition (translation, dedication, radiation)
32) -dom: place or state of being (kingdom, stardom, freedom)
33) -ee: person (trustee, employee, absentee)
34) -ent: person who does (president, student, superintendent)
35) -er: person who does or lives somewhere (teacher, reader, New Yorker)
36) -ice: condition, quality (prejudice, sacrifice, cowardice)
37) -ion: state of being (action, tension, confusion)
38) -ism: act, state, or doctrine (plagiarism, realism, Buddhism)
39) -ist: person who (sociologist, orthodontist, pacifist)
40) -ity: quality, degree, or state (density, musicality, eternity)
41) -ment: state of being (fulfillment, punishment, dissident)
42) -or (person): person who does (conductor, inventor, creator)
43) -or (thing): thing that does (elevator, indicator, reactor)
44) -ory: place for (directory, dormitory, rectory)
45) -tude: condition (solitude, gratitude, attitude)
46) -ty: state, condition (liberty, equality, fraternity)
* The ‘-ize’ suffix is most common in American English, while British English typically spells words with the same suffix using ‘-ise’ (i.e. “dramatise” in British English)
Suffixes are a major driver of change in the English language. We are constantly inventing new words using suffixes to keep up with the rapid transformation of lived experience. Take, for example, the “-gate” suffix in “Watergate.” Gabriel Arana of The Atlantic discusses how this suffix for ‘scandal’ has become the de facto suffix of muckrakers. Similarly, a writer for Vanity Fair has listed examples in which the “-exit” suffix in “Brexit” has entered common parlance. This writer’s hand wrings about the “tyranny of the ‘exit’ suffix,” playing up stereotypes of grammarians resistant to linguistic change. But for Arana, the tendency to invent and use suffixes like “-gate” demonstrates the endless dynamism and adaptability of language. In other words, language changes as fast as the people who speak it. And perhaps no form of speech better captures this aspect of language than suffixes.
This list above is not exhaustive and reflects the settled norms around language of the time this was written. It can hopefully help you to improve your vocabulary in written and oral communication. Try brainstorming other words using common suffixes. Practice saying them and writing them (with proper spelling!). Appreciating common suffixes can be a great way to begin discovering all the words that use them.