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Rules for Constructing Prefixes and Suffixes

Prefixes are a standard set of syllables that are added to the beginning of root words to change their meaning. Suffixes are a standard set of syllables that are added to the ends of words to alter their meaning as well as their function.

You can break prefixes down into four categories, depending on their meanings. Prefixes can be used to indicate

Suffixes can help you recognize which parts of speech certain words are. For instance, the addition of a suffix to a root word could change it from a verb to a noun. Another suffix could change the word to an adjective, whereas another might make it an adverb. The three categories of suffixes are as follows:

So suffixes can be added to form nouns, adjectives, and verbs. And to form adverbs, you usually add the suffix ly.

General rules

Using prefixes and suffixes correctly requires not only that you know what they mean, but also which guidelines to follow when attaching them to root words.

In general, hyphens shouldn't be used when adding a prefix or a suffix to a word. There are some exceptions to the rule. Normally, the prefix mid doesn't require a hyphen, as in midday. However, when it's followed by a number, a hyphen must used. You should also use a hyphen when mid is followed by a proper noun such as mid-January or mid-Atlantic. When adding less or like to the end of a word, a hyphen has to be used if the addition results in three l's occurring in succession.

The prefix re, meaning again, doesn't usually need to be followed by a hyphen. However, you should use a hyphen with it to distinguish the meaning of words with the same spelling. For example, you release a statement to the press, but you re-lease an apartment to a tenant.

Another rule is to add hyphens to ensure clarity:

You should also add a hyphen when a prefix ends in a or i and the root word begins with the same letter. But typically, when the prefix ends with e or o and the root word begins with the same letter, you don't use a hyphen. There are some exceptions, however, including co-owner, co-opt, and de-emphasize. When in doubt, consult your dictionary.

The trend in spelling has been away from the use of hyphens. Although it's a trend – not a rule – it may sometimes help, when deciding whether to use a hyphen, to remember that the trend exists. And if ambiguity or confusion results from not including a hyphen, then you should add it.

When adding a prefix to a word, the spelling of the root word is not altered in any way. However, when adding suffixes to words, the spelling of the root word may change. Because of this, there are certain rules for adding suffixes to root words.

One of these rules relates to the silent e that appears in such words as become, like, and give. This e has to be dropped from the root word when the suffix being added begins with a vowel. Exceptions to this rule are the words changeable and noticeable. In these instances, the silent e is maintained because it follows a soft g or c.

In some cases, you'll keep the silent e when adding a suffix. The silent e is kept if the suffix begins with a consonant. An exception to this rule is the word argument, which is formed when the silent e is dropped from the verb argue before the suffix is added.

Another rule for adding suffixes is that you change the y in a root word to i if the letter before the y is a consonant. You keep the y in the root word if the suffix begins with an i, as is the case when you add the suffix ing to the word cry to form crying. You also retain the y in a root word in certain one-syllable words and if the letter before the y is a vowel.

Sometimes it's necessary to keep the y when a suffix is added to certain one-syllable words. If you add a suffix to the root word dry, you keep the y to form the word dryness, for example. The y is retained if the letter before the y is a vowel, as is the case with the root word annoy when you add a suffix to form the word annoyance. The only exceptions to the rule about vowels before the y include for example the one-syllable words day and say, in which case the y is changed to an i.

The basic component of any word is its root. You can modify the meaning of the word by adding a prefix before the root or a suffix after it. Prefixes can alter the meaning of the root word by indicating quantity, negation, time, and direction or position. Suffixes change the part of speech of the word. They can do this in three ways – by changing the root word to a noun, to an adjective, or to a verb. There are several general rules you need to follow when adding prefixes and suffixes to root words.

Course: Business Grammar: Working with Words
Topic: Prefixes and Suffixes