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12.5: Word Form

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    Word Form

    Almost every word has a "root" -- a base unit of meaning around which the rest of the word is built. In English, most of the root words come from Greek, Latin, or Anglo Saxon. A word may also have a prefix that adds on to the meaning. For example, "prepare" has the root, "pare," which means "to cut close" or "to give birth to" -- so we can interpret this meaning an act of creation or doing. "Pre" means "before." Both "pre" and "pare" are from Latin. The word "prepare" then means before an act of doing or creation. A suffix is the word ending and indicates the part of speech or function within a sentence. For instance, although the word "prepare" is a verb, adding "ing" to the end turns it into a noun, so the meaning becomes "the act of getting ready." The word can then be used a a subject, an object of a preposition, etc. Thus, "prepare" and "preparing" would appear in two very different places in an English sentence.

    Most of the time in English, the part of speech (or verb tense in the case of verbs) is indicated by the suffix (ending) of the word. As you know, word order is very important in English to indicate meanings and relationships. The word form needs to work with the word order to reinforce the meaning through the form. Many English language learners, as well as native speakers, are not sure what ending to put on the word at least some of the time. This page is a review of word form although it is not exhaustive. For more information about verb tense and form, please see Chapter 12.6.

    Table 12.5.1 -- Common Suffixes

    Common Suffixes
    Nouns Adjectives Verbs Adverbs

    --er / --or / --ar (means "the person who does")

    (Turns a verb into a noun)

    paint to painter

    --less (means "without")

    (Turns a noun into an adjective)

    clue to clueless

    --ate (means "to make, have, become")


    --ly (means "how something is done")

    (Turns a verb into an adverb)

    slow to slowly

    --ist (means "the person who is")



    --ful (means "full of")

    (Turns a noun or verb into an adjective)

    mourn to mournful

    --ify (means "to make, have, become")

    (Turns an adjective into a verb)

    beauty to beautify

    --wise (means "in relation to")

    (Turns different kinds of words into an adverb)

    other to otherwise

    --ion (means "the act of doing something)

    (Turns a verb into a noun)

    act to action

    --able (means "can")

    (Turns a verb into an adjective)

    work to workable

    --ize (means "to make, have, become")

    (Turns a noun into a verb)

    sympathy to sympathize

    --ence* (means "the act of doing something")

    (Turns an adjective into a noun)

    violent to violence

    --y* (means "full of, covered with")

    (Turns a noun into an adjective)

    sneeze to sneezy

    --ment (means "the act of doing something; product or result of an action")

    (Turns a verb into a noun)

    encourage to encouragement

    --ous (means "fll of, covered with)

    harmony to harmonious

    --ness (means "the state of being something")

    (Turns an adjective into a noun.)

    kind to kindness

    --al (means "connected with")

    (Turns a noun into an adjective)

    emotion to emotional

    --ship (the state)


    --ish (means "like, similar to")

    (Turns a noun into an adjective)

    child to childish

    --ity (means "the state of being something")

    (Turns an adjective into a noun.)

    clear to clarity

    --ic (means "like, similar to")

    (Turns a noun into an adjective)

    athlete to athletic

    --ive (means "has qualities of")

    (Turns a verb into an adjective)

    create to creative

    * Sometime the spelling of a word ending may need to change to add on the suffix correctly. A commonly known spelling rule in this area is to change "y" to "i' before adding the ending. For example, change the "y" in "activity" to "i" when pluralizing it to "activities." Nouns that end in "t" should be "c" when adding endings; for example, the "t" in "violent" becomes "c" in "violence." When a word ends in a silent "e" and you need to add an ending that begins with a vowel, drop the "e" and add the ending.

    Video \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    Adjectives and Adverbs

    Adjectives and adverbs are descriptive words that bring your writing to life. Using the appropriate word form in your writing shows you understand how word variety and use is important. This also helps your writing be clear to the reader. The English language contains an enormous and ever-growing number of words. Enhancing your vocabulary by learning new words can seem overwhelming, but if you know the common prefixes and suffixes of English, you will understand many more words. Mastering common prefixes and suffixes is like learning a code. Once you crack the code, you can not only spell words more correctly but also recognize and perhaps even define unfamiliar words, especially if you are familiar with common Greek and Latin roots.

    Exercise 1

    Change the bolded words in the following sentences so that they are right word form for the grammatical function in the sentence.

    1. Violent is not the answer; talking is.

    2. Macbeth was not a virtue character.

    3. The idealism decided to work in the nonprofit sector.

    4. Some dictators want to have world dominate.

    5. Create is necessary for many careers, even in the sciences.

    6. Madison warns against factional in The Federalist Papers.

    7. I finished that test very easy.

    Contributors and Attributions



    This page was most recently updated on June 8, 2020.

    This page titled 12.5: Word Form is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Athena Kashyap & Erika Dyquisto (ASCCC Open Educational Resources Initiative) .