What are Affixes? Definition and Examples

30 July 2023 / Team Fun English Course

Have you ever encountered words like disagree, brotherhood, handsful, and more? These words contain affixes, which are parts added to a base word’s beginning, middle, or end. 

But what are affixes? How do we use them? Let’s explore this article together to learn more about this grammar term.

What is an Affix in Grammar?

What Is An Affix in Grammar

As mentioned earlier, an affix is part of a word that can be added to the beginning (prefix), middle (infix), or end (suffix) of a root word. Adding these word parts creates new terms with different meanings from the original word.

Affixes, in morphology, are a specific type of morpheme that carries its meaning within a word. For instance, the term “unhappiness” consists of three morphemes: the base word “happy” and the two affixes “un-” and “-ness”.

While “happy” indicates a positive idea, the affixes change the word’s meaning by expressing the opposite or absence of the original quality.

How Do Affixes Work?

How Do Affixes Work

Affixes serve two main purposes: grammar and facilitating communication. The most common use of affixes is to indicate singularity or plurality by adding “-s” or “-es” to most nouns. For example:

  • One student
  • Two students

Similarly, adding “-s” or “-es” to most verbs creates singular forms to maintain subject-verb agreement:

  • One student reads
  • Two students read

On the other hand, affixes streamline and expedite communication. Instead of saying, “He is not able to paint the house,” you can use “un-” to the base word “able” to create the word “unable”. Using affixes, more than anything, is quicker and clearer.

Types of Affixes

types of affixes

There are four types of affixes: prefixes, suffixes, infixes, and circumfixes. Check out the definition of each and the examples of affixes in the sentences below.

1. Prefix

Prefixes are affixes that are added to the beginning of a word. Besides altering its meaning, it is also creating new words. They can change the meaning of a word, such as the difference between “legal” and “illegal.” 

Additionally, prefixes can combine with other affixes to form new words, like adding “bio-” to “-ology” to create “biology.” Some common prefixes include “un-,” “re-,” and “dis-.” For example:

  • She was feeling unhappy after receiving the news.
  • He tends to misunderstand complex concepts.

2. Suffix

On the other hand, suffixes are affixes that are added to the end of a word. They serve various grammatical purposes, such as indicating verb conjugation (“worked”), forming plurals (“foxes”), denoting possession (“Juliana’s”), or creating reflexive pronouns (“themselves”). 

Suffixes can also modify the word class, as in transforming from “swim” to “swimmer.” Common suffixes include “-s,” “-ed,” “-ing,” and “-er.” For example:

  • They danced happily at the wedding.
  • Mrs. Johnson is an experienced teacher.

3. Infix

Unlike prefixes and suffixes, infixes are not commonly used in English. Infixes are affixes inserted within a word, altering its meaning or grammatical function. While infixes are more prevalent in languages like Greek, Tagalog, and Choctaw, they are not widely used in English.

4. Circumfix

Circumfixes are unique affixes. They consist of paired prefixes and suffixes that are used together. In English, circumfixes are rare. 

One example is the circumfix “en-” and “-en” found in the word “enlighten,” while another is the circumfix “em-” and “-en” seen in “embolden.” These circumfixes contribute to the meaning and form of the words they are attached to.

  • The professor tried to enlighten her students on the topic.
  • The encouraging words from her friends emboldened her to take risks.

Understanding affixes helps you to make educated guesses about new word meanings. For instance, knowing “cute” allows you to infer the meaning of “cuteness” as the quality of being cute. 

To develop this proficiency, consider joining Fun English Course, offering beginners to intermediate levels classes. And that’s a wrap – this is everything you need to know about “what are affixes“.

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