• 3-minute read
  • 21st December 2017

Spelling Tips: Using Suffixes

Have you ever noticed that the ending of a word can change its meaning? Sometimes this is a simple change, like when ‘work’ (the activity) becomes ‘worker’ (the person who works).

But sometimes the change is bigger, like when you put ‘-ism’ at the end of ‘cube’ (i.e. a shape with six square sides) to make ‘Cubism’ (i.e. the artistic movement).

Cubist painting by Juan Gris. Not a cube in sight.

All of this is related to suffixes, which are a crucial part of the English language. As such, we thought it would be helpful to set out what suffixes are and how they’re used to create new words.

What Are Suffixes?

Suffixes are common word endings. Each suffix has a different use, so by adding or changing the suffix at the end of a word we can create a new term with a different meaning.

For instance, ‘-ful’ is a suffix that we see at the end of words like ‘helpful’, ‘wonderful’ and ‘beautiful’. This suffix means ‘full of’ or ‘characterised by’, so something ‘beautiful’ is full of beauty!

You can’t use every suffix with every word, though, so we can’t add ‘-ful’ to the term ‘happy’ to describe something that is characterised by happiness (although being ‘happiful’ sound good to us).

The correct technical term for something full of happiness is 'wine'.
The correct technical term for something full of happiness is ‘wine’.

As a result, you should check any word you’re unsure about when adding a suffix.

Some Common Examples

We won’t try to list all of the suffixes in English here. However, we can offer you a few examples to show you the different ways they can work. Keep an eye out for words that end with the following:




-al (noun)

Added to a verb to denote a process

Arrive → Arrival

Bury → Burial

Recite → Recital

-al (adjective)

Added to nouns to mean ‘related to’

Emotion → Emotional

Grammar → Grammatical

Region → Regional


Indicates a place or state of being


Free → Freedom

King → Kingdom


Used to form verbs, usually indicating a change of some kind

Carbon → Carbonise

Fossil → Fossilise

Hospital → Hospitalise


Used to denote a set of beliefs (often a theory or practice, but sometimes discriminatory)

Capital → Capitalism

Sex → Sexism

Social → Socialism

Some words can’t be broken down as easily as those above. The word ‘organise’, for example, doesn’t mean ‘turn into an organ’ in the modern sense of ‘organ’ (e.g. a body part or instrument). The ‘-ise’ in ‘organise’ still indicates change, but the ‘organ’ part is related to the Latin word organum (i.e. a tool). So, to ‘organise’ something is to prepare it for a particular function or role!

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Spelling Changes

Keep in mind that the spelling of some words changes when adding a suffix. If a word usually ends in a ‘y’, for example, the ‘y’ will often change to an ‘i’ when you add a suffix (e.g. beautybeautiful). And when a word usually ends in an ‘e’, the ‘e’ is sometimes dropped (e.g. loveloving).

But these rules are not universal. For instance, even though ‘change’ ends in an ‘e’, when we add the adjective suffix ‘-able’, it becomes ‘changeable’ (not ‘changable’). This, again, makes it important to check any word you’re unsure about (or have your work proofread) when adding a suffix.

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