Affixation

Affixation in English (Affixes)

You have probably noticed that in some cases, you are able to understand, out of context, the meaning of a word that you have never heard before. For example, if you know what the words load, do, paint, write and produce mean, you can probably guess the meaning of unload, undo, painting, rewrite, and reproduce. By doing so, you analyze the structure of the word to see which parts you can recognize to infer the meaning of the whole word. A large number of words in English are created by adding syllables at the beginning or the end of the word: this process is called affixation. Affixation consists of adding prefixes or suffixes to a base.

Useful Vocabulary

  • Affix: a prefix or a suffix
  • Prefix: a meaningful unit smaller than a word added at the beginning of a word to change its meaning. It may be one or more than one syllable.
  • Suffix: a meaningful unit smaller than a word added at the end of a word to change its meaning.
  • Root: the main part of the word that cannot be reduced.
  • Base: a form to which a prefix or a suffix can be attached.

Useful Formula

Action from student needed… + (prefix) + (prefix) + ROOT + (suffix) + (suffix) + (suffix) +… = a potential word

Difference between Base & Root?

As defined above, the root is the main part of the word that cannot be reduced any further. Consequently, the root of a word does not change. The base, however, is simply a form to which a prefix or a suffix can be attached. Consequently, when there are several prefixes or suffixes attached to a root, the base for each step leading to the final word will be different. Let’s analyze the words unsystematically and internationally to illustrate the fact that the base can change.

Examples

In the words unsystematically and internationally, the root is system for unsystematically, and nation for internationally. Let’s break down the different steps necessary to arrive at these words to see that the base can change depending on the step that we are at.

Internationally

First step: nation + al = national

nation -al
base suffix

 

Second step: national + ly = nationally[1]

national ly
base suffix

 

Third step: inter + nationally = internationally

inter nationally
prefix base

 

Unsystematically

First step: system + atic = systematic

system -atic[2]
base suffix

Second step: un + systematic = unsystematic[3]

un- systematic
prefix base

 

Third step: unsystematic + ally = unsystematically

unsystematic – ally[4]
base suffix

 



[1] Here, we could also see things in a different way an propose an alternative second step: inter + national = international; followed by a third: international + ly = internationally

[2] -atic- here is treated as a simple suffix; but it must be noted that on a more theoretical level, it could be argued that -atic- is actually composed of two suffixes (-ate + ic). For our purposes here, however, it is not necessary to establish that distinction.

[3] As for the previous example, a alternative second step is possible here (systematic + ally = systematically), followed by a third (un- + systematically = unsystematically)

[4] here again -ally here is treated as a simple suffix; but it is actually composed of two suffixes (-al + ly). But since the word (un)systematical is not attested in English, we do not show that intermediary step.

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