An affix is a set of letters generally added to the beginning or end of a root word to modify its meaning. The root is the portion of the word that remains when all prefixes and suffixes have been removed. Typically, they can stand alone. In the word untouchable, "touch" is the root.
The two main types of affixes are prefixes and suffixes. In the "untouchable" example above, "un-" is the prefix and "-able" is the suffix. For another example, let's examine the root word reserve. Thanks to affixes, it can be transformed into unreserved by the prefix "un-" or even unreservedly by the suffixes "-ed" and "-ly." If you ever find yourself wondering, "What are the types of affixes?" we're about to lay it all out for you.
Prefixes are attached to the beginning of a root word. They create a new word with a new meaning. Here's a list of common prefixes, along with their meaning and a sample sentence:
anti- (against or opposite)
Do you think the ending of the latest Avengers movie was anticlimactic?
dis- (lack of, apart, reversal, or not)
Her lack of French put her at a disadvantage throughout her travels.
in- (not, in or on)
The new employee felt her two hours of training was inadequate.
mis- (wrong or negation)
The ancient manual was full of misinformation.
The worst part of a low-fat diet is nonfat milk.
pre- (before or in front of)
Her grandmother's world knowledge predates her mother's.
un- (not or reversal)
This tart pie is rather unsavory.
For more examples, check out Prefix Examples.
From time to time, you might see a hyphen placed between a prefix and a root word. This is common when the prefix ends in the same letter as the root word begins. For example, if a world leader has an anti-immigration policy, you'll generally want to place a hyphen between the prefix and the root word.
Next, hyphens are required when a prefix is about to join a proper noun. For example, if you're taking a trans-Atlantic flight from New York to Ireland, you'll need a hyphen before the proper noun, "Atlantic."
Finally, there are a four prefixes that almost always take a hyphen before joining their root word. This is one of those tricky grammar rules you'll have to commit to memory. Most style guides instruct writers on hyphen usage. So, be sure to consult your teacher's style guide when in doubt. In the meantime, try to err on the side of a hyphen if you ever want to use the following prefixes:
all- (the whole amount, quantity, or extent of)
Her knowledge of 15th-century Ireland was all-encompassing.
cross- (to pass in a different direction, or intersect)
He refused to submit for cross-examination.
ex- (former, out of)
She had a coffee meeting with her ex-business partner.
self- (a person's essential being that distinguishes them from others)
Hygge is the Danish practice of self-care.
For more on hyphens, review these Hyphen Rules.
Suffixes are attached to the end of a root word. They, too, create a new word with a new meaning. Review this list of common suffixes, along with their meanings and sample sentences:
-able (able to, susceptible of, or given to)
How did we manage before portable laptops?
-ible (able to be or relevant to)
When he mutters, his speech is incomprehensible.
-er (more, relating to origin or designating role)
Since he's a professional driver, it seems only fair that his Corvette is faster than my Mini Cooper.
-ful (full of)
I am grateful for my editor's keen eye.
Life without books is meaningless.
-ment (action, result, or resulting state)
His poor choices resulted in a disenfranchisement from the community.
-ly (in a specified manner)
They unsuccessfully planned an attack on innocent tourists.
It's important to note that you can add more than one prefix or suffix to a word. You can see it in words above like disenfranchisement and unsuccessfully. Other examples include nonconformist, counter-revolutionary, reorganization, and unquantifiable.
For even more examples, check out List of Suffixes and Suffix Examples.
In some cases, the spelling of a root word is altered when a suffix is added. Consider the word "unimaginable." Its root is "imagine." Often, when a word ends in a silent -e, the -e is dropped and the suffix is added.
Another common sight is the changing of a "y" to an "i." Take the word "pretty." If you want to say someone is "more" pretty than someone else, you might say, "Rebecca Ferguson is prettier than her lookalike, Ingrid Bergman."
Of course, where there's a spelling rule, there's an exception. For more on that, review these Suffix Spelling Rules.
There's another member of the affix family, but it's kind of like the hidden secret. Have you ever heard of an infix or tmesis? Infixes occur when an affix is inserted within a root word. So, instead of popping up at the beginning or end, they appear within the root word.
Truthfully, we don't see a lot of them in formal writing. Are they made up words? Abso-freakin-lutely. If you're a fan of classic films, you might've watched My Fair Lady. In it, Audrey Hepburn sings, "Sittin' abso-bloomin'-lutely still." In more recent times, Prince William's former nanny described his engagement to Kate Middleton as "fan-flaming-tastic."
As you can see, infixes add emphasis. But, they're more appropriate in informal writing. Use them in your next TV or film script. Remember when Homer Simpson referred to a saxophone as a "sax-a-ma-phone"? Or how about Snoop Dogg changing "house" to "hizouse"? While prefixes and suffixes create new words, infixes accentuate the initial root word (and add a little bit of fun).
We hope these examples of affixes will help you continue to build out words and sentences with clarity and meaning. Stack your prefixes atop root words. Tag on a suffix where applicable. When you're feeling wild and crazy, consider an infix on your latest blog post. All this talk about root words may leave you wondering about base words. For more on the two terms, we hope you'll enjoy Are Base Words and Root Words the Same?