Some suffixes create words belonging to different word classes
DEFINITION AND IMPORTANCE
Suffixes are meaningful word endings (for details, see 106. Word-Like Suffixes). Some, like -ing and -est, are primarily grammatical. They change their word grammatically but do not thereby make it a new “word”. Many other suffixes, however – e.g. -ly and -ness – are more vocabulary-like, creating a change of both grammar (usually) and word. Quickly, for example – different grammatically from quick in being an adverb instead of an adjective – is clearly also a different word.
Suffixes that I call “multi-use” belong to this second group, but make new words of more than one grammatical class. This characteristic is not universal: -ness, for example, makes only nouns, -ous mainly adjectives. A common suffix that has it is -y, typical of both adjectives (e.g. healthy, ready, tasty) and nouns (e.g. mastery, recovery, unity).
I believe that this kind of variability can cause confusion. In reading, for example, it can sometimes hinder a correct guess at the meaning of an unfamiliar word whose suffix looks familiar. What I aim to do here is list and illustrate some common multi-use suffixes, in the hope that readers with more awareness of them might be helped to avoid error in both reading and writing.
EXAMPLES OF MULTI-USE SUFFIXES
1. -ly (Adverb/Adjective)
Many people associate this suffix very closely with adverbs (early, easily, quickly, truly etc.), and yet it is absent from many adverbs (e.g. there, yesterday, already, sometimes), and is surprisingly common in adjectives.
This last point is extensively illustrated in the Guinlist post 120. Six Things to Know about Adverbs (#6). A few -ly words can be both an adverb and an adjective – e.g. daily, early, only and poorly – but a fair number are only adjectives and cannot occupy adverb positions in a sentence except by being combined with in a … way. Examples include comely, curly, deathly, earthly, elderly, heavenly, hilly, holy, jolly, lively, lovely, lowly, (gentle)manly, silly, slovenly, sprightly, stately, surly, timely, ugly and womanly.
2. -ful (Adjective/Noun)
This ending is typical of adjectives, e.g. hopeful, but there is also a group of nouns like spoonful. For full details, see 106. Word-Like Suffixes.
3. -al (Adjective/Noun)
This suffix, one of many English borrowings from the ancient language Latin (see 45. Latin Clues to English Spelling), is quite often added to nouns to make adjectives. Simple examples are actual, autumnal, colonial, controversial, emotional, exceptional, fatal, focal, industrial, intentional, magical, minimal, national, natural, normal, original, pictorial, regional, residual, seasonal, sensational, sexual, spatial, special, substantial, terminal, traditional, and universal.
It should be noted, though, that numerous adjectives with -al are not a possible word without it. They include capital, dual, eternal, external, individual, mutual, nasal, nocturnal, nominal, potential, radical, rational and usual. It could be argued that in such cases -al is not a proper suffix. However, its adjective-indicating nature is still useful. For a similar problem with prefixes, see 146. Some Important Prefix Types.
In an appreciable number of cases, a noun to which -al can be added is of Greek origin (see 90. The Greek Impact on English Vocabulary). Examples are critical, logical, mathematical, mystical, pyramidal, rhetorical, statistical, tactical and topical.
Similar to these are Greek nouns with two adjective endings: first -ic and then -al, e.g. analytical, comical, cyclical, economical, graphical, historical, mythical, numerical, political and rhythmical. Sometimes the two adjective meanings are very different. Pairs that are often confused are analysed within this blog in 48. Tricky Word Contrasts 1, #5 and 114. Tricky Word Contrasts 3, #1.
Not to be confused with adjectival -al on Greek words is -ical in biological (and adjectives of other -ology words), ecumenical, hypothetical, medical, theatrical and typical. The suffix here must be -ical because dropping just -al leaves no possible word.
Nouns ending in -al are probably not as numerous as adjectives. One type seems simply to be an alternative noun use of the adjective spelling. Examples are capital, colonial, individual, radical and terminal.
Besides this, -al nouns are often made from verbs. They tend to be of the “action” kind (see 14. Action Outcomes). Examples are bestowal, denial, dismissal, dispersal, disposal, perusal, recital, referral, removal, renewal, reversal, trial and withdrawal.
4. -ate (Verb/Adjective/Noun)
This is another Latin-derived suffix. It is not to be confused with similar spellings that have no suffix characteristics, as in hate and state. However, its removal tends to leave a Latin rather than English word.
In most words, -ate is pronounced with the long “a” sound /ei/. Examples are advocate, animate, articulate, calculate, celebrate, consummate, create, dedicate, delegate, deteriorate, dictate, discriminate, dominate, donate, duplicate, elevate, emanate, enumerate, escalate, estimate, exacerbate, exaggerate, facilitate, fascinate, generate, gesticulate, impersonate, incriminate, inflate, instigate, interrogate, irrigate, lacerate, mandate, nominate, percolate, perforate, predicate, relegate, repatriate, replicate, rotate, subordinate, terminate, triangulate, vibrate and violate.
Adjectives with -ate seem slightly less numerous. They usually have the weak pronunciation /әt/ (* below shows exceptions). Examples are animate, articulate, celibate, consummate, degenerate, duplicate, incarnate, indeterminate, indiscriminate, *irate, numerate, profligate, *prostrate and subordinate.
The underlined spellings above are the same as those of verbs. This means that their use with BE needs particular care (see 140. Words with Unexpected Grammar 2, #f).
Most nouns with -ate seem to be spelt the same as verbs, but again need the /әt/ pronunciation (except those with*). Examples are advocate, *caliphate, climate, delegate, estimate, expatriate, *mandate, predicate, subordinate, syndicate and *vertebrate.
5. -ent (Adjective/Noun)
This Latin-derived suffix again rarely leaves English words when removed but has to be distinguished from less suffix-like spellings, like those in dent, extent and relent.
The more common use is probably in adjectives, often becoming -ence or -ency in nouns. Examples are absent, ambient, competent, convenient, current, decent, dependent (also spelt with -ant), despondent, emergent, eminent, expedient, incumbent, indulgent, insistent, insurgent, latent, nascent, patent, permanent, present, prescient, prominent, recent, reminiscent, resident, reticent, strident, transient and virulent.
Nouns with -ent have to be distinguished from those with -ment, such as attachment, document, investment and management. In most cases, the presence or absence of the letter “m” will be a sufficient criterion, though there do appear to be cases, such as moment, where “m” is part of the word root rather than its suffix.
There seem to be two groups of -ent noun. One is adjective spellings that also possess a noun use, such as resident and other underlined words in the list above. The second group is exclusively noun spellings. Examples are accident, ascent, correspondent, deterrent, incident, moment, nutrient, parent, portent, president, serpent and patent. This last is also in the adjective list, but the two spellings are not closely related in meaning – they seem to be “homonyms” (see 11. Homonyms and Homographs).
6. -ant (Adjective/Noun)
This suffix behaves very similarly to -ent. Adjectives include abundant, conversant, defiant, dominant, instant, militant, observant, relevant, reliant, reluctant, resistant, vacant and vibrant.
The underlined spellings are also nouns. Other nouns are accountant, assailant, debutant, defendant, entrant, determinant, inhabitant, migrant, mutant, tyrant, vagrant and variant.
7. -ic (Adjective/Noun)
Perhaps the adjective use of -ic is slightly more common. One subgroup is derived from Greek words ending in -ma (see 90. The Greek Impact). Examples are automatic, cinematic, dramatic, enigmatic, panoramic, problematic, rheumatic, symptomatic, and thematic.
Other -ic adjectives include analytic, archaic, civic, comic, cosmic, economic, fantastic, frantic, gastric, graphic, historic, linguistic, manic, photographic, poetic, politic, prolific, specific, strategic, synthetic, terrific and tragic.
Nouns with -ic include antic, comic, critic, graphic, ethic, heretic, mimic, mystic, statistic, synthetic, tactic and topic. The underlined examples are the only ones unable to be made into an adjective with -al (see above). Mimic can be a verb as well as a noun.
8. -er (Noun/Verb)
This suffix, of course, is common on comparative adjectives – but that is a more grammatical use. A familiar less-grammatical use changes verbs into nouns for types of people, e.g. baker, courier, builder, driver, leader, member, player, reporter, teacher and writer. Quite often -er is also found on equipment nouns like computer, cooker, gutter, marker, printer, starter and trailer.
In verbs, -er tends not to be a true suffix. In the following list * shows where it might be: barter, batter, deliver, *butcher, *counter, father, feather, flatter, flutter, flower, gather, hammer, lather, mother, pander, paper, partner, recover, *taper, tether, thunder, totter and wither. The underlined words can also be nouns.
9. -tory (Adjective/Noun)
This is often not a true English suffix, but is found on enough words to be worth a mention. Adjectives and nouns seem equally likely to have it. Adjectives include auditory, derogatory, explanatory, inflammatory, mandatory, migratory, preparatory and respiratory. Examples of nouns are conservatory, dormitory, factory, inventory, refectory, repository, territory and trajectory.
Note that history cannot be considered a -tory word: its Greek root associates it more with -y.
10. -ure (Noun/Verb)
This is another suffix that has to be distinguished from numerous non-suffix endings with the same spelling, such as pure, assure, mature, nature, conjure, demure and procure.
Nouns with -ure are more numerous than verbs. Examples are adventure, architecture, capture, closure, denture, erasure, fissure, fracture, lecture, leisure, manufacture, measure, nomenclature, nurture, pasture, picture, posture, rupture, seizure and venture. The underlined spellings can also be verbs. Spellings that are exclusively verbs seem rare.
It is clear from the examples in this post that multi-use suffixes are widespread in English. I have only been able to present a sample, but I hope it will raise awareness of the phenomenon, especially with regard to unconsidered English suffixes such as -age, -ise, and -ive.