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Term Definition

Affix simply means to add something to another thing. It modifies the meaning of a word and can be added to the end, beginning or the middle of a word.

Affix - Changing a word's meaning

From the time you first mastered English, you've probably been aware of how the same word can have different meanings or contextual usages if altered at the start or end.

Take the word "mastered," for instance. It's root word is master, which in and of itself could function as a noun or a verb, depending on how it's used. But when you add the letters e and d to the end, you've taken the verb form of master and framed it in the past tense. The "ed"—which can also frame thousands of other verbs in the past tense—is a suffix: one of the primary forms of an affix.

Simply put, an affix is an addition to the front or back of a word that serves to alter the meaning or context, such as turning a noun into an adjective or moving a verb into the past tense, as well as a range of other alterations.

Rules of using the term

When you learn English, you end up learning one of the more unlearnable languages in the world. Sure, millions of people across the globe have learned English, but that's because its required learning in schools throughout the world.

In that above paragraph, how many affixes were given to the word "learn?"

The answer is four; three suffixes ("ing," "able," and "ed") and one prefix ("un"), to be exact. With "unlearnable," both a prefix and suffix were give to the word in question.

A prefix is a performative affix, since it determines the function of the word to which it is affixed. In the case above, "un" has a negative effect on the main word; what could have been learnable is now unlearnable. 

A suffix serves as an afformative, because it alters the context of a root word. With the three suffixes above, the verb "learn" is portrayed as a matter of doing (learning), something that's doable (learnable), and something that has already been completed (learned). Now in the preceding sentence, notice how the contextual words used to describe each parenthetical form of the word "learn" contained the exact same suffixes.

More examples of affixes

The following tables demonstrate some of the more common affixes:

a- not atypical -er moreso bigger

bi- two bicentennial -est superlative fairest

co- together codependent -n't negative shouldn't

dis- negative disavow -s plural shipments

mal- wrong malinform -t past tense burnt

Under a broader definition of prefixes, hyphenated functions like "anti-," "maxi-," and "self-" would also qualify.

Aside from all the commonly used prefixes and suffixes, there are also various peripheral types of affixes, including the following:

  • Simulfix. A vowel change that alters the number of a root word: caboose vs. cabeese; mouse vs. mice, etc.
  • Duplifix. The silliest of affixes, this is formed by a hyphenated spoof of the root word: money-shmoney; pizza-schmizza, etc.

Even though prefixes and suffixes are equally common in the English language, prefixes appear in far greater variety. The reason why there are so many prefix forms is that a word can perform in a multitude of ways—whether coming or going; for or against; up or down; positive or negative; in pairs or trios; etc.—whereas there's only so many possible contexts in which a word can be applied: present, past, singular, plural, etc.

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Synonyms: affix

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