Tips for Learning New Vocabulary Words

Prefixes and Suffixes


There are three parts to English words:  the root, the prefix and the suffix.  The root is the basic meaning of the word; the prefix is placed in front of the root to change the word’s meaning or to create a new word; and the suffix is placed after the root and can also change the word’s meaning.  By learning the basic structure of words, students should be able to discern the meaning of many new words easily.  In the modern age there are also many functional prefixes that attach to root words, but are not traditional prefixes.

Rules for Prefixes
There are several arbitrary rules when using prefixes.  Many of the most common are interchangeable and the prefixes need to be learned before they can be used.  Some of these rules include: “ir” which can only be used when the root word begins with “r”, for example, “irregular”; while “il” can only be used with words that begin with “l” like “illegal”.  “Mis” is used when there is a mistake, for example, “misunderstand” or “misfire”.  With other prefixes, learning the meaning of the word can help determine when to use them.

Rules for Suffixes
There are also a few rules for adding suffixes.  One rule is when adding the suffix “ly” to a root word, do not change the spelling of the root word.  The suffix “ness” also does not change the spelling of the root word unless the word ends in “y.”  Additionally, the silent “e” at the end of a root word should stay when adding any suffix that begins with a consonant.  This includes “ment,” “ful,” and “ly.”  However, the silent “e” should be dropped when a suffix begins with a vowel like “ed,” “ing,” and “ous.”  Double the consonant when the word is one syllable and change the “y” to an “i” when adding suffixes “ness,” “age” or “ly” to any word ending in the letter “y”.  Also add “ful” rather than “full” when using it as a suffix.

Functional Prefixes
Today, many modern words are created by forming an abbreviated word with a root word.  An example of thos, is the use of the letter “i” from “internet” as a prefix to create a new word like iPhone or iTunes.  This lets users know that the word is used in conjunction with the internet.  This is also frequently done using the “e” from “electronic” to create new words like “eLearning” or “eCommerce”.  Some of these words may be trademarked and others are general descriptors.  Because these abbreviations are used in front of a word though, they are known as functional prefixes.
The English language has its history in several languages including Greek, Latin, Old English, German and French.  By having a basic understanding of root words, prefixes and suffixes it will build a student’s vocabulary and allow them to make educated guesses about other words they may encounter.  Learning the common suffixes and prefixes and the rules required for using them can give students an enhanced ability in reading comprehension, terminology and vocabulary.