Spelling Signposts – Prefixes, Suffixes and Root Words

An understanding of how words are made up from prefixes, suffixes and roots can help us learn how to spell them and to remember spelling rules.

When we learn how to spell words we do not often think about how they are composed. In order to improve our spelling it is helpful to understand that longer words can be made up of prefixes, suffixes and root words. Once we understand these concepts then we can break words up in order to learn how to spell them more easily.

Root Words

A root word is the base of a word which may be a word in itself. ‘Port’ is an example of a root word with a Latin origin and the original meaning was ‘to carry’. This root word stands alone but it can also be used as a building block when either a prefix or a suffix is added to it.

Prefixes

A prefix goes at the start of a word and usually changes the meaning. Prefixes can consist of one letter or a group of letters. ‘Im’ is an example of a prefix. If we add ‘im’ to our root word ‘port’ it becomes ‘import’. ‘Im’ is one of the most commonly used prefixes so it is worth learning. Others include ‘mis’, ‘dis’, ‘re’, and ‘de’ which are used to form antonyms.

Suffixes

A suffix is added to the end of a word and in order to change the usage. Like a prefix, it can be one letter or a group of letters. If we add the suffix ‘able’ to ‘port’ then we can make the word ‘portable’. Many suffixes end in vowels and these are called ‘vowel suffixes’. Examples of ‘vowel suffixes’ would include ‘ing’, ‘er’ and ‘ous’. Some suffixes show changes in the verb tenses such as ‘ed’ which denotes the past tense.

Spelling

Suffixing Spelling Rules: ‘e’ at the end of words.

Suffixing helps us to understand quite a few important spelling rules. Some of these relate to the ‘e’ at the end of words. Sometimes we keep this ‘e’, when we add a suffix, and sometimes we drop it. This partly depends on the kind of suffix we are adding to our root word.

If we add a ‘vowel suffix’ then we usually drop the ‘e’ at the end of a word. A word like ‘care’ therefore becomes ‘caring’ and a word like ‘love’ becomes ‘loved’. However, if the suffix begins with a consonant (a ‘consonant suffix’ ) such as ‘ly’ or ful’ then we keep the final ‘e’. In this case ‘love’ would become ‘lovely’, keeping the final ‘e’. Another example would be ‘hate’ turning into ‘hateful’.

We also keep the final ‘e’ if the root word ends in either ‘ce’ or ‘ge’ when we add the suffixes ‘able’, ‘ade’ or ‘ous’. This is because the ‘g’ and ‘c’ in these words are soft. These words can be difficult to spell so they are worth learning. Examples include ‘change’ which becomes ‘changeable’, ‘notice’ which becomes ‘noticeable’ and ‘courage’ which becomes ‘courageous’. ‘Ade’ is a less common suffix but it can be seen in the word ‘orangeade’.

Suffixing Spelling Rules: ‘y’ at the end of words.

The rules above relate to the letter ‘e’ at the end of words but there are also rules for words that end in ‘y’. Often we change this ‘y’ to an ‘i’ when we add a suffix but this is not done when we add a suffix that starts with an ‘i’ such as ‘ing’ or ‘ish’. This is because the word would look strange with two ‘ii’s together. Therefore we can keep the ‘y’ at the end of words like ‘drying’, ‘babyish’ and ‘carrying’. All we need to do is simply add the ‘ing’ or ‘ish’ to these words.

We also often keep the ‘y’ at the end of a word when there is a vowel before it. This applies when you add any suffix. The word ‘play’ would therefore become ‘playing’ or ‘played’ and the word ‘key’ would become ‘keys’ or ‘keyed’. This rule helps us to form all ‘y’ plurals correctly; If there is a vowel before the final ‘y’ we simply add ‘s’.

Many ‘y’ endings do change to ‘i’ when we add a suffix. This applies when we add endings such as ‘al’, ‘ed’, ‘er’, ‘ful’, ‘hood’, ‘est’ and ‘ness’. These spellings can be confusing. The word ‘tiny’ therefore becomes ‘tiniest’ and the word ‘cry’ becomes ‘cried’. Longer words benefit from careful learning such as ‘beauty’ which becomes ‘beautiful’ and ‘ally’ which becomes ‘alliance’.

How to Begin Learning these Spelling Rules

The best way to begin to learn these rules is to gain an understanding of what root words, prefixes and suffixes are and then to learn some of the common ones. Once you have mastered these then you can start to observe and understand spelling rules which are based on them, such as the ones noted above.