Word Building in English

English is a very flexible language and you can build on your vocabulary and learn how to make new words.
One way of doing this is to add prefixes (such as dis, pre or co) before the word.

Here’s a list of common prefixes with their meanings and some examples.

anti (= against)
antibodies, anti-social

auto (self)
autonomous, autobiography, automobile

bi (= two)
bicycle

co (= with)
cooperate, coordinate

contra (= against)
contradict, contravene

de (= remove)
deregulate, deselect

dis (= not)
disappear

il (= not)
illegal

im (= not)
immaterial, immature

inter (= between)
international

mis(= badly/wrongly)
misinform, misbehave, misunderstand

multi (= many)
multinational

non (= opposite)
non-profit

out (= more than)
outperform, outdone

over (= too much)
oversleep, overwork

post (= after)
postpone, postnatal

pre (= before)
predict

re (= again)
rewrite, relive

sub (= under)
submarine

super (= higher/improved)
supermarket

trans (= across)
transatlantic

uni (= one)
uniform

under (= not enough)
underpaid, underfed

Word Endings

You can also make new words from the words you already know by using different endings. For example, “The person who employs me has a fast car”. You can make this sentence simpler, by replacing “the person who employs me” with “my employer”. This gives you “My employer has a fast car.”

In English you can make nouns from verbs (to employ gives employer and employee). You can also make verbs from nouns or adjectives: government gives to govern, modern gives to modernise and so on. Learning what endings you can put on words means you can expand your vocabulary and say what you mean more easily.

Here are some common word endings:

Nouns

er /- or: a person who does something
adviser / advisor, teacher, learner

ian
optician, mathematician

ment: result of action
improvement, advancement

ism: name of system or belief
realism, optimism

ist: the person who believes in the system
realist, optimist

ion
confusion, apparition

ness
happiness

ship
leadership

ence / ance
permanence, appearance

acy
lunacy

age
marriage

ity
annuity

y
photography

cy
fluency

Verbs

ify
falsify, modify

ise
modernise

Adjectives

ic
idiotic, periodic

ful
awful, wonderful

able / ible
comfortable, terrible

proof / resistant
waterproof, childproof, fireproof

free
alcohol free beer, nuclear free zone

less: without
hopeless, childless

Quick Exercise

When you learn English prefixes and suffixes, you’ll be able to make new words easily and quickly. It’s also a useful skill for the FCE, CAE and IELTS exams!

Check out the prefixes and suffixes exercise below to increase your English vocabulary.

Level: Intermediate and above

1. Which of the following prefixes CANNOT come before the word ''national''
2. Which of the following prefixes CANNOT come before ''natal''
3. Which of these words CANNOT come after the prefix ''sub'':
4. Which of these words CANNOT come after the prefix ''self''
5. Which of these words CANNOT come after the prefix ''mono''
6. Which of these suffixes CANNOT come after ''work'':
7. Which of these words CANNOT come before the suffix ''free''
8. Which of these words CANNOT come before the suffix ''less'':
9. Which of these words CANNOT come before the suffix ''ship'':
10. Which of these words CANNOT come before the suffix ''proof'':

There’s also a 20-question exercise here.

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Word Building in EnglishHi! I’m Clare, an English teacher and the founder of this site.

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12 thoughts on “Word Building in English”

  1. It is a good way and let’s the English learners have a good direction of learning English. As a beginner of the learning English need more about systemic method.

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