The Building Blocks of Language; Prefixes, Suffixes and Roots

When a student first arrives at one of our workshops we start by exploring words. We use many techniques. Some are tried and tested traditional methods and others are more modern, the kind that would make a great App! However, we soon have to broach a challenging task: how do we help increase a child’s vocabulary?

Conscious Learning

Actually, it isn’t that challenging, after all, children start to learn language unconsciously. All we want to do is to bring learning into a more controlled conscious space without losing the enchantment of learning. 

Easier said than done? Well…

It’s not a secret, but perhaps if we whisper it we might make you believe you didn’t know the great lexicon of English is filled with words comprised up of smaller bits. These bits get attached to a Base Words which we usually call Roots. The bits that get added to the start of a word are Prefixes and the bit that comes at the end are Suffixes. Here’s an example:

In the example above, STRESS is the Root or Base Word. Now the word itself has a beautifully drawn out history or what linguistics call etymology. To the Root we add the Anglo-Saxon Suffix, -FUL and voila we get STRESSFUL. A noun has magically transformed into an adjective. Woohoo! And if that wasn’t enough we can add the Anglo-Saxon Prefix UN and we have UNSTRESSFUL.

Of course, we could transform the word into an adverb by adding -LY to the end of the word to get UNSTRESSFULLY. Easy does it Tiger!

How Many Words are Made from Prefixes and Suffixes?

The short answer: a lot!

A longer answer: Linguists estimate that somewhere between 200,000 to almost 500,000 words in the English language are made from these little bits! 

And you only need to know a few…

Despite the prevalence of prefixes and suffixes, a handful are used most of the time. Essentially, that breaks down to 4 prefixes and 4 suffixes and with these you can make an astonishing number of words. And here they are:


il-, im-, in-, ir- 



Where do we go from here?

Introducing a student to the heady world of Roots, Prefixes and Suffixes is just the start. With games and activities we start using already known prefixes and suffixes and just the simple awareness of them can lead to a startling increase in the words a writer uses. Unstressfully.