XAFFIX - Dictionary of affixes
The building blocks of English
This dictionary contains more than 1,250 entries, illustrated by some 10,000 examples, all defined and explained.
It’s based on my book Ologies and Isms: Word Beginnings and Endings, published by Oxford University Press in 2002.
That went out of print in 2008 and I immediately made it available as a free service.
These pages contain examples of all four of the types of affixes that appear in English: "prefixes", "suffixes", "combining forms" and "infixes".
This site is about some of the building blocks of the English language, those beginnings and endings that help form a large proportion of the words we use.
It was in the summer of 1995, while my former business partner and I were studying the displays in a medical museum in order to advise how to improve them, that he remarked that one of the things needed to enhance visitors’ enjoyment would be an explanation of the mysteries of medical terminology: the difference, say, between an "-itis" and an "-algia", or between words starting in "haemo-" and "hepato-".
... "palaeophytogeography" and "psychoneuroendocroimmunology", ...
The entries on this site cover most of those active in the language today, as well as others that have contributed to the language in the past; only the most specialist, obscure or archaic have been left out. However, place-name affixes ("-burgh", "-ham", "-thwaite", "-wick") have been excluded. Personal name affixes such as "Fitz-", "Mac-", and "-son" have also been omitted.
About the author
This dictionary has been compiled and edited by Michael Quinion.
The types of affix
prefix: an element placed at the beginning of a word: "de-", "non-", "re-", ....
suffix: an element placed at the end of a word to form a derivative: "-ation", "-fy", "-ing", ...
combining form: can be either a prefix or a suffix. The difference is that the combining form adds a layer of extra meaning to the word.: "bio-" adds the idea of life or living things to words, as in "biochemistry", the study of the chemical processes which occur within living organisms; "-cide" adds the idea of killing or a killing agent, as in "pesticide". Compare these examples with a prefix such as "ex-" or a suffix such as "-ic", neither of which add meaning, but only modify an existing meaning.
Combining forms only appear as elements in a compound. If it can stand alone as a word it is not a combining form. For example, "carbo-" only appears in compounds to indicate "carbon", but there are many related words that begin with "carbon-"; these are considered to be compound words and "carbon-" is not listed on this site as a combining form. Having said that, in some cases a combining form has at some point in its life taken on the status of a free-standing word ("cyber-" is an example), but if its primary function is as a combining form, it appears in its place in the text.
To be a combining form an element must be found attached to stems that also have intrinsic meaning; this excludes stems whose only compounds are grammatical variations, such as "intense" (intensive, intensively, intensiveness).
infix: placed within a word; these are rare in English, though "cupful" can be made plural as "cupsful" by inserting the "plural s" as an infix; infixes sometimes occur in facetious creations like "absobloodylutely" (which some grammarians would rather describe as "tmesis"). Infixes often appear as linking vowels between prefixes and stems, for example the final letters of "narco-" and "calci-". They are also found between a stem ending in a consonant and a suffix beginning with one, as with "-ferous", which frequently appears as "-iferous", or "-logy", which is commonly seen as "-ology". The only examples of such linking vowel infixes here are "-i-" and "-o-".
No formal identification is made in the text of the class of affix to which entries belong. The position of the hyphen is sufficient indication whether it is placed at the beginning, in the middle or at the end of a word: "neo-", "-i-", "-graphy".
Many prefixes that end in a vowel can lose that vowel when attached to a stem that begins in one, as for example "phlebo-" loses its final letter in "phlebitis". Such cases are marked by enclosing the final letter of the headword in parentheses: "phleb(o)-".
The term "productive" has a special sense throughout the site: it refers to an affix which is active in the language and which is being used by writers today to create new words.