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Prefixes and Suffixes

Prefixes and suffixes added to root words to make new words.


Prefixes are one of those subjects that many children find fascinating as it gives them an insight into the roots of words they use on a daily basis, as well as helping in guessing the meaning of new words they come across. In the English Programme of Study prefixes are introduced as early as Year 1, (‘un’ is introduced in Year 1 where there is no change in the root word e.g. do and undo.) A great deal more work is done on prefixes in Years 3 and 4 using ‘re’, ‘sub’, ‘inter’, ‘anti’ and others.

We have some excellent resources on prefixes including the prefix ‘in’ when it is used to mean ‘not’. This is aimed at older primary children as there are some hard spellings, including inadequate, inaccurate and inimitable!

However, there are other prefixes which can be used to mean ‘not’ depending on how the root word is spelt, including:
if the root word starts with an ‘l’ then ‘in’ becomes ‘il’. e.g. legal - illegal.
if the root word starts with ‘r’ then ‘in’ becomes ‘ir’.  e.g. regular – irregular.
if the root word begins with ‘m’ or ‘p’ then ‘in’ becomes ‘im’.  e.g. perfect – imperfect.

Whilst children with good vocabularies take these oddities as a matter of course, children with poor vocabularies do find them very difficult and need plenty of practice.

We have a great selection of worksheets on prefixes, which explain their meanings and provide plenty of practice with their usage. Many of these words with prefixes are quite hard, such as autobiography and telepathy, but they really do help with building a larger vocabulary as well as being fun to work with.

In the new Primary English Programme of Study adding suffixes to words is introduced in Year 1, using ing, ed, er and est where no change is needed in the spelling of the root word (e.g. helping, helper). In Year 2 further suffixes are introduced to spell longer words. These include:

ment: which means the process of doing something or the result of an action (e.g. payment or retirement).
ness: this is usually added to adjectives to make nouns that refer to quality or condition (e.g. madness or sadness).
ful: meaning ‘full of’ or ‘having the quality of’ (e.g. playful or hopeful). Note that ‘ful’ at the end of a word only has one letter ‘l’ – writing using the double ‘l’ is a very common spelling mistake. 
less: added to the end of a noun meaning without (e.g. careless, spotless). 
ly: meaning in the manner of (e.g. quietly, badly). These can often form adverbs.

As well as pages on the above we also take a look at the suffix  ‘ation’ which is added to some verbs to make nouns. e.g. to inform – information.  (There is a lot of fun to be had by making up new, silly words using this; e.g. hop – hopation and so on!)

Finally we have some really tricky words, especially with the 'ous' suffix. Words such as herbaceous, mendacious and ambidextrous are introduced. Whilst these might be very challenging to spell, many children will really enjoy getting to grips with them, because they 'roll off the tongue' well and it is important that children do not just use the words in a worksheet exercise but try to make them a part of their own vocabulary.

Starting to use prefixes

Beginning to use prefixes to change the meaning of words. (Year 2 on)

More prefixes

Using a wide range of prefixes to change the meaning of words. (Year 3 on)


Understanding suffixes including making adjectives from other words (Years 3 to 5)

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