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English Word Endings: Suffixes That Show the Part of Speech

October 6, 2016

Are you teaching or studying English? As you know, vocabulary can be tricky because of the difficult spelling that isn’t always related to the pronunciation of words. Grammar can also be tough to learn. Teaching language learners about word endings can help them grasp the function of a word in a sentence. Understanding suffixes helps students with spelling (one suffix can be used in many words) and grammar (one suffix has a distinct part of speech such as noun, verb, adjective, or adverb).

When you combine word endings with sentence patterns, the English language makes sense in a whole new way. Students can guess at a word’s function, and therefore sentence position, even if they don’t yet know the meaning of the word. I’ve had success teaching word endings and sentence patterns to students in low-intermediate classes all the way to advanced. It’s especially useful for students who take tests like the TOEIC. Try presenting word endings and sentence patterns to your language learners, and expect to see some Aha! moments.

Suffixes resource

Grammar & Usage Resources – Suffixes


Word Endings (Suffixes)

Review the suffixes in the chart above. Reassure students that there are not that many common endings to remember for each part of speech (adjectives is the biggest category).

You could practice by writing the endings on the board and having students brainstorm other words with those endings (as a class or in groups). You could also cut up the words in the examples column, shuffle them up, and then have students quiz each other or work together to group them back into the four parts of speech.

Try introducing some word families so students can see how useful suffixes really are! Show the examples below and see if your students can come up with others.

  • import (V), importance (N), important (Adj), importantly (Adv)
  • succeed (V), success (N), successful (Adj), successfully (Adv)
  • organize (V), organization (N), organized (Adj)
  • act (V), actor/actress/action (N), active (Adj), actively (Adv)

For more fun practice activities, see our post on Prefixes and adapt those activities to suffixes.

Note on -ly

Make sure you remind students that while -ly is usually an adverb ending, there are a few -ly adjectives (friendly, costly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, hourly, early). They can either memorize these exceptions or learn the adjective and adverb sentence patterns so that they know the part of speech for any -ly word.

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Comments (6)

scrabblely (Guest)

Some more prefixes you might need to include the list:
- over- like Overflows
- multi- (mono- is already there) like multicultural
- bio- like biosecurity
- cyber- like cyberspace

and suffixes:


Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks for these great additions!

Jack (Guest)

What about -ation, eg negotiation, anonymization, etc?

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Thanks for this addition, Jack! I often lump -ation in with -ion so that it's less for my students to memorize, but if they can handle it, then it's great to show this longer suffix.

Deb S.(Teacher)

Do you have a place that lists meanings of suffixes as well?

Reply to Comment

Tanya Trusler(Author)

Hi Deb, at the moment we don't, but that's a great idea for a blog post or a resource! I'll add it to our to-do list. Thanks for the suggestion!

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