Some languages, like German, and Turkish, are organised so that words can be combined to make ever longer words. Naturwissenschaft is a German example. (nature knowledge craft, literally) Does this happen in English?
Not to the same extent, but it is a feature of the language. We create new words mostly by adding set prefixes and suffixes, which may not have meaning on their own, but change the meaning of words in predictable ways.
These are easy to learn, and can help you understand words you didn’t know- a nice example is antidisestablishmentarianism. Not a word that comes up in every conversation, but full of prefixes and suffixes.
First, find the “core” of the word- in this case, the verb establish. Deal with the suffixes first, as they will tell you what part of speech the word is- noun, verb, adjective, etc. Our first step is “ment”- a noun suffix, about a thing which is established. Next, “arian”, a person who does the thing mentioned before. Finally, “ism”, a philosophy or theory about the noun mentioned before. So establishmentarianism is the philosophy of supporting the system that has been established.
We’re not there yet, though- two prefixes, and both negative. “dis” means not, and “anti”, against. So antidisestablishmentarianism is against not having an established system. Or you could say, in favour of the system.
What system was this? Well, briefly, the system of the Church of England, that is, having a church connected to the state. Some people opposed this, others opposed them, and called themselves antidisestablishmentarians! Clearly they wanted people to know them by what they were against rather than what they supported.
Suffixes in Language Learning
The most helpful thing about suffixes is how they can let you know what part of speech you are looking at. There are many lists of these, with examples, but to pick the most common, there are-
-ment, as in establishment
-ness, as in carefulness
-ship, as in friendship
Each of these makes a noun, but with a slightly different emphasis on what it means- all linked with a state, but –ment is linked to action (movement), -ness is just a state (shyness), and –ship is about having a particular skill or role in life- like a citizen (citizenship) or a partner (partnership)
-ise/ize (British or US spelling) as in memorise
This last is not so commonly taught, but is a basic English suffix, useful to notice in words with many prefixes and suffixes- for example, enlightenment.
-ful and –less (hopeful, hopeless) having, or not having the quality mentioned
-ate again, as in considerate (thinking about others)
-th, (strength, length) a physical feature of what you are describing, another old style
suffix which is not always taught, and doesn’t exist in other European languages.
This blog is not designed to list all the suffixes in English, but pick out a few common and less common ones, and encourage you to think about how they can help you learn.