Noun Suffixes


This lesson is similar to others on discovering the parts of speech, but focuses just on noun-forming suffixes. Students examine a list of nouns all made by adding a suffix. They identify the suffix and the root, try to find other words with that same suffix, and then describe the meaning of the suffix. It encourages them to think of words as analyzeable units.

Lesson Plan

Words are made up of meaningful parts: socks = sock + s. Some of those parts can stand alone as words (sock); some of them can't (s). It can be useful to practice dividing up some more complicated words because it makes us aware of the meanings of those smaller parts. Why might that be important? (Just a few reasons: it can help you to understand unfamiliar words, recognize connections between words, make up names for your characters in a story, or to think analytically.)

One way to organize this kind of investigation is to focus on discovering the meanings of some nominal suffixes. Mostly we know these meanings already, but haven't necessarily thought about any of it consciously. Doing so can help in decoding unfamiliar words, and can facilitate breaking down words in general. Some of the suffixes' meanings and the differences between similar suffixes (-ship versus -hood, for example) are difficult to discern, so having students discuss these together is a useful exercise, and can help with using precise vocabulary. This activity could be limited to words that are both nouns (so the focus is less on changing one part of speech to another, but on how the suffix adds a distinct, nuanced meaning to that noun), or expanded to include words of other categories (where the focus could be more on using suffixes to help identify parts of speech categories).

Noun + suffix = Noun:
artist art + ist What are some other words with -ist? What's -ist mean?
friendship friend + ship What are some other words with -ship? What's -ship mean?
booklet book + let What are some other words with -let? What's -let mean?
duckling duck + ling What are some other words with -ling? What's -ling mean?
mannerism manner + ism What are some other words with -ism? What's -ism mean?

Verb or Adjective + suffix = Noun:
bake (V) + er = baker (N) writer, runner
marry (V) + age = marriage (N) blockage, stoppage
wise (A) + dom = wisdom (N) freedom, boredom
disinfect (V) + ant = disinfectant (N) triumphant, participant
probable (A) + ity = probability (N) stability, fluidity
efficient (A) + cy = efficiency (N) privacy, vacancy
happy (A) + ness = happiness (N) kindness, weakness

Inevitably, words will come up whose roots are not quite so transparent. These are usually Greek or Latin roots that show up in a number of words, but can't stand alone as words, so their meaning is less clear. 

Do these nouns have suffixes? If so, what is it and what does it mean?

gratitude (attitude, servitude, multitude)
audiology (psychology, immunology, biology)

Do these words have suffixes? If so, what is it? If not, how do you know there is no suffix?


Divide up the following words into their meaningful parts (morphemes):

useful link:

If you don't want to keep this lesson focused on nouns, but want to simply explore how certain affixes attach to certain parts of speech and result in a certain other parts of speech, then you can expand to other kinds of affixes. The students, actually, will usually do this since they will likely bring up lots of other affixes in their discussions, so it's hard to keep it strictly to nouns.

sweet (A) + -en = sweeten (V) shorten, blacken
break (V) + able = breakable (A) readable, doable, fixable
marry (V) + -age = marriage (N) blockage, stoppage
art (N) + -ist = artist (N) violinist, pianist
wise (A) + dom = wisdom (N) freedom, boredom

So this makes us aware of the ways in which words can be broken down, and also of our (largely unconscious) awareness of lexical categories. We know this already because we use words like these.

Another point to take from these lessons is that when we use any word that ends in one of these suffixes, we treat it appropriately as a noun. We know unconsciously it's a noun, so we would

use them with determiners:
the artist
my freedom
much gratitude 

pluralize them:

possessivize them:
the violinist's friend
wisdom's importance

use them as subjects of sentences: ...

This document is attached, as is one that includes two worksheets (in the document Noun Suffixes Worksheet).

Class Time Needed

1 hour


General linguistics
Language arts


Grade Level

Grades 3-5
Grades 6-8
Grades 9-12