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A reader asked me about prefixes just when I was thinking about suffixes, so I researched both. Together, they're called affixes.

That word is from the Latin word for "the act of fastening one thing to another."

Affixes are the parts of words placed at the beginning or end to provide more details about, or to change, the meaning. The smaller word in the middle is called the base word or word stem.

The most common prefixes: anti-, de-, dis-, em-, en-, fore-, il-, im-, in-, inter-, ir-, mid-, mis-, non-, over-, pre-, re-, semi-, sub-, super-, trans-, un- and under-.

The most common suffixes: -able, -al, -ation, -ative, -ed, -en, -eous, -er, -es, -est, -ful, -ial, -ible, -ic, -ing, -ion, -ious, -ition, -itive, -ity, -ive, -less, -ly, -ment, -ness, -ous, -s, -tion and -y.

We're all fixed for affixes.

I had been wondering about the suffix "-ish" for no particular reason. It's multifunctional. (Notice I used a word with a prefix and a suffix. Hold your applause.) As a suffix, -ish means "belonging to" or "having the characteristics of" the base word:

"English" means from England.

"Spanish" means from Spain.

"Newish" means not brand new but not broken in yet.

"Clownish" means acting like a buffoon. Or like a person inspiring terror, depending on your view.

The "-ish" also can indicate "an affinity toward" something:

"Bookish" means you love to read.

"Stylish" means you like to follow fashion trends.

"Ish" also helps you fudge your age. "I'm ... fortyish."

All of those uses of "-ish" create adjectives.

As proof that one can find anything on the Internet, I found a site that lists all words that end in "-ish" but aren't adjectives.

Examples are "squish," "banish" and "establish."

Maybe English speakers were morose on the day they came up with the prefixes that change a word to make it negative. All these prefixes change the meaning of the word to the opposite or the "non" form:

dis-, il-, im-, in-, ir-, un-

Examples:

He was illogical and impatient.

It's unsurprising that his theory was inconclusive, disconnected and irrelevant.

Whew, tough crowd.

A general rule about which prefix is used is that "un-" words have Germanic roots and "in-" words are from Latin. The "im-," "il" and "ir-" are variations of "in-." "Dis-" is also Latin.

Naturally, exceptions to that rule abound. And language changes over time. Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, wrote of "unalienable rights." Today, we'd more likely use "inalienable."

For many generations, English had both "un-" and "in-" prefixes for some words. In time, one or the other won out. In current usage, we still have "unhuman" and "inhuman," but their meanings aren't the same.

One ornery use of a prefix is in the word "inflammable." Inflammable means flammable. That understandably flummoxes many.

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How can you tell whether to use "like" or "as if" when you're setting up a comparison?

In broad terms, you use "like" when the next part of the sentence has no verb:

The house smelled like cinnamon.

You look like a new person.

This feels like home to me.

But when a verb does follow, you should use "as if":

I felt as if I had been in this room before.

The trifle tasted as if she had poured in a bottle of whiskey.

Her voice sounded as if she had swallowed a frog.

The like-versus-as-if debate makes blood boil. It's simply a grammar issue that evokes strong feelings.

In The Careful Writer, Theodore M. Bernstein acknowledges that history and logic would allow "like" to go where many say only "as if" should tread. Writing in 1965, he also said that popular usage would cause the rule to crumble.

Today, people who know grammar may slip "like" into casual conversation, but they likely use "as if" in formal writing. Others stand resolute in all cases.

Sources: Merriam-Webster, PrefixSuffix.com, World Wide Words, Grammar Girl, grammarerrors.com, BBC, grammarbook.com, The Careful Writer, Fowler's Modern English Usage, Scholastic.com

bkwordmonger@gmail.com

ActiveStyle on 08/13/2018

Print Headline: Get your affixes of grammar

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