Today we talk about English words using a suffix or prefix. We discuss how to spot them in use, how to use them and what they mean. To help explain things, we take a common suffix and explain how to apply it with lots of examples. As usual with the English language, there are some special grammar rules, so we also explain these special cases.
So as I publish today’s English lesson and I read some common English words from today’s lesson transcript, “Fearful” and “Fearless”, it made me think of what is happening in the UK today.
It’s a strange day here in the UK, as children are returning to school. Having been away for so long, over 6 months now, there is a lot of anxiety. A lot of new rules about wearing masks and keeping your distance.
I guess a lot of unknowns. We all knew it had to happen at some point, but knowing that is not really helping. A parent being fearful.
The COVID-19 world is on its way back to the 1800’s, when people were fearful of germs and viruses.
⭐ Steven Magee, Author
So you can imagine my surprise this morning to discover my son up early taking a shower, all excited to get out of the house and meet up with his friends. Not a worry in the world, just keen to get back to his social circle. A child being fearless.
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Hi and welcome to Adept English.
Let’s do a bit of Rule Six of Adept English today. If you listen to our free course, the Seven Rules of Adept English, you’ll hear about Rule Six, which we call ‘the helping hand’. This means that we give particular attention to parts of the English language, to give you shortcuts, realisations, things which suddenly make sense to you. You might say ‘Ahh! I get this now. I understand it now’.
So today, let’s do a bit of work on suffixes. A suffix, S-U-F-F-I-X is attached to the end of a word and a prefix, P-R-E-F-I-X is attached to the beginning of a word. So lots of words in English make use of prefixes and suffixes. And if you meet these words individually, you may not realise the connection, you may not realise the meaning of a particular suffix or prefix. But if you do know the meaning of the prefix or suffix, even a word you’ve not seen before is more guessable.
So today, let’s take a few words with a particular suffix and look at the meanings and therefore work out what the overall meaning of the suffix is. What about these words with the same word ending?
Well, first of all, they’re all adjectives, they’re all describing words. But they also all end in -L-E-S-S, ‘less’. So what about the word ‘less’ on its own? It can be used as a determiner, a pronoun or an adverb and it means ‘a smaller amount of’ something.
So ‘less’ as a determiner, you might say ‘I now take less sugar in my tea’ or you might say ‘I’ve now got less work than I had before’. So that’s as a determiner. As a pronoun, you might say ‘College work? I’ve done less this year’. So there it’s substituting for a noun. And as an adverb, so describing a verb, you might say ‘My foot is hurting less now’. So that’s ‘less’ on its own.
But just a quick word about ‘less’ – if you’re using it as a determiner – so like where you say ‘less sugar’ or ‘less work’, that’s fine with
uncountable nouns. Those are the nouns like ‘traffic’ or ‘custard’. So with countable nouns, like cars or apples or dogs, you can’t use ‘less’, You must say ‘fewer’, F-E-W-E-R instead.
So you can remember this by thinking about ‘less traffic’, ‘less custard’, ‘less sugar’, ‘less work’, but ‘fewer dogs’, ‘fewer cars’, ‘fewer apples’. I have what you could call ‘a bee in my bonnet’ about this one – English speakers get it wrong all the time! But anyway, that’s ‘less’ on its own.
So back to our list of words. Knowing what less means now – you can perhaps guess the meanings of each of those words more easily. So ‘homeless’ means ‘without a home’ And indeed ‘homelessness’ is a problem in the UK especially in London, even though we’re a relatively rich country. So notice another suffix there, ‘homelessness’, N-E-S-S on the end.
Words ending ‘ness’ tend to indicate a ‘state of being’, like ‘sadness’ or ‘happiness’. So back to the suffix ‘less’. So ‘homeless’ means ‘without a home’, ‘meaningless’ means ‘without meaning’. So if your work, your job isn’t very satisfying, it may feel ‘meaningless’. Or if you’re criticising a book that you don’t like, you might say ‘it’s meaningless’, it’s none sense, it has no meaning. ‘Mindless’, means ‘without mind’, so we could talk about ‘mindless violence’ – violence that’s been done to a person or a thing, without there seeming to be any thought or reason behind it. ‘Endless’, means seemingly ‘without end’.
A photograph of a tourist female rear view sitting on Matinloc dock pier enjoying tapiutan strait while island hoping.
We use ‘endless’ sometimes even where clearly there is actually an end, but it might feel good to exaggerate! So you could say ‘She talked endlessly about her boyfriend’. Actually, her conversation must have come to an end at some point because we all go to bed at night, but perhaps it didn’t feel as though it would ever end! ‘It was endless!’ And ‘hopeless’ means ‘without hope’. And ‘fearless’ means of course ‘without fear’.
‘Spotless’ is slightly different. Taken logically, it means ‘without spots’, but the way we use this is when we’re talking about how clean, C-L-E-A-N something is. So to emphasise ‘very clean’, we might say ‘spotless’. So you could hear ‘the hotel room was spotlessly clean’ or ‘the bed sheets hanging on the washing line were spotless’.
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So back to our list again. Homeless, meaningless, spotless, mindless, hopeless, endless and fearless. You could take these same words and add the suffix ‘ful’, F-U-L on the end. ‘Ful’, FUL isn’t a word in its own right – but F-U-L-L is – and that’s the meaning of the suffix ‘ful’.
So whereas the suffix ‘less’ means ‘without’, the suffix ‘ful’ means ‘full of’. So swapping a ‘less’ suffix for an ‘ful’ suffix works for some words, but not others. So you can say ‘homeless’, but you can’t say ‘homeful’. You also can’t make ‘spotless’ into ‘spotful’, and you can’t make ‘endless’ into ‘endful’.
Those don’t work! But ‘meaningless’ and ‘meaningful’, ‘mindless’ and ‘mindful’, ‘hopeless’ and hopeful’ and ‘fearless’ and ‘fearful’ – they all work. They’re all words with opposite meanings.
Here are some more phrases with ‘less’ words in them – words with the suffix L-E-S-S. I’ll leave you to work out the meanings of these phrases.
- Expressionless faces
- Characterless houses
- Emotionless logic
- Motherless children
- Seamless leggings
- Painless dentistry
- Timeless style
- Priceless antiques.
There are many more words with an L-E-S-S suffix, but at least now you’ll know how to look at the first bit of the word to see what it that’s being described as missing! And here’s a challenge for you – just in case this podcast is easy! Only two of the words I’ve just listed can have the ‘less’ suffix replaced by the F-U-L suffix and make a valid word. Can you tell which ones they are? The answers are in the transcript.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.