Listen And Learn How To Use The Ish Suffix Ep 229

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📝 Author: Hilary

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💬 1851 words ▪️ ⏳ Reading Time 10 min

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How To Use The Ish Suffix

Today we help explain the use of suffix and explain one particular suffix “-ish” using examples in everyday English conversation.

There are lots of suffices used in the English language, like; “-ism” real-ism, “-ist” real-ist, “-ista” fashion-ista, “-istic” pur-istic, “-al” familli-al. You could look up more if you want (-ion, -ior, -ious, -isation, -ise).

Native English speakers often use the -ish suffix as a way of approximating something. For example, I think the coat colour was green, so I might say “The coat was green-ish.” We native English speakers often break the rules, younger English speakers abuse the use of a suffix to make a word cool, I heard someone young saying they thought the behaviour of a person was “creep-ish” i.e. they “the person in question” was obnoxious or weird but not completely creepy. Young English speakers sometimes just say "ish" using the suffix as a word in it's own right to answer a question.

It used to be simple, use -ish when you were being inclusive or trying to suggest “belonging to” for example “Brit-ish”, “Dan-ish”, and mostly use -ish for approximation. Today you hear words with a suffix just to make them sound cool.

The only way to learn the sufficed words worth learning is by listening to native English speakers use the words in everyday conversation. So listen!

Most Unusual Words:


Most common 2 word phrases:

English speakers9
use of6
for example5
use -ish5
You might5

Listen To The Audio Lesson Now

The mp3 audio and pdf transcript for this lesson is now part of the Adept English back catalogue . You can still download and listen to this lesson as part of one of our podcast bundles.

Transcript: Listen And Learn How To Use The Ish Suffix

Hi there and welcome to this Thursday podcast. How about we talk today about something which English speakers use all the time – but you don’t usually find this in a text book or on your English language course? This is the kind of thing which will completely confuse you, if you’re in conversation with English speakers and you’ve never come across it.

Common Use of a Suffix

What am I talking about? Well, use of the suffix ‘-ish’. Ish – that’s spelt ‘ISH’. And it’s a suffix, S-U-F-F-I-X – that means something that goes onto the end of a word. So if we go first of all with the more official, more formal use of -ish, the things you’d find in a dictionary. For example, it could be the word ‘babyish’. So you probably know the word ‘baby’, B-A-B-Y. You and I have both been one of these – it might be a while ago. But it means a child under the age of 2 years. So if we said ‘babyish’ that’s an adjective – and it means ‘like a baby’. So your child gets to six years old and they’ve still got teddy bears on their bedroom wall, they may say to you ‘That wallpaper is babyish.

I want something else!’. Other more formal words which end in -ish might be ‘boyish’ – so ‘like a boy’ or bullish, B-U-L-L-I-S-H – meaning ‘like a bull’ - usually to mean when somebody is pushy or they’re determined and forceful, we might say they’re ‘bullish’. A bull is a boy-cow, by the way – Taurus the bull, for example! Another example – ‘foolish’. So a ‘fool’, F-O-O-L is someone who’s a bit of an idiot, a silly person – and ‘foolish’ is the adjective that describes this – like a fool. A ‘fool’ in English can also mean a fruity desert, a pudding, but that’s another story!

Origins of ‘Ish’

Thinking about this -ish ending, this is even the ending we give to a lot of languages and for people. English, British, Spanish, Finnish, Polish, Danish, Swedish, Turkish, Irish, Scottish – these are all ‘ish adjectives too. I think this must be a Germanic ending in origin – it comes from German. In German, you would say ‘Englisch’ - so the same ending in German is spelt I-S-C-H. So in German, Englisch is English, Spanish is Spanisch, Scottish is schottisch, Swedish is Schwedisch etc. Some lovely German pronunciation for you there. Please don’t write in and complain – I’m doing my best here!


Language in flux – development of ‘Ish’

OK, all of that’s fairly simple. But the use of -ish has gone even further in spoken language. We also might use ish with all sorts of adjectives - like colours for example. Someone might say ‘Is it red or it is blue?’ And the response might be ‘ Mmm well, it’s blueish’. You could describe something as pink or pinkish, green or greenish. The -ish on the end here means ‘it’s kind of pink’ or ‘it’s a bit green’, not fully green or fully pink, if that makes sense. And spelling gets a bit strange here too – because it’s kind of a made up word – and it’s not yet ‘official’, it’s not got a definite spelling.


A photograph of a man holding a baby you cannot tell the gender of the baby. Used to help explain English grammar she, he and they.

©️ Adept English 2019

This is confusing even for English speakers. If you look up ‘blueish’, you’ll find it can be spelt either with the ‘E’ in the middle or not - and same with purpleish. My spell-checker doesn’t know what to do with it. And yet ‘reddish’ - to mean ‘a little bit red’ definitely has two ‘d’s! So that’s language in flux, the English language in the process of changing. At some point, we’ll decide on whether the word bluish has an ‘e’ or not – but at the moment, it’s your choice, it seems!

’Ish’ with other adjectives

But back to ish. If someone asks you ‘Was the water in the shower warm’, you might reply ‘Hmm, warmish’ - meaning that it was warm, but not as warm as you would have liked. ‘Is it cold outside?’ ‘Coldish’ meaning, ‘Yes, cold, but not as cold as you might expect’. You might hear someone say ‘Is your cousin’s new boyfriend tall?’ and the reply could be ‘He’s tallish’. So he’s tall, but he’s not super tall. You can add ish to the end of adjectives to mean kind of, somewhat.

‘Ish’ with numbers, times, ages

In conversation, we go even further than that. So we might add it to numbers. I talked about time and what words we use for time in Monday’s podcast. Well, if you were agreeing a time to meet or a time to light the barbecue, it might ‘What time shall we light the barbecue tonight?’ and the answer could be ‘Mmm, eightish’. That would mean around eight o’clock. ‘What time are you going to the pub?’ ‘Mmm, elevenish’. You can use it with someone’s age - a dangerous game maybe. But ‘How old is your teacher?’ And the response ‘Thirtyish’. This means the person is making a guess – ‘my teacher is probably in her thirties’ – that means she’s thirty-something, her age begins with a three. If you were talking about me there, I’d be over the moon!

Or even on its own

But even further than that, we can use -ish to change what we’re saying. If someone says ‘How was the film last night?’ And you said ‘The film was good’ - that’s quite positive. If you said instead ‘The film was goodish’ - then it means ‘It was OK – but perhaps there were some parts of the film that you didn’t like. Maybe you fell asleep halfway through’. ‘How did your exam go?’ And the answer was ‘OK’ - that means it’s alright, but if you say ‘OKish’ that means there were some bits that weren’t great.

Download The Podcast Audio & Transcript

‘Do you like your new neighbour?’ and someone might reply ‘Ish’. So yes, you can even use ‘ish’ on its own. And in that conversation about your neighbour – if someone replied ‘ish’, it would probably mean that there were a whole lot of other things she could say about the new neighbour, but she’s just too polite!


Anyway, if you like what we’re doing on our podcasts, then go to our website and have a look at our courses pages. There’s a lot of information there about the courses that you can buy from Adept English – but if you would like to progress to understanding English conversation and to spoken English, then our Course One: Activate your Listening would help you enormously. It starts you on the path of understanding conversation between two or more English speakers and goes much further in helping you remember lots of new vocabulary – because you hear it in context.

Anyway, I hope you have a busyish week, but not too busy to listen to Adept English. Enough for now. Speak to you again soon. Goodbye.

PS: Why Listen & Learn

If I were to ask you to learn a list of 500 new English words and just said “Read the list at number 1 and learn each word until you reach 500”. You might laugh (or cry!) because that is a brutal way to learn new words.

If I were to say, could you please listen to these interesting English stories that use “only” those 500 English words several times. You might say “ok that's seems easy”.

If I were then to tell you that the 500 words learned by listening to stories had:

  • A significantly higher likelihood of being stored in your brains long term memory
  • That you would also learn the context in which to use those words
  • That you would also learn the correct pronunciation
  • You would also learn English sentence grammar and that you would have fun

Which way of learning would you choose? If you think listen & learn might be right for you, check out Most Common 500 English Words for only £15.

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