Suffixes and Prefixes

Suffixes and Prefixes
03 May Shelley Vernon 7 Comments

 A teacher asked me today how to teach suffixes and prefixes. Here is a lesson I prepared for her, teaching one child only, but the ideas may be adapted to a larger classroom.


Explanation of prefixes and suffixes

Prefixes go in front of a word. Suffixes go behind a word. Add them to a word, or part of a word, and they will change the meaning of that word.

Prefixes and suffixes have meanings. Un means not. Pre means before. Semi means half. Here is a list of common suffixes and their meanings. You might show this to your student for interest. Personally, I never studied prefixes or suffixes in this kind of detail, and I still became fluent in 3 languages. So...I think this info is super interesting, but that there is no need to overwhelm your pupil with too much 'science'.


I suggest that you give your student(s) a list of the most common suffixes. Here is a list of the most common ones to print. Perhaps start with suffixes and do prefixes in the next lesson. Read it through with her and then ask her to think of a noun, any noun, and see whether she can add a suffix to it that turns the word into a verb. Then try with the same nouns and see if you can make adjectives out of them, or adverbs. HINT: Use the chart on the above link to help you.

Prefixes and Suffixes

Next take a pile of words (write these on paper) and place them face down on the desk. You turn up the first card and try to make a word with a suffix. “Dog” – a word that has a suffix with “dog” is “dogged”, which is an adjective meaning persistent – well done, you keep the card!

Now it’s your student’s turn. Use a mixture of verbs, nouns and adjectives such as these: carpet, clever, tie, basket, ski, intelligent, weather, computer, sock, play, picture, will, picnic, potato, good, bad, dream, cinema, film, light, duck, hour. Each one of you has a turn at making a new word using the root word plus adding a suffix. USE THE LIST of suffixes and the dictionary for help! You might not succeed with every word, but that’s not a problem!


Use this free online dictionary in class to quickly look up words and see what they mean, or if they exist.


Then play battleships. You have blank grids ready to use in the appendix to my teen / adult games book. Fill in your battleship grid using words that have suffixes. I wouldn’t do prefixes as well since that would make rather a dense lesson for an intermediate. Stick to suffixes for the whole lesson and do prefixes next time. Don’t forget you can let your student use the dictionary. This should take you quite a while and it’s a challenging lesson. For homework ask your student to learn all the words you covered by heart with all the possible suffixes. Give him or her a test at the next lesson.


Try that and let me know how it goes. It’s a practical lesson – some theory introducing the suffix and what it is, and then diving right into working with the suffixes.

In the next lesson you can do prefixes, which are the same thing except that the extra bit goes at the front. 

Take the list of prefixes from the previous link, and ask your students to pick out a random word, such as “door”. As the teacher, try to make a word with a prefix plus the chosen word ‘door’ e.g. misdoor, subdoor, predoor and undoor etc. There are no real words here, so there are no points for you! Now you pick a word for the class to use, e.g. “dress”. Your student will then try the prefixes and will come up with words such as ‘undress’, so they score a point.


Next play a game of luck using a pack of cards with words or pictures on them. Round one: you take the prefix “un” and your student takes a different prefix. Turn over a word or picture card and both groups will see if either of you has a new word using the prefix. The person able to make a word takes that word or picture and keeps it as a point.

It’s a game of luck so it doesn’t matter that your English is better. As soon as someone earns a point, swap prefixes and go through the cards again. You need lots of words or picture cards for this since you’ll go through them fast. Most of the time you won’t be able to make a word, and that’s OK. It’s just a different way of working with the words and prefixes so your lesson on prefixes isn’t exactly the same as the one on suffixes!


Get all my great ideas in DOWNLOAD HERE ESL Activities for Teens and Adults and in PAPERBACK Here.


Thanks for sharing your extraordinary ideas about these grammar elements. Keep up the good work!
Somebody necessary to make helpful posts. This is the first time I frequented your web page and up to now? I'm surprised with the research you have done to create this website amazing. Magnificent process!
Thank you Maribel for your kind words and I'm glad you are enjoying my website. All the best, Shelley Ann Vernon.
Hi, I'm having to explain the function of Noun suffixes. How would you explain it in a simple way not to confuse an ESL student? Thanks!
Hello Justine, I found this video on You Tube that I think could help... All the best, Shelley
Yvonne Roith says "This looks fun! I like games like this and the one with prefixes is a twist to something I've done before. These types of "dry" grammar items work well with games, in my opinion."
Unfortunately the BBC suffix link no longer works (at least for me) but I love this idea! Thanks!!

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