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How to Teach Suffixes

Welcome to our mini teaching guide on suffixes! In this post, you’ll find many different tools to help you teach suffixes to your child, as well as downloadable resources and activities. Let’s dig in!

What Is a Suffix?

A suffix is a word part that is placed at the end of a base word. Common suffixes include ED, ING, and EST. Take a look at more suffix examples below.

Suffixes Table 1

A suffix often transforms a word into a new part of speech. In the examples above, baby (a noun) is changed to babyish (an adjective); run (a verb) is changed to runner (a noun).

The Four Most Common Suffixes

The most common suffixes are S, ES, ED, and ING. These four suffixes are the most useful for beginning readers and spellers to learn because they appear frequently in words, and their meanings are easy to understand and remember.

-s and -es suffixes

Suffix S and ES indicate plurals.


-ed suffix

Suffix ED indicates past tense.


-ing suffix

Most often, suffix ING is added to verbs to indicate that something is happening in the present.

Interested in seeing more suffixes? Here’s a list of 30 common suffixes you can download and print.

click to download a list of 30 common suffixes

Adding Suffixes Is Different from Adding Prefixes

When adding a prefix to a word, you simply add the prefix to the beginning of the base word (as in unhappy). The spelling of the base word never changes. Super easy, right?

But adding a suffix to a word isn’t quite as straightforward. That’s because when you add a suffix, the base word often changes. For example:

Suffixes Table 2

Thankfully, there are some solid guidelines to follow when adding suffixes to words. Before we dive into those rules, though, let’s take a quick look at the two types of suffixes.

Two Types of Suffixes

You may have noticed on the free download that the suffixes are divided into two categories.

Two Types of Suffixes

It’s important for kids to recognize whether a suffix is a consonant suffix or a vowel suffix since the rules for adding them to base words are different.

Rules for Adding Suffixes

Rule 1: Add a consonant suffix directly to the base word.

The word 'mouthful'

Rule 2: Check the base word before adding a vowel suffix.

Here are the first three guidelines we teach for adding vowel suffixes.

  • If the base word ends in two consonants, just add the vowel suffix.
The word 'jumping'
  • If the base word has 1 syllable, 1 short vowel, and 1 final consonant, double the final consonant before adding the vowel suffix. (We teach this as the “1-1-1 Rule.” Although it may sound complicated, this rule is actually quite easy to follow when you have an understanding of syllable division rules.)
The word 'winning'
  • If the base word ends in a Silent E , drop the E before adding the vowel suffix. (Again, this is an easy rule to understand: you don’t want to have two E’s in a row, so you have to drop the first E.)
The word 'smiled'

Rule 3: If the base word ends in a single Y, change the Y to an I before adding the suffix.

(This rule applies to both consonant suffixes and vowel suffixes.)

The word 'silliness'

There are more rules regarding vowel suffixes, but they apply to a smaller number of words. We teach them thoroughly and incrementally in All About Reading and All About Spelling, with plenty of hands-on practice.

What does hands-on practice look like? We use letter tiles for demonstration, and then we move on to interesting activity sheets! 

Printable Activities for Learning about Suffixes

Would you like to see some examples? Here are a few great suffix activities from All About Reading and All About Spelling.

Go Nutty activity cover

Go Nutty Activity

Sort suffixes into vowel suffixes and consonant suffixes with this hungry elephant.
Download this activity from All About Reading Level 3 (Lesson 15).

Sleeping Mice activity cover

Sleeping Mice Activity

Practice locating the base word by covering the sleeping mice with a blanket.
Download this activity from All About Reading Level 3 (Lesson 15).

Suffix Word Flippers activity cover

Suffix Word Flippers

Practice reading words with two suffixes with these Word Flippers .
Download this activity from All About Reading Level 4 (Lesson 4).

Word Trees activity cover

Word Trees

Use Word Trees to create longer words by adding prefixes and suffixes.
Learn more in this blog post, and download this activity from All About Spelling Level 7 (Lesson 17) to let your child practice building words with Word Trees.

Have you started teaching suffixes to your child yet? How is it going? Let me know in the comments below!

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Olivia

says:

I work as a home tutor and I found this content to be exactly what I needed to help one of my young English learners! Thank you so much for all of your hard work.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are very welcome, Olivia! It’s wonderful to hear that this will be helpful for your student. Let me know if you need anything else.

Vincent

says:

Please can I use inflectional and derivational suffixes instead of vowel and consonant suffixes to teach children?I am really confused because I know those are the two types of suffixes but here you have vowel and consonant suffixes.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Vincent,
You are, of course, welcome to use whatever terms with your children that you feel best.

However, inflectional and derivational suffixes are grammar terms that will not help children with spelling. The English rules for spelling when adding suffixes are based on if the suffix begins with a vowel (the letters A, E, I, O, U, or Y) or with a consonant (all the other letters), regardless of the function of the suffix.

Some derivational suffixes begin with a vowel (what we call a vowel suffix), for example ER, Y, and AGE. Other derivational suffixes begin with consonants (consonant suffixes), such as NESS, FUL, and LESS. The fact that all of them are derivational suffixes will not help students know when to change the spelling of the base word before adding the suffix and when to leave the base word alone. But looking at the suffix and seeing it starts with a consonant allows the student to know that he or she can just add the suffix to the base word with no changes. But if it is a vowel suffix, the student will need to apply one of the rules explained in this blog post, such as the Change the Y to I Rule, when a Y at the end of a word is changed to I before adding a vowel suffix (carry becomes carrier). Note, inflectional suffixes can also be vowel suffixes or consonant suffixes.

So, for English spelling, grouping suffixes as consonant suffixes and vowel suffixes is more helpful to students and therefore makes much more sense. Grouping suffixes as inflectional and derivational suffixes can be helpful for studying advanced English grammar, but students would have to have mastered concepts such a verb tenses and parts of speech before they could understand the concepts of inflectional and derivational suffixes.

Does this clear the issue for you? Please let me know if you have further questions.

Carol Orr

says:

Thank you so much. I think your explanations will help our 7-year-old grandson who is struggling with reading and spelling. We have enrolled him in a reading program but now have COVID 19 interfering. He has been frustrated and embarrassed. We want to help build his confidence so he can feel good like his sisters do.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Carol,
I’m happy to hear you found this article helpful. If there are other concepts or things he is having trouble with, let me know. I’m happy to help!

Aeysha Patel

says:

This is so awesome. Glad I found your blog

Emily

says:

Thank you!

BOB

says:

VERY USEFUL :)

Jackie

says:

Thanks so much for this helpful resource! I’m just getting ready to teach a unit on this to my students and needed a primer on the rules myself.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jackie,
It’s great that this was helpful for you as you prepare your lesson.

yacine

says:

Thank you so much for everything

K. Y. T

says:

Can you please explin me why is it difficult to read aloud words with suffixes properly??

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m not sure. Are you meaning your student is having difficulty reading words with suffixes or are you having this difficulty?

There are a number of words that change pronunciation when their form is changed. Nature, with a long A sound, changes to natural with a short A sound. Is this the sort of difficulty you mean?

Alex

says:

In morphology, as taught at classical universities and decent secondary schools around the world, a sharp distinction is made between suffixes and endings. Suffixes modify the word’s semantics (e.g., “play” -> “player”, “playful”, “playfully”, “playfulness”), while an ending leaves the word’s semantics intact and changes only the inflection (e.g., “play” -> “played”, “playing”, “plays”). In my experience, the difference between a suffix and an ending can be easily explained to an average ten-year-old.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Thank you for sharing this distinction, Alex.

However, in English, the difference between suffixes and endings don’t change how words are read or spelled. They are a grammar distinction and All About Reading and All About Spelling only cover grammar as it directly affects reading or spelling. The rules for when to double final consonants, when to change a Y to I, and so on are the same whether the part of speech is changed or the tense is changed. Since most students will need to be able to read and spell such words well before they are ten years old and since All About Reading and All About Spelling focus on helping those that struggle to learn to read and spell, it is most helpful to use the commonly accepted term for both, suffixes.

Jamil

says:

Thank you😊
They are very helpful.

Jamil

says:

Dear teacher,can you explain which suffixes related to which word class?
I’m a student,and I have problem with this section.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Jamil,
Here is the Cambridge Dictionary page on Suffixes. If you scroll down a bit, it has lists of suffixes by what part of speech (word class) they make, such as noun suffixes, adjective suffixes, and so on. I think you will find it very helpful.

Let me know if you need anything else.

Megan S

says:

Thank you for your awesome resources :) They will make Reading for this upcoming year- A better year!

yvonne

says:

great resources, thank you

Mary

says:

I’m studying root words and their origin would you have flash cards to use? for instand words with latin roots?

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Mary,
No, we do not produce flashcards for Latin roots or any other roots. We do have word cards that include words with Latin roots when they are taught in the last level of our All About Reading and our All About Spelling programs, but they are used for reading and spelling the words respectively.

However, we do have Latin Roots Word Trees that are interactive worksheets for building many complex words with Latin roots. I think you may find them helpful.

Jessica Tomlinson

says:

So clear! Thank you.

Karen Sharon

says:

Thank you so much for the great activities and easy and clear explanations, I am definitely going to use these in my lessons.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I’m happy this was helpful for you, Karen! 😊

Marie Chr. Fletcher

says:

I enjoy your blog very much. I live in Sweden and work as a special teacher helping students with reading/spelling difficulties. Since the Swedish and English language don’t have much in common it is not possible to use your program here in Sweden. However I am very grateful for everything you share, including free downloads – it gives me so many new ideas and perspectives.
Thank you ♥️

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

Marie,
I’m so happy you have found a way to make our information useful in your work! If you have any questions or need ideas, just let me know. Yes, our specifically English programs won’t help you, but I may be able to help you come up with multisensory and fun ideas for your students to work on skills.

Victoria

says:

So beyond grateful for having found AAR and AAS! Thanks for all you do to make this homeschooling journey easier!!!

Freda

says:

This is an amazing resource! English is my second language and how school taught us when I was young was completely different. I just asked to memorise the words, and I never paid attention to the rules. Now I am a teacher, trying to explain grammar and phonics to my students. I am learning a lot every day and your blog post just awesome! Best explaination that I could find online. Thanks!

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You’re welcome, Freda. I’m so happy that our blog is helping you make sense of English for yourself and your students!

If you have any questions, just ask!

Tonya

says:

These activities are exactly what I was needing. I have two young readers that are starting to read with suffixes and need help recognizing them in order to break the word down correctly.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

I hope these are helpful for your students, Tonya. Let me know how this goes or if your students need more help.

Pa Savorn

says:

Please help me. I want you to write details about the suffix exercises papers and please kindly send it to me.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You will find the details on each of these suffix exercises in the downloads in this blog post. Here are the direct links, if that helps you.

30 Common Suffixes and Their Meanings
Go Nutty Activity for sorting vowel and consonant suffixes.
Sleeping Mice Activity for practicing finding base words.
Suffix Word Flippers for practice reading words with two suffixes.

We also have a blog post on Teaching Latin Roots with Word Trees that includes a downloadable activity for working with Latin base words, suffixes, and prefixes.

I hope this helps, but if not please let me know what it is you are looking for.

Sunita

says:

Excellent teaching resources!!!!

Karen Rojas

says:

I love the word trees.

Karen Rojas

says:

I love the printable. So smart.

Yolanda Fdez

says:

Dear blogger,
I’m teaching English to ESL students and they have many problems with forming new words with prefixes and suffixes. I found your blog and I think the lists of the most common prefixes and suffixes will help them a lot. Thanks for letting us share your ideas.

Robin E.

says: Customer Service

You are welcome, Yolanda! I hope our suffix and prefix blog posts provide a lot of help for your students.

Yarid

says:

My daughter picked this up pretty quickly because of the easy presentation.

I love little sayings to help
Remember the rules and the games are awesome to help reinforce what was taught, besides being fun.

Elena Taylor

says:

Love downloads that make teaching easier.

Jassica

says:

We are just working on this!

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