In linguistics, an affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word or word form. The main two categories are derivational and inflectional affixes. Derivational affixes, such as un-, -ation, anti-, pre- etc, introduce a semantic change to the word they are attached to. Inflectional affixes introduce a syntactic change, such as singular into plural (e.g. -(e)s), or present simple tense into present continuous or past tense by adding -ing, -ed to an English word. All of them are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes.

Adfixes, infixes and their variations

Changing a word by adding a morpheme at its beginning is called prefixation, in the middle is called infixation, and at the end is called suffixation.

Categories of affixes
Affix Example Schema Description
Prefix un-do prefix-stem Appears before the stem
Prefixoid/semi-prefix/pseudo-prefix[1] flexi-cover prefixoid-stem Appears before the stem, but is only partially bound to it
Suffix/postfix look-ing stem-suffix Appears after the stem
Suffixoid[2]/semi-suffix[3]/pseudo-suffix cat-like stem-suffixoid Appears after the stem, but is only partially bound to it
(see also tmesis)
edu⟨ma⟩cated st⟨infix⟩em Appears within a stem — common e.g. in Austronesian languages
Circumfix en⟩light⟨en circumfix⟩stem⟨circumfix One portion appears before the stem, the other after
Interfix speed-o-meter stema-interfix-stemb Links two stems together in a compound
Duplifix money~shmoney (shm-reduplication) stem~duplifix Incorporates a reduplicated portion of a stem
(may occur before, after, or within the stem)
Transfix Maltese: k⟨i⟩t⟨e⟩b "he wrote"
(compare root ktb "write")
s⟨transfix⟩te⟨transfix⟩m A discontinuous affix that interleaves within a discontinuous stem
Simulfix mouse → mice stem\simulfix Changes a segment of a stem
Suprafix produce (noun)
produce (verb)
stem\suprafix Changes a suprasegmental feature of a stem
Disfix Alabama: tipli "break up"
(compare root tipasli "break")
st⟩disfix⟨em The elision of a portion of a stem

Prefix and suffix may be subsumed under the term adfix, in contrast to infix.[4]

When marking text for interlinear glossing, as in the third column in the chart above, simple affixes such as prefixes and suffixes are separated from the stem with hyphens. Affixes which disrupt the stem, or which themselves are discontinuous, are often marked off with angle brackets. Reduplication is often shown with a tilde. Affixes which cannot be segmented are marked with a back slash.

Lexical affixes

Semantically speaking, lexical affixes or semantic affixes, when compared with free nouns, often have a more generic or general meaning, for example, one denoting "water in a general sense" may not have a noun equivalent because all the nouns denote more specific meanings such as "saltwater", "whitewater", etc (while in other cases the lexical suffixes have become grammaticalized to various degrees.) Although they behave as incorporated noun roots/stems within verbs and as elements of nouns, they never occur as freestanding nouns. Lexical affixes are relatively rare and are used in Wakashan, Salishan, and Chimakuan languages — the presence of these is an areal feature of the Pacific Northwest of North America - where they show little to no resemblance to free nouns with similar meanings. Compare the lexical suffixes and free nouns of Northern Straits Saanich written in the Saanich orthography and in Americanist notation:

Lexical Suffix Noun
-o, -aʔ "person" , ełtálṉew̱ ʔəɬtelŋəxʷ "person"
-nát -net "day" sȼićel skʷičəl "day"
-sen -sən "foot, lower leg" sxene, sx̣ənəʔ "foot, lower leg"
-áwtw̱ -ew̕txʷ "building, house, campsite" , á,leṉ ʔeʔləŋ "house"

Some linguists have claimed that these lexical suffixes provide only adverbial or adjectival notions to verbs. Other linguists disagree arguing that they may additionally be syntactic arguments just as free nouns are and, thus, equating lexical suffixes with incorporated nouns. Gerdts (2003) gives examples of lexical suffixes in the Halkomelem language (the word order here is verb–subject–object):

(1) niʔ šak’ʷ-ət-əs łə słeniʔ łə qeq
"the woman washed the baby"
(2) niʔ šk’ʷ-əyəł łə słeniʔ
"the woman baby-washed"

In sentence (1), the verb "wash" is šak’ʷətəs where šak’ʷ- is the root and -ət and -əs are inflectional suffixes. The subject "the woman" is łə słeniʔ and the object "the baby" is łə qeq. In this sentence, "the baby" is a free noun. (The niʔ here is an auxiliary, which can be ignored for explanatory purposes.)

In sentence (2), "baby" does not appear as a free noun. Instead it appears as the lexical suffix -əyəł which is affixed to the verb root šk’ʷ- (which has changed slightly in pronunciation, but this can also be ignored here). The lexical suffix is neither "the baby" (definite) nor "a baby" (indefinite); such referential changes are routine with incorporated nouns.

Orthographic affixes

In orthography, the terms for affixes may be used for the smaller elements of conjunct characters. For example, Maya glyphs are generally compounds of a main sign and smaller affixes joined at its margins. These are called prefixes, superfixes, postfixes, and subfixes according to their position to the left, on top, to the right, or at the bottom of the main glyph. A small glyph placed inside another is called an infix.[5] Similar terminology is found with the conjunct consonants of the Indic alphabets. For example, the Tibetan alphabet utilizes prefix, suffix, superfix, and subfix consonant letters.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Fischer, Roswitha (1998). Lexical Change in Present-day English: A Corpus-based Study of the Motivation, Institutionalization, and Productivity of Creative Neologisms. Gunter Narr Verlag. ISBN 9783823349402.
  2. ^ Kremer, Marion. 1997. Person reference and gender in translation: a contrastive investigation of English and German. Tübingen: Gunter Narr, p. 69, note 11.
  3. ^ Marchand, Hans. 1969. The categories and types of present-day English word-formation: A synchronic-diachronic approach. Munich: Beck, pp. 356 ff.
  4. ^ Powell, Barry (2012). "Glossary". Writing: Theory and History of the Technology of Civilization. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 255. doi:10.1002/9781118293515.gloss. ISBN 9781118293515.
  5. ^ Robert Sharer & Loa Traxler, 2006, The Ancient Maya, Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-4817-9
  6. ^ Andrew West, "Precomposed Tibetan Part 1 : BrdaRten" Archived 2010-10-17 at the Wayback Machine BabelStone, September 14, 2006