A woman wearing a scarf looks at a camera through an antique magnifying glass as her picture is taken.

Source: “Self Portrait with Magnifying Glass,” Jen and a Camera, Flickr

You know affixes from hearing, saying, or reading them every day, but you need to be able to identify them in words and know their meaning so that you can use the power of prefixes and suffixes to help you decipher challenging words in reading assignments and exams.


Pre-” means before, so a prefix comes before a root word. You use a prefix in the word preview. “Pre-” is the prefix and view is the root word. Adding the prefix “pre-” to this root word creates preview and changes the meaning to “viewing something beforehand.”

pre + view = preview

pre- = “before”

view = “to see”

preview = “to see before”

If we look at the next word literally, malcontent would mean “bad satisfied” which doesn’t make sense. We need to make a small leap here; “bad satisfied” might also mean “unsatisfied” or “not satisfied.” Sometimes you have to stretch the literal meaning until you can understand how the prefix and root work together.

mal + content = malcontent

mal- = “bad”

content = “satisfied”

malcontent = “not satisfied”

If you think about how cookie dough “conforms” to the shape of a cookie cutter, you might understand that to conform is “to bring a shape or structure together with another one.” In other words, one shape agrees with or matches the other shape.

con + form = conform

con- = “together”

form = “the structure or shape”

conform = “to bring into agreement”


A root is a unit of language in its simplest form. A root has nothing added to it and may or may not stand alone as a word in English. For example, dict comes the the Latin word “to say.” We do not use the word dict as a standalone word when speaking, but we do use contradict. The prefix contra- means “against.” By adding this prefix to dict, a new word is created meaning “to speak against.” How do you know if you have reduced a word to its simplest form with no affixes added? Sometimes it’s hard to know if it’s an unfamiliar word, but a dictionary can be extremely helpful in these situations. The following are examples of roots:

For more information on root words, go to this TV 411 link.


A suffix comes after a root word. You use a suffix in the word fixable. The suffix -able means “something can be done” and “fix” is the root word. So fixable means “something can be fixed.” Adding the suffix -able modifies the meaning of the word.

ponder + able = ponderable

-able = “a thing that can be done”

ponder = “to weigh in the mind or think about”

ponderable = “possible or able to be thought about”

malice + ous = malicious

-ous = “possessing the qualitites of”

malice = “desire to cause pain or injury to another”

malicious = “full of desire to cause pain”

modern + ism = modernism

-ism = “act or state of being”

modern = “characteristic of the present time”

modernism = “the state of being modern”

You use affixes every day but may not have known they came from Greek or Latin and were added to root expressions. Now that you have reviewed several affixes, let’s look at some words you might use in your math, science, history, or English classes.

In the following exercise, read each word in the box below starting with “centimeter.” Decide what course or courses (math, science, or history) might use this word and then drag and drop the word into the column for the course that would likely use this term. Most of the words may have two correct answers. Also, each of the course names will match more than one word. For example, in which course would you be most likely to use the word supersonic, which contains the affix “super-”? If you guessed “science,” you’re right! Hints: Each of the courses will match more than one word. To find the matches for words containing more than one correct response, click the reset button.

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