English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

A pattern that begins a word is generally denoted as "prefix", one that ends a word is generally denoted as "suffix".

Is there a word that indicates a pattern that surrounds a word. For instance (hello), is there a word that indicates the parentheses?

So if I have several patterns i.e.:

"hello" (hello) {hello} [hello]

etc. What word do I use for the surrounding pattern?

share|improve this question
Please edit question and specify a context: grammar, linguistics, computer science, other. (Otherwise, assertion about "generally denoted" is false.) – jwpat7 May 2 '12 at 22:52
You don't agree that prefix and suffix generally denote patterns that begin and end words? – NominSim May 3 '12 at 13:35
up vote 10 down vote accepted

There are three more -fix words you may be looking for:

  1. The generic term for things attaching to words is affix
  2. The term for something inserted into a word, as in abso-fucking-lutely is infix
  3. What you are looking for is something attached around a word, as in the German ge- + -t, and this is called a circumfix.

There are some more exotic types of affix described in the Wikipedia article.

I would note that these terms are usually used in linguistics for morphemes, and surrounding a word with punctuation is not usually considered circumfixation.

share|improve this answer
+1 for abso-fucking-lutely. – cornbread ninja 麵包忍者 May 2 '12 at 23:12
I don't think I would call that an infix, because that implies a grammatical or derivational morpheme, and almost certainly a bound morpheme.Examples are rare to non-existent in English, but French shows an infix in the interrogative of "il y a": "y a-t-il". Forms like abso-fucking-lutely are referred to as tmesis. – Colin Fine May 2 '12 at 23:39
@Colin, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expletive_infixation – nohat May 3 '12 at 0:00
Some programming languages have circumfix operators. You can think of the four bracketing types as such, actually. – tchrist May 3 '12 at 1:36
@tchrist: the way that terms of art may have been picked up and used in other fields doesn't necessarily tell us anything about the meaning or use of the words in the original domain. A "statement" in a programming language has only a metaphorical relationship to a "statement" in language. – Colin Fine May 3 '12 at 23:40

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.