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When I want to describe the amount of water one can hold in a cup, I might describe it as a "cupfull of water." Is is grammatically valid to extend this to other kinds of containers, like for example "a screenfull of text"?

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    Aside from the fact that the suffix -ful has only one 'l', it's fine. – Peter Shor Nov 18 '14 at 20:38
  • I can remember being a kid with either leaky Wellington boots, or boots that weren't high enough for the water I was standing in. It was certainly possible back then to get a wellyful. Or welliful - obviously I never saw it written down. – FumbleFingers Nov 18 '14 at 20:46
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Yes, but (as Peter Shor says) the suffix is spelt -ful.

The OED gives two meanings of the suffix -ful

  1. (which you are not asking about, but Joe Rounceville chose to discuss): "Forming adjs. ... the words may be rendered ‘having’, ‘characterized by’ (the attribute denoted by the n.)"

  2. "Forming ns. ... in the transferred sense of ‘the quantity that fills or would fill’ (the receptacle)"

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Yes, you can even have an earful, for example, when someone is berating you for something you've done.

  • That's true, but since this is a figurative meaning, it might not be so helpful if the questioner is not a native English speaker. – Colin Fine Nov 18 '14 at 21:55
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Yes, and the -ful suffix can actually be used for more than just containers. The -ful suffix means "full of or characterized by". So you have words like "painful" and "remorseful". I'm not sure that there's really a rule for when you can add -ful and when you can't. It seems to be just convention based. So you're safe with things that can be "full" of something (like containers), and then it becomes somewhat undefined when you can use -ful and when you can't.

  • But that is a different suffix, with both the meaning and the grammar different: it forms an adjective, not a noun. The question was about -ful meaning approximately the volume of. This answer is irrelevant to the question. -1 – Colin Fine Nov 18 '14 at 21:54
  • @ColinFine You may want to check back that one. – Kris Nov 19 '14 at 7:05

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