Hi could anyone tell me what is the purpose of the suffix 'ish' at the end of the adjectives 'girlish' and 'boyish? I mean you could use the suffix 'ly' but what is the need of the ish? I know that it indicates that the person being described is not entirely behaving like a 'girl' or 'boy' but can anyone shed any light on the actual purpose? I would be grateful if you could direct me to any literature or references to support.

Thank you! :)

  • The word boyish does not mean "not entirely like a boy" in the way reddish means "not entirely red" (although certainly girls and grown-up boys can behave boyishly). The difference is that boy is a noun and red is an adjective. See the dictionary. Dec 7, 2014 at 13:10
  • 2
    "Boyly" would sound weird.
    – Oldbag
    Dec 7, 2014 at 13:24

1 Answer 1


-ish: resembling, like, having some attributes of

Check out Unpack Your Adjectives. It's not a definitive source by any means, but it does mention and illustrate 'boyish'.

Usually when we say 'boyish' or 'girlish', we're referring to a youthful male/female (appearance as appropriate) and use it with a positive connotation.

  • "No cake for me, thank you. Trying to keep my girlish figure."
  • With that boyish charm, you'd never guess he was 45.

However, in George RR Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice books (Game of Thrones television series), the character Brienne is often ridiculed for her mannish ways and appearance. Likewise, in the animated series Archer, Lana's mannish hands are a constant source of jokes.

It would probably be similarly insulting for a girl to be called "boyish" or a boy to be called "girlish," but I don't have an example to give you off the top of my head.

  • +1, but "boyish" is not necessarily insulting to girls the way "girlish" would be to boys. "Mannish" would be insulting to women, however, as you suggest.
    – Robusto
    Dec 7, 2014 at 13:33
  • @Robusto thank you :) I'm new to this so didn't know I could click the tick :) thanks!
    – zara khan
    Dec 7, 2014 at 13:50

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