So, the "-ist" suffix is used to denote a person who is related to the word or word root that the "-ist" suffix is attached to (e.g. practicing that profession, adhering to that philosophy, etc.)

However, when you want to convert it into a noun that describes the pursuit that the "-ist" suffix person is engaged in, sometimes you use the "-ism" suffix, and sometimes you use the "-istry" suffix - a dentist is a person who engages in dentistry, a sophist is someone who engages in sophistry, a terrorist is someone who engages in terrorism, and an antagonist is someone who engages in antagonism.

Why do some of these words use the "-ism" suffix, and some use the "-istry" suffix? Is it something to do with the etymology of the word roots, is it some subtle grammatical or meaning difference, or is it just one of those inconsistent things that the English language does sometimes? I just tried looking on Google, and I can't find anything useful.

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    I was tempted to down-vote because the question begins 'So, ...'. But I restrained myself.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 18:10
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    Could you please show either some examples or some research and greatly preferably, both? Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 18:21
  • @RobbieGoodwin Was that comment directed at me? I did give some examples, in my question, and my research turned up nothing useful, which is why I was asking this question to begin with.
    – nick012000
    Commented Dec 22, 2017 at 18:40
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    Due to the fact that this is a good candidate for educational reference, and those being educated are easily misled, I feel it is important to add comment that nobody has any idea what @RobbieGoodwin means and he is most likely in belief that he is looking at a problem that is not rooted in usage of language but meaning of language. If you are looking for answers to the original question you can safely disregard his commentary. Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 10:29

2 Answers 2


-istry should not be interpreted as a suffix itself, as it's both -ist and -ery.


1 : a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory

2 : an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief


a suffix of nouns, often corresponding to verbs ending in -ize or nouns ending in -ism, that denote a person who practices or is concerned with something, or holds certain principles, doctrines, etc


a suffix of nouns denoting occupation, business, calling or condition, place or establishment, goods or products, things collectively, qualities, actions, etc.

To answer your question, the distinction would be that -ism would denote a system, or in the given "Terrorism" denotes some ideology. And -istry correspondingly an occupation.


"…ist" describes one who acts or practices

"…istry" describes the activity or practice in general

"…ism" describes a specific act or belief or, perhaps, the practical effect of either.

Much of the problem is that many acts, beliefs or fields simply do not suit all three grammatical parts, any more than "…ics", "…istry" or "…ology" work for any given field of study, as "chemics/ology", "electristry/ology" or "vulcanics/istry", let alone "humanities".

I suggest that whether "…ics" or "…istry", "…ities" or "…ology" describes a practice, science or belief is historical, influenced by whether the idea has its roots in Greek or Latin, German or what - and let's remember that physics, mechanics and many other fields use neither "…istry" nor "…ology"

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