1

I've been having a real hard time trying to gather information about word formation in English, more specifically about the rules involving suffixes that turn verbs and adjectives into nouns. But not only that, because I also need the rules about the changes in spelling and the stress shift in the pronunciation regarding these noun suffixes.

So far I've got a list of "all" suffixes that turn verbs and adjectives into nous and their meanings. However, I haven't found much information about the other topics: spelling changes and stress shift.

Could you help with that, please?

Example:

ADJECTIVE - sociable / NOUN SUFFIX: -ity / NOUN SUFFIX MEANING: condition, sate or degree to / SPELLING CHANGE: sociable - sociability / STRESS SHIF: sociable - sociability

  • 1
    It would help somewhat to know what is on your list. So far I've thought of -ion, -ty, -al, -ment, -cy, as well as -t in cases like complain/complaint, restrain/restraint or deceive/deceit, but I might be forgetting something. – sumelic Mar 10 '18 at 0:01
3

I think the two most common patterns for stress in words with noun-forming suffixes are:

  • stressed in the same position as in the related unsuffixed word
  • stressed on the syllable immediately preceding the suffix, regardless of the position of the stress in the related unsuffixed word

The most common spelling changes that I can think of are:

  • dropping silent e before a vowel-initial suffix

  • changing word-final -y to word-medial -i-

  • In British English, some words ending in -ll may change the spelling to -l- before a consonant-initial suffix

There are other spelling changes that occur with some suffixes, but they aren't always predictable.

Here are the noun-forming suffixes I can think of at the moment and their patterns:

  • -ness. Typically suffixed to an adjective.
    Stress falls in the same position as in the base adjective (I can't think of any exceptions.)
    Only a few types of words have minor spelling changes:

    • In adjectives that end in a consonant followed by -y, the -y changes to -i-: e.g. happy, happiness.

    • In British English, certain adjectives ending in -ll used to have a spelling change to -l- when suffixed by -ness, e.g. dull, dulness, but the spelling dullness is considered correct and is now more common in both American and British English.

  • -ment. Typically suffixed to a verb.
    Stress usually falls in the same position as in the base verb, but there are a few possible exceptions like the British English pronunciations of ádvertise, advértisement.
    Only a few types of words have minor spelling changes:

    • final -y turns t0 -i- in merriment from the adjective merry.

    • Exceptionally, silent e may be dropped from -dge before -ment as in judg(e)ment, acknowledg(e)ment, lodg(e)ment, abridg(e)ment.

    • In British English, certain verbs ending in -ll may have a spelling change to -l- when suffixed by -ment, e.g. install, instalment.

  • -al. Typically suffixed to a verb.
    Usually, stress falls on the syllable that was stressed in the base word, and this is the syllable directly before the suffix. That is, nouns in -al usually only exist for verbs that are stressed on the final syllable. (Note that this tendency for stressing the syllable immediately before the prefix only holds for -al nouns derived from verbs; there are many other -al nouns, like animal, or -al adjectives, like typical, that have earlier stress.) However, the word burial (which doesn't have the suffix -al from an etymological standpoint, but which could be analyzed as the verb bury + the suffix -al from a synchronic standpoint) is stressed on the first syllable, as in bury, even for speakers who pronounce it in three syllables (I think this is the most common pronunciation, but apparently some speakers typically compress the "i" to a glide).

    Burial is also an example of the -y to -i- change that has been mentioned above. "Silent e" is regularly dropped before this suffix, e.g. survive - survival, and the same consonant-doubling rules that apply to the spelling of the "-ing" or "-ed" form of a verb apply here, e.g. rebut - rebuttal has a doubled consonant, but beheadal does not.

  • -ion. Typically suffixed to a verb, sometimes to an adjective. There are a number of longer forms that could be considered "suffixes" of their own, like -tion, -sion, ation.
    Stress always falls on the syllable immediately preceding -ion.
    Spelling changes are somewhat hard to predict because they're usually based on different parts of Latin words. But some common patterns that usually hold up are that verbs ending in -ate correspond to nouns ending -ation and verbs ending in -ize/ise often correspond to nouns ending in -ization/-isation (such as realize, realization) although a few verbs in -ize correspond instead to nouns in -ism (e.g. baptize, baptism).

    -ity. Typically suffixed to an adjective.
    Stress always falls on the syllable immediately preceding -ity.
    Spelling changes for -ity words are similarly rather unpredictable. The change from -ble to -bility in your example sociable - sociability is a fairly common pattern; another pattern that many words follow is -ous in the adjective, -osity in the noun. In some -ious words, the -ious is simply dropped: e.g. atrocious - atrocity. "Silent e" is regularly dropped before this suffix, e.g. sane - sanity, serene - serenity (and this is accompanied by a change in pronunciation from "long" to "short" vowels for adjectives with the a_e, e_e, i_e, o_e spelling patterns). Some words have very unpredictable spelling and/or pronunciation changes like clear - clarity, vain - vanity.

  • -ty, preceded by a consonant. Typically suffixed to an adjective.
    Stress usually falls in the same position as the base word.
    You can see examples in my answer to Why "sovereignty" instead of "sovereignity"?

  • -ance/-ence/-ancy/-ency. Nouns with this ending are usually formed on -ant/-ent adjectives, which in turn are often formed on verbs. A few -ance nouns are formed directly on verbal bases (e.g. appearance).
    Stress is in the same position as in the base -ant/-ent word, which may not be stressed in the same position as the corresponding verb (e.g. resíde - résident - résidence, résidency). It's hard to give a good rule for when to use -ance vs. -ancy or -ence vs. -ency.

  • -cy, preceded by a letter other than n. Typically suffixed to an adjective.
    Stress is usually, but not always in the same position as in the base word. There are a number of cases of -ate adjectives or nouns corresponding to -acy nouns, e.g. degenerate - degeneracy, advocate - advocacy, delicate - delicacy. Other types of -acy nouns are a bit less predictably formed, like supréme - suprémacy and díplomat - diplómacy. With a different vowel before -cy, we have secret - secrecy. There is also the oddly formed normal - normalcy and the oddly spelled bankrupt - bankruptcy.

Noun endings that I think are fairly uncommon:

  • -ship. Typically suffixed to a noun.
    Stress falls in the same position as in the base noun (I can't think of any exceptions.) Examples: friendship, fellowship, authorship.

  • -hood. Typically suffixed to a noun, sometimes to an adjective
    Stress falls in the same position as in the base noun (I can't think of any exceptions.) Examples: childhood, brotherhood, falsehood, adulthood.

  • -th. These nouns can correspond to adjectives or verbs; -th has very little productivity as a noun-forming suffix in modern English.
    Stress: As far as I know, all -th nouns in modern English are monosyllables. It wouldn't be expected to cause a stress shift.
    Spelling changes can be highly unpredictable due to umlaut and vowel shortening sound changes. In some cases, it may not even be obvious that the adjective and -th noun are related. Examples: strong - strength, long - length, deep - depth, wide - width, slow - sloth, grow - growth, foul - filth, bear - birth, die - death, steal - stealth, heal/hale - health.

  • -t. Some verbs that don't end in -t have corresponding nouns ending in -t, such as complain - complaint, restrain - restraint, descend - descent, extend - extent, ascend - ascent. As far as I know, there is no useful rule relating to their spelling or pronunciation: these pairs of words just need to be memorized individually.

  • Regarding the -t, would the following observations hold across the board? The last syllable of the verb must be heavy, if the vowel is long it ends in /n/, if the vowel is short it ends in /nd/? (so all the nouns actually end in /nt/) – Araucaria May 11 '18 at 14:03
  • 1
    @Araucaria: Maybe. I'm not sure if pairs like "deceive, deceit" and "conquer, conquest" could also be grouped together with the -n(d)/-nt pairs. – sumelic May 31 '18 at 17:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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