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While writing the word ‘suffix’, I stopped to do a spellcheck as a result of the ‘ff’. I did not do so with the word ‘prefix’ as I was comfortable with the ‘pre’ and ‘fix’. I looked up ‘ff’ vs. ‘f’ and found the Floss rule (also FSZL), a spelling rule where the letters f, s, z, and l are doubled after a short vowel sound.

Then it became double the letter after a short vowel and don’t double if there is a consonant after the sound (spellzone.com).

I did not feel that my question was answered.

The etymologies are as follows:

Prefix: mid 16th century (as a verb): from Old French prefixer, from Latin praefixus ‘fixed in front’, from the verb praefigere, from prae ‘before’ + figere ‘to fix’. The noun is from modern Latin praefixum, neuter (used as a noun) of praefixus, and dates from the mid 17th century.

Suffix: late 18th century (as a noun): from modern Latin suffixum, neuter past participle (used as a noun) of Latin suffigere, from sub- ‘subordinately’ + figere ‘fasten’.

(Google)

Wouldn’t it make sense as ‘preffix’ and ‘suffix’, or ‘prefix’ and ‘sufix’?

Some tentatively related discussions are here: "Postfix" or "suffix"? and Single word which means 'suffix' or 'prefix'.

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  • 6
    Your research shows double-f already in Latin suffixum and single-f in Latin praefixus. So the question of single or double f is not one for English to answer.
    – GEdgar
    Mar 1 at 18:21
  • Last time I entered a long lettered source, it didnt go well! Ah it's under google as: Definitions from Oxford languages. I'm trying to learn how to copy links correctly. Thanks @Cascabel
    – user414952
    Mar 1 at 18:23
  • No problem, Huggy. I remember what it was like--twice!
    – Cascabel
    Mar 1 at 18:26
  • 1
    Sylvester?? Am I wrong?
    – user414952
    Mar 1 at 18:42
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    Looking at it strictly from an English pronunciation standpoint, "sufix" would have a long "u" sound (soofix); conversely, "preffix" would have a short "e" sound, as in "preference", which of course, brings up another question entirely.
    – RobJarvis
    Mar 1 at 18:47
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These words are 'borrowed' from Latin, which routinely performed elision and assimilation on prefixes with a final consonant when the consonant was sufficiently similar to the initial consonant of the root to which it was attached. The resulting word was spelled with a doubling of the remaining consonant.

pre- + fix- ... no final consonant, so prefix
sub- + fix- ... so suffix
ad- + fix- ... affix

in- + toler- ... {n} and {t} are very high contrast, so intolerant
in- + med- ... immediate
in- + lum- ... illuminate

The same pattern is followed with modern coinages using Latin prefixes and roots.

(From English Language and Learners SE by StoneyB)

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Two ways you can explain it are from the word's etymology, and from the word's pronunciation in English. Etymology is the historical reason. The English pronunciation is not the original cause of the spelling, but if you remember the pronunciation, it might help you to remember the spelling.

Etymological explanation

The etymological reason is that, as mentioned in the comments, the Latin source of suffix (the verb suffigere) has double ff, but the Latin source of prefix (the verb praefigere) has single f.

The Latin verb suffigere was formed with the prefix sub-, which in its basic form ends in the consonant b. However, Latin has rules that cause consonants at the ends of certain prefixes to merge with the following consonant to form a double consonant in some circumstances. In the case of sub-, the b is turned into f before a base starting in the consonant f (this is called “assimilation”), creating a double ff.

The Latin verb praefigere was formed with the prefix prae-, which does not end in a consonant, so there was no doubling in Latin.

An alternative explanation from English pronunciation

In English, a vowel before a double consonant tends to be pronounced “short”. You can see that suffix is pronounced with a “short u” sound in the first syllable, which is consistent with the spelling with double ff (although it does not require it: there are prefixed words such as suburb where the u is pronounced short despite not being followed by a double consonant).

In contrast, prefix is pronounced with a “long e” sound in the first syllable. It would be fairly irregular if a word with this pronunciation were spelled with double ff after the e.

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  • are you saying the pronounciation of the geminate was not affecting the affix, in latin? That is unlikely because i would imply spelling prounciations, that is but unlikely in general.
    – vectory
    Mar 2 at 17:22
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    @vectory: I'm saying the spelling of the word is (mostly) not based on the English pronunciation. It is based on the Latin pronunciation
    – herisson
    Mar 3 at 7:53

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