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There are some common suffixes, -less, -able, -full, and -wise, that are also full words on their own.

Why isn't adding these words on considered compound words instead of suffixes? Or to say it differently, what is the reason or evidence that if they combine with another word we don't call them compound words?

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  • Hello, Ferhad. It's necessary to start with a general overview of how words are composed (morphology); I'd start with the Wikipedia article Morpheme. Oct 19, 2021 at 9:51
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    -full is not common
    – DjinTonic
    Oct 19, 2021 at 10:59
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    -full's cousin -ful is quite common, though not quite a ful word in its own right. Oct 19, 2021 at 14:31
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    Part of an answer lies in the origins of the English language itself which lie in a 'car crash' between the Teutonic language of the Saxons (related to German) and the 'Romance' (Latin-based) French language of the Normans. Modern English is born of compromises. Take '-able'. We say 'portable'. It comes the Latin 'portabilis', which is an adjective formed from verb portare (to carry), and means able to be carried. The 'abilis' is neither a suffix nor as separate word. 'Credible' comes from Latin 'credere' (to believe) but believable (a Germanic word) is not 'credable' but 'credible'.
    – Tuffy
    Oct 19, 2021 at 15:19
  • All 0f these are considered suffixes because (a) they aren't pronounced the same as the words they're spelled like, and (b) they don't have the same meaning or use as those words. If they were and if they did, they would be considered compounds. Dec 27, 2021 at 16:42

2 Answers 2

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Your wondering at this is understandable. In a very interesting article, which I recommend you to read entirely, M-W includes in the category of compounds the words formed with the help of prefixes and suffixes:

A compound is a word or word group that consists of two or more parts that work together as a unit to express a specific concept. Examples are double-check, cost-effective, around-the-clock, hand-to-hand, forward-thinking, eyeliner, and iced tea. They might also be formed from prefixes or suffixes, as in ex-president, supermicro, presorted, shirtless, or unforgivable.

It is interesting to look at the etymology of these suffixes. Take -wise for example. Etymonline explains that it comes from the NOUN wise (which is still used today in formal or literary expression like in this wise):

wise (n.) - "way of proceeding, manner," Old English wise "way, fashion, custom, habit, manner; condition, state, circumstance," from Proto-Germanic *wison "appearance, form, manner". Most common in English now as a word-forming element (as in likewise, clockwise); the adverbial -wise has been used thus since Old English.

So in modern English it is considered a suffix when it forms adverbs like timewise, moneywise, contrariwise.

As for -able (sometimes -ible), this is definitely a suffix, but is associated with the adjective able because of the similarity in meaning. Etymonline is again of great help:

-able: common termination and word-forming element of English adjectives (typically based on verbs) and generally adding a notion of "capable of; allowed; worthy of; requiring; to be ______ed," sometimes "full of, causing," from French -able and directly from Latin -abilis. It is properly -ble, from Latin -bilis (the vowel being generally from the stem ending of the verb being suffixed).

In Latin, -abilis and -ibilis depended on the inflectional vowel of the verb. Hence the variant form -ible in Old French, Spanish, English. In English, -able tends to be used with native (and other non-Latin) words, -ible with words of obvious Latin origin (but there are exceptions). The Latin suffix is not etymologically connected with able, but it long has been popularly associated with it, and this probably has contributed to its vigor as a living suffix.

So if you check the etymology of these suffixes, you will elucidate why they are only considered as word-forming elements, and not words in themselves.

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  • Wiktionary regards -like as a suffix, while 'fishlike' is a fusion of two free morphemes. Oct 20, 2021 at 13:41
  • Correct. That adds to the confusion.
    – fev
    Oct 20, 2021 at 14:15
  • There needs to be a look at free and bound morphemes at the outset here, though I'm sure a grey area is still unavoidable without extreme (and probably new) specification. Oct 20, 2021 at 15:29
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There are some common suffixes, -less, -able, -full, and -wise, that are also full words on their own.

This is a misunderstanding of the reality: suffixes are not words.

Consider the "-ity" in reality.

Consider the "-ness" in realness. There is a word "ness" but it is entirely unrelated to the function of the suffix.

OED

Suffix (n.)

1. Grammar. A verbal element attached to the end of a word to form an entirely new word (e.g. short, short-age, short-en, short-er, short-est, short-ish, short-ly, short-ness) or as an inflectional formative (e.g. ox, ox-en).

Consider a compound noun noun1noun2 which gives us "noun2 associated with noun1", e.g. "motorway" = a road associated with motor vehicles.

Now compare that with "shortly"... it isn't even a noun.

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  • The OP is asking about these very particular things which -are- words (when not put at the end of a word. -Why- do you consider them suffixes rather than words? Why do you analyze them as suffixes as opposed to compound words.
    – Mitch
    Oct 19, 2021 at 13:00
  • @Mitch I agree with the OED. Suffixes are not "words", they are "verbal elements". This answers the OP's question. The OP has cherry-picked a couple of examples of suffixes that look like words and leapt to a conclusion that there are different classes of suffix - some are words, some are not. To be rigorous we must address all suffixes - not a selected and misleading few. The question is based on a false premise.
    – Greybeard
    Oct 19, 2021 at 21:02
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    Greybeard, the matter is not what the OED says it is whether you should apply suffix or compound word to the situation. Citing a definition isn't supporting evidence that -less is a suffix when it appears at the end of the word. Also Your examples don't use words as suffixes which is the situation in the question. The OP needs to be convinced that -less is in fact a suffix in these instances (if that is actually the case (I kinda think it is the case). Why isn't 'bone' a suffix in 'backbone'? Your answer seems to say that it must be a suffix, when I think we both would agree that it's not.
    – Mitch
    Oct 19, 2021 at 21:26
  • @Mitch The OP needs to be convinced that his question is based on a false premise. If you believe Your examples don't use words as suffixes which is the situation in the question., I feel you may have misunderstood the situation in the question as the OP clearly gives -less, -able, -full, and -wise, and although these are "words" (minus the hyphen), as suffixes they are not words but verbal elements, which have a different function. You would delete a question such as "Why in "It is set" and "it is a set" do we use the same noun, "set"?" The OP's question is just as faulty.
    – Greybeard
    Oct 19, 2021 at 21:37
  • hello friends , i appreciate all your efforts . but, my question was why suffixes like less , able , full and wise if they attached with or come with words we call them complex not compound ? just i want to know why they are complex not compound ?
    – Ferhad
    Oct 24, 2021 at 6:54

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