There are a few examples of pairs of words ending with -ee/-er like employee and employer or advisee and adviser. What I was curious about is if there was any rule that would describe the relationship of the objects in a pair like this and situations when it's appropriate to create a counterpart for a given word.

I'll give you an example. It's relatively common in the computer programming world to see the word dragee, which describes an object that is being dragged with a mouse. I understand that this is a relatively new word and could not be found in any dictionary (I've tried). Is that acceptable to make up words like this one or is it just bad English?

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    The suffix -ee seems to be quite productive, so I don't see any problem with dragee as long as it is understood by your audience. (Outsiders might mistake it for the sweets.)
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 11:14
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    I would sound a note of caution here: don't make up new words unless there's a good reason to do so - it adds to the burden of the reader and can be distracting or dilute your meaning. Whether it's better to create a new word or not can be dependent on context: in the "dragee" case, in text discussing drag-and-drop operations, the object being dragged is very much the focus of the discussion, and the text itself is often very complex. It would be very clumsy to have to keep using a phrase such as "object being dragged" every time it was referred to, so a new word helps the reader follow.
    – psmears
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 12:44
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    I thought the -ee suffix was only used for people, not objects...
    – Jimi Oke
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 12:47
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    "Dragee" sounds wrong to me. One, -ee is for people, as Jimi said; two, a person who drags is a "dragger", so one who is dragged would be a "draggee".
    – LaC
    Commented Jul 7, 2011 at 22:23
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    As a computer programmer, I've never heard the term "dragee," so I wouldn't say it's 'relatively common' -- not in web development or software development. I'd risk saying it's probably a colloquialism that's popped up in your particular shop rather than a widespread usage. Commented Sep 23, 2012 at 4:05

4 Answers 4


Actually dragee is in the dictionary: it's a fruit or nut wrapped in sugar (a peanut M&M is a dragee). But anyway!

I would say that if there are no existing words that fit the purpose (as in the case of a dragged object in computing), and the word 'sounds right', then there is no problem with neologising. After all, if no new words came along the language would never evolve.

  • I meant dragee as an object being dragged. Maybe wasn't the best choice of example then. Thanks for your answer.
    – detunized
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 11:11
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    I know, I was being facetious ;)
    – user3444
    Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 11:46

In general the suffix "-ee" is productive, and usually has the meaning of "person to which xxx is done" - I find "dragee" a little strange because it is not a person.

But beware: there are a few words where the "-ee" denotes the person who does rather than the person who is done to. A prominent example is "attendee", but also "returnee". I think this use arises only where there isn't a prominent object for the verb, because then that meaning would compete for xxx-ee. ("Attend" is transitive, and has as its object the meeting or event; but there is no need for a word "attendee" to mean the meeting or event, which is why I think it has come into use for a person attending.)

From a linguistics point of view this observation is interesting because the words that take "-ee" seem to be grammatical patients - those who undergo an experience as opposed to those who perform actions. English has a nominative-accusative system, in which this role is expressed by different grammatical constructs for different verbs; but in ergative languages, this is generally the role marked by the absolutive case.

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    There's also retiree, one who undergoes retirement. Commented Jan 21, 2011 at 13:47
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    Colin's right that this makes sense in an Ergative/Absolutive system. All Nominative/Accusative languages (e.g, Indo-European languages) have little pockets of semantic ergativity, just like there are sporadic Accusative constructions in Ergative languages. Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 22:13
  • I could never understand the use of the word "standee" for "one who stands". It sounds like it should mean "one who is stood upon!"
    – Peter K.
    Commented May 7, 2012 at 18:05
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    @Peter K: again, "stand" doesn't take a direct object, so the "-ee" suffix is available for the patient.
    – Colin Fine
    Commented May 8, 2012 at 22:51
  • "attender vs attendee"
    – Pacerier
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 10:05

You can use the -er/-ee combination on pretty much any verb, as long as it's easily understood.

The example dragee is perhaps not very well suited for this form, as it can be confused with an existing word, and because the result isn't so clearly understood as drager (dragger?) isn't a well know usage either.

My favorite usage of this is in a conversion from Buffy. The -ee suffix is quite elegantly used to express "You are the vampire, and I am going to kill you just like I have killed all the other vampires. That's what I do." in a single word:

Vampire: -- Slayer!

Buffy: -- Slayee!

  • I think we can safely assume any relevant context for OP's usage would be quite unambiguous. You personally might like the Buffy one - but it's totally superfluous, since slain already exists and can have exactly that meaning. In OP's context there simply isn't any other short form available, so it's a useful coinage. Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 23:04
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    @FumbleFingers: No, slain can't be used for the same meaining, as the vampire is not slain yet. The -ee form can ne used for a subject of an action even before the action, and even if the action actually doesn't come to occur.
    – Guffa
    Commented Dec 13, 2011 at 19:38

Common usage has become very sloppy in recent times, however. In many cases we now encounter the recipient of the action identified as the instigator of the action.

Example: One who attends a meeting is the instigator - thus the "attender". He is not the recipient, or "attendee".

Further: One who performs the act of escaping is an escaper. He does not receive the action of the escape, and so is not an escapee.

A batter who strikes out is a retiree, the pitcher is a retirer. A worker who quits may be a retirer, but unless he was fired, there is no retiree here.

I believe I encounter more incorrect use of 'ee' than correct.

But Buffy is a slayer and the vampire IS a slayee! Love that one!

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    I find no support in this NGram of escaper/escapee for your assertion that using the -ee suffix is some kind of sloppy modern usage. Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 23:00
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    "I believe I encounter more incorrect use of 'ee' than correct." This is normally the point after which you should reevaluate your understanding of what is correct.
    – Billy
    Commented Sep 20, 2012 at 10:21
  • @Billy, Meaning?
    – Pacerier
    Commented Apr 14, 2018 at 10:26

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