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Word Formation

I’ve recently had the pleasure of preparing a highly-motivated class of 9 for the BEC Vantage exam which they took on Saturday 29th May (fingers crossed they’ll all pass!) This is a Cambridge business exam for upper-intermediate students and is the same level as the FCE (Cambridge First Certificate) however, in my opinion it’s slightly harder as you must have a good range of business vocabulary.

One of the things that helped my class with this is exam was learning how to form words in English and so I thought that this may help you with your English too. My advice is to learn the main prefixes and suffixes that we use in English and then practise word building by adding them to the ‘base’ form of the word. Why learn one word when you can learn 4 instead?!

So what is a prefix?

Prefixes are at the beginning of word and they often change the meaning of the word. Here is a list of some common prefixes and what they mean:

Anti - against e.g. anti-war
Co - with e.g. coordinate
Dis, in, il, im, ir, un - opposite or not, e.g. discomfort, indirect, impractical, irregular,
Ex - former
Mis - badly or wrongly e.g. misbehave
Re - again e.g. reread

So what is a suffix?

Suffixes are at the end of the word and they change the form of a word and these endings show us which are nouns, verbs, adjective and adverbs. Here is a list of some common suffixes and what they mean:

Able, al, ant, ent, ful, ible, ic, ical, ive, less, ous - adjectives e.g. profitable, vital, tolerant, excellent, successful, feasible, artistic, musical, creative, hopeless, fabulous

Ance, ee, ence, er, hood, ism, ist, ity, ment, ness, sion, tion, ship, -nouns e.g. ignorance, employee, independence, employer, neighbourhood, Buddhism, vitality, employment, fitness, decision, induction, friendship

Ify, ise - verbs e.g. intensify, criticise

Ably, ibly, ily, ly - adverbs e.g. predictably,reliably, happily, absolutely

OK, let’s see if you can use this information to form words below. Fill in the gaps using the base form of the word given in brackets.

1. She was delighted when she heard that she had been .................... (success) in her interview.
2. He always waited for her to choose the film, he was so......................... (decide)
3. Due to the recession a lot of people don’t have jobs and therefore............................. (employ) is high.
4. When selecting our new suppliers, ......................(rely) is the most important benefit to us.
5. The sales forecast was promising but the results were ..............................(dramatic) better.

I’ll put the correct answers on our blog next week, good luck!


  • Highly-motivated - Very very keen to do or achieve something
  • Fingers crossed - To hope that something turns out the way you want it to


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