I'm here trying to learn a better term for the type of suffix I seem to have made. I'm writing a grammar, so I'd like the term to seem right to folks like you.


Like compound word modifiers--e.g., fire modifies the head man for the new compound word fireman: a sort of man--for fires!--my set of suffixes are real words that make new sorts of words. However the odd thing is that these 8 words do this way more often than any other words. Other words can also compound; these 8 are the go-to.

Derivational suffixes?

Being a small group very commonly used for making new words, they're like derivational suffixes (-er, -ish, and some of their friends). However, I think that by definition derivational suffixes are not also standalone words with the same meanings.

Noun classes?

The 8 suffixes form two groups of contrasting concepts. Well, okay, common word-endings that distinguish related words by repeating certain contrasts. Sounds like gender. Could they be noun classes like gender? I don't think so: they don't prompt agreement from other words (la amiga mexicana); and they're common across all parts of speech but technically most words lack them.

Well, I don't know what to call them. What do you want to call them?

I'm happy to show the 8 suffixes if it helps. I wanted first to avoid an intimidating-length for the post. Thank you for your time.

  • 1
    You might be interested in looking at how verb conjugation works in Japanese. Most changes are made by a sound shift to create a stem + attaching a suffix to that stem, but most such suffixes are also standalone words, and the others often seem like they should have been able to work that way, or did at some point in the language's history. Commented Jul 10, 2023 at 16:26
  • Ok, thanks for the tip!
    – Vir
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 18:41

1 Answer 1


If I were you, I would call them compounds because your frequently compounded morphemes can stand alone and possess lexical meaning.

What is more, it is doubtful that your frequently compounded morphemes have the same semantic relationships with the morphemes that they are compounded with across the lexicon.

Consider "-man," in the sense of 'person':

A "fireman" is a man who helps douse structural or wild fires.

A "milkman" is a man who brings the milk.

A "businessman" is a man who conducts business for a private company.

A "policeman" is a man who works as a law-enforcement officer for a police force.

Contrast this with "-er" as in "doer." The semantic relationships between "-er" and the verbs that it converts into nouns is far more uniform than with the compounded "-man."

A seeker is one who seeks.

A sweeper is one who, or that which, sweeps.

A burner is that which burns.

A cleaner is that which cleans.

A miner is one who mines.

I don't think that the fact that some morphemes are compounded more often than others has a bearing on what you should call them.

  • 1
    Ok, thanks for the answer! So I could just call them the Frequent Compounds or something in the grammar. Your surmise, that they (like -man) don't have a uniform semantic relationship with their heads, is correct.
    – Vir
    Commented Jun 18, 2023 at 5:50

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