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Word Formation Suffixes -ful -less - Rules and exercises for intermediate level

Written by
Thursday, 08 April 2010
Example of formations suffixes -ful -ess: We ate a wonderful meal in the new Japanese restaurant. This image by skitterphoto.com is licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license

An overview of the word formation suffixes -full and -less which explains what rules you must follow when using these suffixes, with examples and exercises to help you learn. This online lesson is designed for intermediate level students.

Word formation suffixes -full and -less

The suffix -ful has been derived from the English word "full" and the literal meaning is "full of". Some meanings are can be a little more abstract and it may be harder to understand the meaning the first time you meet these words. For example the suffix -ful can also mean "characterised by or given, able or tending to be something".

Word formation suffixes -full and -less: be careful!

the suffix -ful is written with only one 'l'.

  • Bill is hopeful of receiving a job offer. - Literally "Bob is full of hope".
  • Mary brought in an armful of washing. - Literally "Mary's arm are full".
  • We ate a wonderful meal in the new Japanese restaurant.  - "Full of wonder" is not the right meaning here. 'Excellent' is a better translation.

The suffix -less has been derived from the English word "less" and the literal meaning is "without" or "lacking". Some meanings are more abstract. For example the suffix -less can mean "unable to act or be acted on in a specified way".

  • The liquid produced in the reaction is colourless. - Literally "without colour".
  • His addiction ruined his life. He lost everything and eventually became homeless. - Literally "without a home".
  • Susan really hurt Tony's feeling with that comment. She can be so thoughtless sometimes. - Literally "without a thought", although better translated as "inconsiderate".

Often the suffices -ful and -less can be found in pairs:

  • thought —→ thoughtful : thoughtless
  • help —→ helpful : helpless
  • law —→ lawful : lawless

Word formation suffixes -full -less: be careful! 

There are many cases where the adjective ending in -ful does not have the corresponding adjective ending in -less and vice versa

  • sleep —→ sleepful : sleepless
  • beauty —→ beautiful : beautiless

Word formation suffixes -full -less: be careful again!

It is more common for the adjective ending in -less not to have the corresponding adjective ending in -ful.

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Last modified on Sunday, 05 February 2017 22:45

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