Root Words, Prefixes And Suffixes (KS2) Explained For Parents

Mum sat at the desk with her son helping him learn about prefixes and suffixes.
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It's no easy task getting your head around root words, prefixes and suffixes, especially if the summer fog is only starting to lift (if it even is at all)!

Prefixes and suffixes are a great way of adding to words to change their meaning within a sentence. They can help improve your child's understanding of nouns, verbs and adjectives and really enhance their spelling and vocabulary.

Although useful, from the outset these grammar terms are undoubtedly pretty complicated to understand, let alone explain! Do not fear, this guide will help you get to grips with them and support your child's primary English learning in no time. If you're looking for more grammar resources, why not check out Kidadl's guide to noun phrases and modal verbs which will offer some great background knowledge.

What Is A Root Word?

A great place to start is with root words. They are the beginning of the word family and allow children to see how words can be altered. Understanding root words provides a great basis for building their knowledge of prefixes and suffixes.

A root word is a word with no prefix or suffix added to it. An example of a root word is 'behave', which is a verb.

By adding a prefix or suffix to a root word, we can change its form (for example, from verb to noun) and what it means.

Young boy sat at the classroom desk writing notes about prefixes and suffixes.
Image © Santi Vedrí.

What Is A Suffix?

Suffixes are a group of letters added to the end of a root word to add to or change its meaning. For example, adding -iour to 'behave' gives us the word 'behaviour'. Adding this suffix to 'behaviour' changes it from a verb to a noun.

We can use suffixes to tell if the word is a noun, verb, adjective or adverb.

Some suffixes have different meanings. For example, the suffix -ous means 'full of'. Using this, we can turn 'danger' into 'dangerous', which means 'full of danger'. Other examples include -graph, which means 'to write', e.g. 'autograph', and -age means 'an action', e.g. 'wreckage'.

What Is A Prefix?

Prefixes are a group of letters added to the beginning of a root word to change its meaning. For example, the prefix un- can be added to 'happy' to create the word 'unhappy'. Similarly, anti- can be added to 'clockwise' to make 'anticlockwise'.

Different prefixes have different meanings. For example, in 'aquarium', aqua- means 'water' and in 'transport', trans- means 'across'. Knowing what each prefix means can help us determine the meaning of the word within the sentence.

Young girl sat at the table thinking as she learns about prefixes and suffixes.
Image © prostooleh, under a Creative Commons license.

How And What Do Children Learn About Root Words, Prefixes And Suffixes?

During KS2 primary English, children will learn how to use roots words, prefixes and suffixes to understand the new words they may meet. In Year 2, Year 3 and Year 4 children will normally learn a range of suffixes and prefixes to help them recognise the connections between words without changing the root word. For example, adding the suffix -ing to the root word 'jump' gives us 'jumping'. The root word stays the same although the tense is now different.

Throughout primary English KS1 and KS2 children will learn how to use suffixes to change the meaning of words. In Year 5 children learn the meaning of some suffixes, such as -ology means 'to study'. Children will learn how these affect the meaning of a sentence, as 'archaeology' means the study of the human past through remains. In Year 6 students will learn that sometimes a letter must be added before the suffix, for example, adding -ing to 'refer' to create 'referring' requires an additional 'r'.

During primary KS2, children will also be taught how to identify and use prefixes. In Year 1 to Year 4, they will learn how to add a prefix to change the meaning of a sentence, for example using dis- to change 'appoint' to 'disappoint'. In Year 5 and Year 6 they will learn what prefixes mean and should be able to select other words with the same prefix. They will also learn that there are spelling rules attached to prefixes. For example, if the word ends in 'y' as in 'lazy', the 'y' is taken off to add the prefix -ier in 'lazier'.

Teachers may help children learn prefixes and suffixes by choosing one and then providing a list of the variations for children to learn.

Little girl sitting on her bed reading her notes in her workbook on root words, prefixes and suffixes.
Image © pvproductions, under a Creative Commons license.

Activities At Home

Looking for ways to practice at home? There's lots of simple activities to help keep children learning and engaged with prefixes and suffixes. It can be helpful to pick one suffix or prefix and get your child to make a list of all the new words that could be formed using them. Why not try with the suffix -ation? It can be added to lots of words, such as 'information' and 'preparation'.

To help test their knowledge and remember the spelling, try getting your child to look at the word, cover it up, write it down and then check they got it right. A great memory trick!

You also could use fill in the gap exercises where they have to fill in the missing suffixes or prefixes. Worksheets can be a really engaging way of getting children to practice these concepts. There are lots of resources available online that might provide some inspiration!

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