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Features of academic writing


Lexical complexity

Adding affixes to existing words (the base) to form new words is common in academic English. Prefixes are added to the front of the base (like right arrow dislike), whereas suffixes are added to the end of the base (active right arrow activate). Prefixes usually do not change the class of the base word, but suffixes usually do change the class of the word.

The most common prefixes used to form new verbs in academic English are: re-, dis-, over-, un-, mis-, out-. The most common suffixes are: -ise, -en, -ate, -(i)fy. By far the most common affix in academic English is -ise.

e.g. verbs + prefix right arrow verb

Prefix Meaning Examples
re- again or back restructure, revisit, reappear, rebuild, refinance
dis- reverses the meaning of the verb disappear, disallow, disarm, disconnect, discontinue
over- too much overbook, oversleep, overwork
un- reverses the meaning of the verb unbend, uncouple, unfasten
mis- badly or wrongly mislead, misinform, misidentify
out- more or better than others outperform, outbid
be- make or cause befriend, belittle
co- together co-exist, co-operate, co-own
de- do the opposite of devalue, deselect
fore- earlier, before foreclose, foresee
inter- between interact, intermix, interface
pre- before pre-expose, prejudge, pretest
sub- under/below subcontract, subdivide
trans- across, over transform, transcribe, transplant
under- not enough underfund, undersell, undervalue, underdevelop


e.g. Suffix used to form verbs with the meaning "cause to be".

Suffix Example
-ise stabilise, characterise, symbolise, visualise, specialise
-ate differentiate, liquidate, pollinate, duplicate, fabricate
-fy classify, exemplify, simplify, justify
-en awaken, fasten, shorten, moisten


The most common prefixes used to form new nouns in academic English are: co- and sub-. The most common suffixes are: -tion, -ity, -er, -ness, -ism, -ment, -ant, -ship, -age, -ery. By far the most common noun affix in academic English is -tion.

e.g. noun+prefix right arrow noun

Prefix Meaning Examples
anti- against anticlimax, antidote, antithesis
auto- self autobiography, automobile
bi- two bilingualism, biculturalism, bi-metalism
co- joint co-founder, co-owner, co-descendant
counter- against counter-argument, counter-example, counter-proposal
dis- the converse of discomfort, dislike
ex- former ex-chairman, ex-hunter
hyper- extreme hyperinflation, hypersurface
in- the converse of inattention, incoherence, incompatibility
in- inside inpatient,
inter- between interaction, inter-change, interference
kilo- thousand kilobyte
mal- bad malfunction, maltreatment, malnutrition
mega- million megabyte
mis- wrong misconduct, misdeed, mismanagement
mini- small mini-publication, mini-theory
mono- one monosyllable, monograph, monogamy
neo- new neo-colonialism, neo-impressionism
out- separate outbuilding,
poly- many polysyllable
pseudo- false pseudo-expert
re- again re-organisation, re-assessment, re-examination
semi- half semicircle, semi-darkness
sub- below subset, subdivision
super- more than, above superset, superimposition, superpowers
sur- over and above surtax
tele- distant telecommunications,
tri- three tripartism
ultra- beyond ultrasound
under- below, too little underpayment, under-development, undergraduate
vice- deputy vice-president


e.g. Suffix added to a verb (V), noun (N) or adjective (A) right arrow noun

Suffix Meaning Examples
-tion action/instance of V-ing alteration, demonstration
-ity state or quality of being A ability, similarity, responsibility
-er person who V-s
something used for V-ing
person concerned with N
advertiser, driver
computer, silencer
astronomer, geographer
-ness state or quality of being A darkness, preparedness, consciousness
-ism doctrine of N Marxism, Maoism, Thatcherism
-ment action/instance of V-ing development, punishment, unemployment
-ant/-ent person who V-s assistant, consultant, student
-ship state of being N friendship, citizenship, leadership
-age collection of N
action/result of V
baggage, plumage
breakage, wastage, package
-ery/-ry action/instance of V-ing
place of V-ing
bribery, robbery, misery
refinery, bakery


Many adjectives are formed from a base of a different class with a suffix (e.g. -less, -ous). Adjectives can also be formed from other adjectives, especially by the negative prefixes (un-, in- and non-).

The most common suffixes are -al, -ent, -ive, -ous, -ful, -less.

e.g. Suffix added to verbs or nouns right arrow adjective

Suffix Examples
-al central, political, national, optional, professional
-ent different, dependent, excellent
-ive attractive, effective, imaginative, repetitive
-ous continuous, dangerous, famous
-ful beautiful, peaceful, careful
-less endless, homeless, careless, thoughtless
-able drinkable, countable, avoidable,


e.g. adjective + negative right arrow adjective

Prefix Examples
un- unfortunate, uncomfortable, unjust
im-/in-/ir-/il- immature, impatient, improbable, inconvenient, irreplaceable, illegal
non- non-fiction, non-political, non-neutral
dis- disloyal, dissimilar, dishonest

e.g. base with both prefix and suffix

  -able -tion -tive -ment -ar
un- uncomfortable

mis-   misinformation   misjudgement
re- recoverable
reformulation reproductive realignment
in- irreplaceable incoordination
dis-   disconnection   disappointment  
semi-     semiconductive   semi-circular