Suffixing: The Change Rule

Nov 19, 2021 | Posted by Jennifer

In today’s blog post we will review the last of the suffixing rules: the change rule. In prior posts we covered the dropping rule and the doubling rule, so if you haven’t yet read those, you may want to pop over and do that before you read any further in this post. A suffix is a morphological unit of language that conveys meaning. It appears at the end of a base word or another suffix and changes the meaning of the word somewhat. As a quick review, let’s consider this word, a nice strong verb in its own right and one that feels particularly apt for next week’s Thanksgiving holiday: devour, which means to eat something quickly and with hunger.

Adding various suffixes, you can alter the meaning of the word slightly. Here are a few possibilities:

  • devours (for use with the third person singular)

  • devoured (past tense)

  • devouring (a present participle or a gerund functioning as a noun)

  • devourable (describes a thing as able to be devoured)

  • devourer (a person or thing that devours)

While reading words with suffixes usually doesn’t present a terrible challenge, it can sometimes be a bit tricky knowing how to spell them. That’s where the suffix spelling rules come in handy. The change rule addresses words that end in <y>. The gist of it is this: If the word ends in a <y>, change the <y> to an <i>, and then add on the suffix. While the dropping and doubling rules only apply to vowel suffixes, the change rule applies to all suffixes: vowel and consonant.

Let’s try it out on a few sample words:

  • sticky + er = stickier

  • pacify + ed = pacified

  • jolly + ness = jolliness

It’s a fairly straightforward rule that works whether the <y> is actually a part of the base word, as in “cry,” or if it’s a part of a suffix itself, such as -ly (e.g., strangely), -ity (e.g., hilarity) or -y (e.g., sticky). There are a few nuances to pay attention to, however.

First off, if you are adding a suffix to make the word plural or to change the tense of the verb, change the <y> to an <i>, and then add the -es suffix, not the -s. Therefore, copy becomes copies.

Additionally, if the suffix you are adding begins in an <i>, keep the <y> to prevent two i’s from appearing back to back. An example of this would be with the word fly. Adding the suffix -ing to the word, we maintain the original base word’s spelling to end up with flying. If you are thinking of the word skiing and wondering why it has two i’s, it is because the word ski comes from Old Norse and isn’t an English word.

Finally, look out for vowel teams, such as <ay> or <oy>. In those instances keep the vowel team intact, and simply add on the suffix. Some examples in this case would be play + ed, which is played and boy + s, which becomes boys.

While many people would assert that English is an unreliable language, that’s not actually the case. It has logical rules that govern its structure with very few exceptions. Even though it may not be the most exciting part of your curriculum, when students learn spelling rules, their accuracy and comprehension will grow.

Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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