An affix is a morpheme that is attached to a stem to form a word. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes. Affixation is, thus, the linguistic process speakers use to form new words (neologisms) by adding sounds (affixes) at the beginning (prefixation), the middle (infixation) or the end (suffixation) of words.
|Prefix||un-do||prefix-stem||Appears at the front of a stem|
|Suffix/Postfix||look-ing||stem-suffix||Appears at the back of a stem|
|Infix||saxo‹ma›phone||st‹infix›em||Appears within a stem — common in Borneo-Philippines languages|
|Circumfix||a›scatter‹ed||circumfix›stem‹circumfix||One portion appears at the front of a stem, and the other at the rear|
|Interfix||speed-o-meter||stema-interfix-stemb||Links two stems together in a compound|
|Duplifix||teeny~weeny||stem~duplifix|| Incorporates a reduplicated portion of a stem|
(may occur in front, at the rear, or within the stem)
|Transfix|| Maltese: k‹i›t‹e›b "he wrote"|
(compare root ktb "write")
|s‹transfix›te‹transfix›m||A discontinuous affix that interleaves within a discontinuous stem|
|Simulfix||mouse → mice||Changes a segment of a stem|
|Suprafix|| produce (noun)|
|Changes a suprasegmental phoneme of a stem|
|Disfix|| Alabama: tipli "break up"|
(compare root tipasli "break")
|stm||The elision of a portion of a stem|
Prefix and suffix may be combined as adfix, a term that is rarely used except in contrast with infix.
In transcription, for example in the third column in the chart above, simple affixes such as prefixes and suffixes are shown connected to the stem with hyphens. Affixes which disrupt the stem, or which themselves are discontinuous, are often marked off with angle brackets. Reduplication is often shown with a tilde.
Lexical affixes are relatively rare. The Wakashan, Salishan, and Chimakuan languages all have lexical suffixes — the presence of these is an areal feature of the Pacific Northwest of the North America.
The lexical suffixes of these languages often show little to no resemblance to free nouns with similar meanings. Compare the lexical suffixes and free nouns of Northern Straits Saanich written in the Saanich orthography and in Americanist notation:
|-sen||-sən||"foot, lower leg"||sxene,||sx̣ənəʔ||"foot, lower leg"|
|-áwtw̱||-ew̕txʷ||"building, house, campsite"||,á,leṉ||ʔeʔləŋ||"house"|
Lexical suffixes when compared with free nouns often have a more generic or general meaning. For instance, one of these languages may have a lexical suffix that means water in a general sense, but it may not have any noun equivalent referring to water in general and instead have several nouns with a more specific meaning (such "saltwater", "whitewater", etc.). In other cases, the lexical suffixes have become grammaticalized to various degrees.
Some linguists have claimed that these lexical suffixes provide only adverbial or adjectival notions to verbs. Other linguists disagree arguing that they may additionally be syntactic arguments just as free nouns are and thus equating lexical suffixes with incorporated nouns. Gerdts (2003) gives examples of lexical suffixes in the Halkomelem language (the word order here is Verb Subject Object):
|(1)||niʔ||šak’ʷ-ət-əs||łə słeniʔ||łə qeq|
|"the woman washed the baby"|
|"the woman baby-washed"|
In sentence (1), the verb "wash" is šak’ʷətəs where šak’ʷ- is the root and -ət and -əs are inflectional suffixes. The subject "the woman" is łə słeniʔ and the object "the baby" is łə qeq. In this sentence, "the baby" is a free noun. (The niʔ here is an auxiliary, which can be ignored for explanatory purposes.)
In sentence (2), "baby" does not appear as a free noun. Instead it appears as the lexical suffix -əyəł which is affixed to the verb root šk’ʷ- (which has changed slightly in pronunciation, but this can also be ignored here). Note how the lexical suffix is neither "the baby" (definite) nor "a baby" (indefinite); such referential changes are routine with incorporated nouns.