Answers to Questions About Suffixes

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Here are several questions from DailyWritingTips.com readers about suffixes, followed by my responses.

1. Why is cheese-like written as two words, when doglike and catlike are written as single words? I often come across other words that are joined to like with hyphens.

Usually, words that end with a vowel are attached to suffixes such as -like with a hyphen, rather than directly attached as a closed compound. (Lifelike is an exception.)

2. How should the word handful be pluralized? I have always used handsful, rather than handfuls.

Plurals of words with the suffix -ful always take the s after the suffix. But you don’t necessarily always use the suffix: When you wish to emphasize the container, you should write, for example, “I emptied a bucket full of water into the tub” or “I emptied several buckets full of water into the tub.” To focus on the contents of the container, you should write, for example, “I emptied a bucketful of water into the tub” or “I emptied several bucketfuls of water into the tub.”

3. How come you did not hyphenate warlike in a recent post? Sometimes, in a New Yorker article, I’ll see a word with the suffix -like hyphenated and another word with the same suffix not hyphenated. I believe that in the sixteenth edition of The Chicago Manual of Style, it is hyphenated.

The default setting is to omit a hyphen in words with the suffix -like. Here’s a post about hyphenation of words with prefixes and suffixes. Chicago does not use warlike as an example, but according to its general recommendations, the word should be closed.

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12 thoughts on “Answers to Questions About Suffixes”

  1. I certainly benefited from the explanation of whether or not to use a hyphen before the suffix “like”; however, example three raised an entirely different question in my mind.

    Why do people use the expression “how come” when they mean “why”? Is it slang that has been used so often that we accept it as standard English—at least colloquially—or does the expression have some subtle meaning that “why” doesn’t have?

    Another slanglike expression, which I’ve seen published, is “to get ahold of”; not “to get hold of,” but “to get ahold of.” Are these two expressions, and many others, I’ll warrant, slowly and insidiously debasing English?

  2. Along with Matt’s off-topic mention of the expression “how come,” (which perked my ears up too), and I must admit is an expression I often use, I’m waiting with bated breath to see if anyone posts a whole bucketful of “-like” words of all sorts (closed, hyphenated, and anything else), just because he can. You know, Mark, you can never an exhaustive enough list of examples. 😉

  3. This question was never answered:
    “Why is cheese-like written as two words, when doglike and catlike are written as single words?”

    Answer: Someone made a dumb writing mistake. The word should have been “cheeselike”.

  4. There are Web sites where you can ask for things like “List words that end in ‘like’.” These sites come into good use when you are playing word games like Scrabble, and they will respond with hundreds of words. I won’t use the Internet now, but rather I will just “fire away”:

    apelike, birdlike, capelike, deerlike, earlike, fingerlike, fishlike, godlike, hornlike, icelike, jeeplike, krillike, leatherlike, mathlike, nutlike, oaklike,oarlike, peachlike, pearlike, razorlike, socklike, treelike, vacuumlike, wolflike, wormlike, yodellike, zombielike, zoolike

    A good joke brought to mind by one of the above:
    Q: What do you get when you cross a porcupine with a worm.
    A: Barbed wire!

  5. To: Matt Gaffney

    Why do people use the expression “how come” when they mean “why”? Is it slang that has been used so often that we accept it as standard English.

    I do not think that “how come” is slang at all – and by “slang”, I mean something that is relatively new and substandard. I believe that “how come” stems from the English of Elizabethian times and Georgian times (George I, George II, George III, King William, and George IV) as it arrived in America. That language became “preserved” in the Appalachian Mountains from Maryland all the way south to Georgia and Alabama, and also on the isolated plantations of the Old South, all the way from Virginia and the Carolinas west to Arkansas and Texas.
    Do not forget that there were poor white folks on the flatlands, too.

    I grew up in the Deep South, and my parents came from families of country folks in West Tennessee and North Alabama. “How come” was a standard phrase from people as old as my grandparents – but I never knew any of my great-grandparents. I am supposing that “How come” dates back a long, long time, and all the way back to when some of my Mother’s ancestors landed in North Carolina in the 1600s.

    My father’s ancestors mostly spoke German, but they learned English when they emigrated to the United States during the 1800s. So, “how come” is something that has very old and deep roots in the Southern United States – and do not forget that most of the early immigrants here came from Great Britain and Ireland.

  6. Here’s something to always think about when there is something in American English that sounds “odd” to British ears now.

    1. Much of it was in active use in England, Scotland, and Wales centuries ago -such as in the 1600s and 1700s.
    2. The language arrived in America and Canada with the immigrants to these countries, and it got preserved in the speech here – and especially in the Appalachian Mountains, the Piedmont, the Deep South, and the Northwest Territory (from Ohio to the Mississippi River).
    3. The parts of the language that I am mentioning died out in the United Kingdom while it was still being preserved and used in America.
    4. Finally, there were improvements in technology and transatlantic travel. The American language returned to Britain, where parts of it “sounded strange”, even though it had originated there. Many of the new kinds of communication were American and Canadian inventions, and some were not:
    A. Phonograph records sent across on steamships.
    B. American and Canadian books and magazines taken to Britain on improved steamships.
    C. Motion pictures, and especially when sound was incorporated during the 1930s, using the phonograph at first.
    D. Transatlantic telephone calls, via radio, very expensive at first and used by people like corporate and government executives. Note that the first transatlantic submarine telephone cable was not completed until 1956, and it could only carry 56 simultaneous phone calls.
    E. Finally, during World War II, a million American and Canadian soldiers, airmen, and sailors were shipped across the Atlantic to England and Scotland to fight the Nazis and to prepare for the great D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944. For a period of a few years, the Canadian Army was the primary land defense of England while most of the British Army was fighting in places like North Africa and Italy. Then, the Canadians were joined by the Americans, but by then the threat of a German invasion of England was over.

    Naturally, the English-speaking Canadians and Americas wanted to listen to the music of their home countries and watch Hollywood movies, so those went to England and Scotland even more than they had before. ( as for the French-Canadians, things were different)

  7. Re question #1: Style guides and dictionaries will differ, but the Chicago Manual of Style would hyphenate “cheese-like,” while *not* hyphenating “warlike.” The rationale is this (as reflected in the compounding table in section 7.85 of the 16th edition, online version):

    “Closed if listed as such in Webster’s. If not in Webster’s, hyphenated; compounds retain the hyphen both before and after a noun.”

    FYI, “warlike” is listed in Webster’s; “cheeselike” is not. Therefore . . .

  8. This question was never answered:
    “Why is cheese-like written as two words, when doglike and catlike are written as single words?”

    Yes it was.

    Usually, words that end with a vowel are attached to suffixes such as -like with a hyphen.

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