The Ten Commandments of Writing:

8. Thou Shalt Not Add Long Suffixes to Create Even Longer Words

“gray and black fountain pen and book” by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

In the Bible’s Old Testament, God speaks directly to Moses and gives him the Ten Commandments. Fortunately, a similar code exists for writers. The eighth commandment of writing follows.

8. Thou Shalt Not Add Long Suffixes to Create Even Longer Words.

When you put your thoughts on paper, you probably use the first words that pop into your head. That’s fine for a first draft. However, when you begin to revise, you should look carefully at each word, especially if you have a long word with a long suffix.

A suffix, as you may remember, is a word ending. One of the most common examples is the suffix “-er” which transforms the action verb “teach” into the noun “teacher” (one who teaches). The same suffix changes “build” to “builder”; “walk” to “walker”; and “fight” to fighter.”

That simple two-letter and one-syllable suffix doesn’t drastically affect your writing because the suffix “-er” merely changes a one-syllable word (such as “speak”) into a two-syllable word (“speaker”). Adding longer suffixes to even longer words, however, can dilute the strength of your writing.

At the other end of the suffix rainbow is the five-letter and two-syllable suffix “-ation.” This suffix can present problems because it changes a strong verb such as “recommend” into the weaker noun “recommendation.” Similarly, “consider” becomes “consideration”; “consult” becomes “consultation”; and “inform” becomes “information.”

“close-up photography of Information signage” by Roman Kraft on Unsplash

Long suffixes, like “-ation,” weaken your writing because they make your sentences longer, with more words and more syllables. For instance, the sentence “I gave him a recommendation” has five words and nine syllables. By contrast, the sentence “I recommended him” has only three words and six syllables. The shorter version is stronger and more direct.

Other long suffixes have these same negative effects.

-ment. “Bill will take over management of the project.” You can save three words and five syllables if you simplify this sentence to “Bill will manage the project.” When you turn a verb into a noun, you must then supply a verb or verb phrase, and, generally, the longer sentence isn’t as good as the shorter version.

-ance. “Please make sure you are in attendance for the meeting.” Using strong verbs is especially important when you are directing others. Strong verbs give your writing an air of authority and expertise. “Please attend the meeting” is so much better than the sentence at the beginning of this paragraph.

-sion. With words like “decide” and “conclude,” you have to alter the spelling a bit before you can add the suffix “-sion.” The effect, however, is still negative. You’ve turned strong verbs (“decide” and “conclude”) into weaker and longer nouns (“decision” and “conclusion”), and your writing becomes less crisp.

Some people might say that saving a few words or syllables in a sentence isn’t a big deal, but if you save them throughout your essay, your overall writing becomes tighter and clearer. Would you rather wear a blazer that has long sleeves and is too big in the shoulders, or would you prefer to wear a blazer that is perfectly tailored to your individual measurements? Naturally, you’ll look better in the blazer that has the better fit, and an essay that is tightly written will look just as good.

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“person using MacBook Pro” by rawpixel on Unsplash

In her essay entitled On The Art of Fiction (1920), American novelist Willa Cather wrote, “Art, it seems to me, should simplify.” Oftentimes, young writers get themselves into trouble because they fail to simplify. They have the mistaken impression that they need to use long words and long sentences to impress their readers. Don’t fall into that trap. Don’t turn your strong verbs into weak nouns, and don’t write sentences that are unnecessarily long.

Yes, you could make a decision to use the organization of your thoughts for an explanation of your conclusion. However, both you and your readers will be much better off if you decide to organize your thoughts, explain yourself, and conclude.

Written by

Jim LaBate works as a writing specialist in The Writing Center at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy, New York.

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