I love teaching suffixes! They are a great way to increase your English vocabulary. The English suffix ~ish is one of my favorites because we use it a lot. Let me show you how to use this suffix in natural English conversation.
-ish can mean = it’s like, or has the quality of We commonly use it to change nouns into adjectives.
foolish – like a fool
stylish – has good style
Swedish – From Sweden
-ish is also used to modify other adjectives and numbers
bluish – a color near blue
thirtyish – approximately 30
In this post, you will learn how to use the English suffix –ISH in natural conversation. Sound just like a native speaker.
Watch the English video that supports this lesson at the end of the post to improve your English listening skills. There is also a printable Suffix ~ish quiz PDF download at the end of this post.
Review – What is a suffix?
A suffix is a letter or group of letters added to the end of a word to make another word.
Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries
English Suffixes are used in many ways…
- to make the plural form of a noun: watch – watches
- to make the comparative form of an adjective: big – bigger
- to change the word form: happy – happiness
Suffix ish meaning
The SUFFIX -ish means *like, or with the quality of:
like a fool – foolish / having good style – stylish
*connected to a country
From Sweden – Swedish / From Britain – British
*near or approximately:
a color near blue – My shirt is bluish-gray. / approximately 30 – thirtyish
foolish – like a fool
stylish – has good style
childish – like a child
Suffix ish examples
- “I can’t wear these shoes, they’re my sisters! They’re too girlish for me.”
(These shoes look like a girl would wear them so I don’t want to wear them. I’m not a girl!)
- When Linda was young she was kind of boyish, she was always playing sports and fishing with her brothers.
- That was a foolish thing to do.
- Lenny is so stylish, he is always dressed like he is going to a formal party.
True example story with ~ish
I asked my friend Martin how he was feeling today. He said he wasn’t feeling great. He had a headache and felt a bit feverish.
Do you know what a fever is? Can you guess what feverish means?
feverish means having or showing the symptoms of a fever.
Definitions from Oxford Languages
Martin said he was feeling a bit feverish so maybe he doesn’t have a fever, but he feels the symptoms a little bit.
The suffix ~ish for a country’s people or things
We can also use ~ish to describe something from an area or country.
Someone or something from Spain is Spanish.
Spanish rice, Spanish dancing, and the Spanish language.
Someone or something from England is English.
A typical English breakfast, we can talk about English weather, and of course the English language.
Someone or something from Scotland is Scottish.
A Scottish man, wearing Scottish clothes, playing Scottish music.
Many ~ish country words become the names of their language, but not always.
- He speaks English with an Irish accent.
Of course, this doesn’t work for every country so be careful!
I’m from Canada but I’m Canadian, not
Countries that use ~ISH
|Britain – England||British – English|
Using ~ish with numbers
It’s very common to use -ish with numbers to mean approximately, or about that number. We often use the suffix ~ish when we talk about time.
- “I’ll come by about 7-ish.” = I’ll come by at approximately 7:00.
Also with someone’s age.
- “I’m not sure how old Carl is, I think he’s 35-ish?” = about or near 35 years old.
The suffix ~ish with Adjectives
We can also use –ish with other adjectives.
Colors are very often used with -ish to mean very similar but not exactly,
- “Her coat was not exactly yellow. I’d call it yellowish.”
or a combination of 2 colors.
- “My new suit is bluish-gray.”
- “The sun turned the sky reddish-orange this morning. It was beautiful.”
Other adjectives too. Other adjectives with ~ish often usually mean a weaker version of that adjective.
- “My coffee is kind of warmish now, I prefer to drink it hot. Time for a refill!” – This means the coffee is a little bit warm, from this example we get the feeling that it’s not warm enough.
Some native speakers use –ish a lot to describe things, and they often make up completely new words! English speakers know that if they add –ish to the end of a word it will be understood as “like that thing” People often use it with things that are famous or well known.
If someone’s hair looks like a celebrity’s hair we might say…
“I like that man’s hair, it’s kind of George Clooney-ish.”
His hair is like George Clooney’s hair.
You can find a much larger list of words using the suffix –ish at the link below. This listing currently has 1663 ~ish words, and I’m sure it’s growing. People create new words with the suffix ~ish all the time!
Suffix -ISH Quiz worksheet PDF
Download a copy of my 9-question Suffix -ish quiz/worksheet.
Thanks to Vagueness, context-sensitivity and scale structure of four types of adjectives with the suffix-ish for the in-depth study of this suffix!