You might have found the title of this post a bit odd - Mandarin isn’t usually described as having ‘suffixes’ and ‘prefixes’. It does, however, have characters that often give you a clue about how to translate a word or phrase into English.
This is a list of ten characters that frequently translate into English suffixes and prefixes.
-们 (men): -s
This one is pretty straightforward. It functions exactly like the English plural suffix -s or -es. It also covers what would be irregular plurals in English. The only difference is that it can only be used with people and some animate nouns (such as animals).
- 鸭子们 (yāzimen): ducks
- 孩子们 (háizimen): children
- 他们 (tāmen): they
-地 (de): -ly
This is an adverb marker in Mandarin, exactly like -ly in English. It can turn the majority of adjectives into adverbs.
- 快地 (kuàide): quickly
- 慢地 (mànde): slowly
- 高兴地 (gāoxìngde): happily
可- (kě): -able
If something is -able in English, then it’s often 可- in Mandarin.
- 可爱 (kěài): adorable
- 可笑 (kěxiào): laughable
- 可靠 (kěkào): reliable
重- (chóng): re-
Need to _re_do something? Chances are it’s 重- plus a verb in Mandarin.
- 重做 (chóngzuò): redo
- 重组 (chóngzǔ): reorganise
- 重复 (chóngfù): reiterate, repeat
第- (dì): -st,_ -nd, -rd, -th_
For some reason, English has special markers to turn numbers one to three into ordinals, and then just uses -th for everything else. In Mandarin, they’re all marked by 第.
- 第一 (dìyī): the first
- 第二 (dí’èr): the second
- 第九 (dìjiǔ): the ninth
-化 (huà): -ise
If you need to make something a bit more ~adjective~, then sticking 化 on the end will probably do the job.
- 石化 (shíhuà): fossilise
- 戏剧化 (xìjùhuà): dramatise
- 私有化 (sīyǒuhuà): privatise
-学 (xué): -logy
Specialist fields of study usually have -logy on the end in English, and -学 in Mandarin.
- 生物学 (shēngwùxué): biology
- 神学 (shénxué): theology
- 社会学 (shèhuìxué): sociology
-家 (jiā): -ist,_ -er_
Generic job titles and occupations often include 家 in Mandarin. It’s often the equivalent of -er or -ist in English: “one who does…”
- 画家 (huàjiā): painter
- 作家 (zuòjiā): writer
- 科学家 (kēxuéjiā): scientist (two suffixes here!)
-着 (zhe): -ing
Where English uses verbs ending -ing, Mandarin often uses -着.
- 站着 (zhànzhe): standing
- 坐着 (zuòzhe): sitting
- 等着 (děngzhe): waiting
-性 (xìng): -ness,_ -ability_
This is used to describe properties and qualities, but it’s a bit more versatile in Mandarin than -ness or -ability in English. It converts adjectives into nouns.
- 可靠性 (kèkàoxìng): reliability
- 实用性 (shíyòngxìng): utility, usability
- 可理解性 (kělǐjiěxìng): understandability
-主义 (zhǔyì): -ism
This can be used to describe various ideologies and movements. Literally it’s something like ‘primary meaning’, so it’s about what’s central to a system of thought.
- 女性主义 (nǚxìngzhǔyì): feminism
- 社会主义 (shèhuìzhǔyì): socialism
- 恐怖主义 (kongbùzhǔyì): terrorism