Prefixes are key morphemes in English vocabulary that begin words. The prefix sub-, with its variants suc-, suf-, sug-, sup-, and sur-, all mean “under.”
Sub- is the most common form of this prefix. A submarine, for instance, travels “under” the sea. A subway is the way to travel “under” a city. When you have a subpar performance, it is “under” what it should be. When you subscribe to a magazine, you "under"write it so as to provide the writers of the magazine with money for their efforts. And a subterranean cave is “under” the earth.
Sub- also has a large number of variant spellings, which not only all begin with su-, making them easy to spot, but also follow the rules of prefix assimilation, which makes the word easier to say. Let’s take a look at a number of these spelling variants so that you can get the hang of them.
The prefix sub- changes naturally to suf-, which also means “under,” in front of roots that begin with an f. If a prefix begins or sits at the “top” of a word, a suffix is fixed “under” or “at the foot of” it. How silly “subfix” would sound! If something is sufficient, enough has been made or done “under” it to hold it up. Again, “subficient” just doesn’t work. And when one suffers, one carries “under” herself a heavy burden. Imagine our suffering if we had to say “I am subferring from a cold!”
Let’s look at some other variants of sub-, which follow three common rules:
1. All mean “under.”
2. All begin with su-.
3. All follow the rules of prefix assimilation.
- Succor: When you succor another person, you run “under” her in order to help her.
- Suggest: When you suggest something, you carry it “under” the notice of other people.
- Support: When someone supports you, she goes “under” you to carry you in some way.
- Surreal: Something surreal is not quite real, but is “under” that which is real, hence seems dreamlike.
Don’t be taken “under” by words that contain sub-, but realize that sub- and its variants beginning with su- just want to take you “under” their linguistic wing!
- submarine: vehicle which goes ‘under’ the sea.
- subway: ’under’ground transportation
- subpar: of a performance that is ‘under’ what it should be
- subscribe: to ’under’write a magazine
- subterranean: pertaining to ‘under’ the ground
- suffix: morpheme fastened ‘under’ a word
- sufficient: a doing ‘under’
- suffer: a carrying ‘under’
- succor: a running ‘under’
- suggest: a carrying ‘under’
- support: a carrying ‘under’
- surreal: ‘under’ reality