Augmentative

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An augmentative affix is an affix which has the meaning ‘large’, ‘great’ or ‘extreme’, and is used to form words denoting or describing a large, great or extreme instance of the relevant kind. For example, the augmentative affix ‘maxi-‘ combines with ‘skirt’ to produce ‘maxiskirt’ (a long skirt which reaches to the ankles). The word augmentative may be used either as an adjective or as a noun and may be applied to a word formed with the help of an augmentative affix as well as to the affix itself. The opposite of augmentative is diminutive.

Other augmentative affixes in English include:

  • ‘mega-‘ - e.g., ‘megastar’ (a very well-known personality from the world of entertainment), ‘megastore’ (a very large store);
  • ‘super-’ - e.g., ‘superpower’ (an extremely powerful state, such as US or China), ‘supergrass’ (an informer who provides information about a large number of criminals), ‘superglue’ (a glue which makes an exceptionally strong bond);
  • ‘hyper-‘ - e.g., ‘hyperactive’ (extremely or excessively active), ‘hypercritical’ (extremely critical), ‘hyperinflation’ (extremely high inflation), ‘hypersensitive’ (having unduly vulnerable feelings).

(N.B. All these affixes have other uses besides their augmentative use: in particular, ‘mega-‘ has a number of very precise meanings in various technical contexts. See Prefixes for very high numbers.)

All the examples given above involve augmentative prefixes. English seems to lack any augmentative suffixes, though it has many diminutive suffixes (for which see Diminutive). Some other languages, however, do have augmentative suffixes: Italian, e.g., has, and often uses, the suffixone: thus we have tavolone (‘big table’) from tavolo (‘table’); cavallone (literally ‘big horse’, but used to refer to a large wave, a breaker or billow; and figuratively, to a clumsy person) from cavallo (‘horse’); and benone (‘very well indeed’) from the adverb bene (‘well’).

See also Diminutive and Attenuative.