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Your English: Word grammar: -wise

Type: Article

Tim Bowen tells us all about the commonly-used suffix -wise because, grammar-wise, he's an expert.

The suffix –wise is a versatile one. Apart from some fixed expressions where it means 'in the direction of', e.g. lengthwise, clockwise, anti-clockwise and useful function words such as likewise and otherwise, the suffix -wise can be added to a large number of words in the sense of ‘referring to’ or ‘speaking of’.

If you ask someone how they are, for example, they might reply ‘Well, job-wise things are going quite well but money-wise I’m having a few problems’. With two examples, however, the speaker has probably reached his or her limit. If they went on to say 'Family-wise things are pretty good and health-wise, touch wood, I’m OK’, this would already start to sound affected, but it’s quite common for news anchormen and women to say ‘Let’s see what’s happening weather-wise today’ as they switch to the weather report. Some other examples in the news recently: ‘Sound-wise his biggest asset is his voice’, ‘It was a poor show, talent-wise’, 'The big hits, price-wise, are nearly new cars about 18 months old' and 'He has a natural aptitude personality-wise to do well’.

One of the most widely used words ending in –wise is streetwise (meaning 'able to deal with difficult or dangerous situations you often find in cities). However, in this word, wise is not a suffix but the adjective wise (able to make good choices and decisions because you have a lot of experience), as evidenced by its American equivalent street-smart.

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