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I'm a bit confused with this -ness suffix. I never know when to apply it.

For example this word got me confused : powerlessness. It looks like this suffix can be used in many cases. And I feel like there is a rule when to use this suffix, but I don't get it.

When are we supposed to use this suffix ? What does it express ?

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This is used to convert an adjective to an abstract noun. For example,

  • Timely (Adj) -> Timeliness (Noun)
  • Bright (Adj) -> Brightness (Noun)

To convert adjectives and verbs to nouns, it is often attached with a suffix such as -ness, -age, -ment. etc.

Consider the following examples,

  • Fulfill (Verb) -> Fulfillment (Noun)
  • Cover (Verb) -> Coverage (Noun)

To know more about the conversion of adjectives to abstract nouns, go to this link.

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The suffix -ness is mainly added to adjectives and makes the adjective to a noun, meaning the quality or condition of what the adjective expresses.

"soft" has the noun softness, meaning the quality/condition of being soft.

Oald, link

As to the origin of - ness, I would like to add to what etymonline says (related with German -nis as in Zeugnis, certificate/testimonial) I hold the view that it is etymologically a left-right variant. If you read -ness backwards you get "sen", corresponding to German sein/das Sein, the being.

That some related words in one or two languages can be left-right variants is no official theory, it is rather a theory of mine. To back up this theory I have found about 250 incidents in a period of twenty years. The best known incident is Latin form-a and Greek morf-ae. Another example is English-German or German-German pot/der Pott and der Topf.

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