Can "-ish" be used for any nouns?



I am a Japanese student.

I know some words that end with "ish" such as girlish and Turkish. If I say "His learning style is Obamaish", does this make sense?

Ryo Hirai

Posted 2015-03-03T22:29:50.730

Reputation: 51



Short answer:

Yes. English permits you to use suffixes such as -ish, -esque, -ian, and even -like to turn words – including proper names – into adjectives. See, for example, this headline:

India's likely next leader Modi seen implementing Thatcher-like reforms

Additional commentary:

  • I'm not sure how Obama learns, so your example sentence would confuse me without any additional context. Just because we can invent new words like these doesn't mean we should do so recklessly.

  • Make sure you use the right prefix. For example, Obamaish would mean sort of like Obama's style, while Obamaesque would mean just like Obama's style. See this cartoon caption for an interesting example highlighting the subtle difference:

"He's coming across as Reaganish but not Reaganesque."

  • Some of these words become standard nomenclature, (e.g., Keynesian economics), but we don't have to wait until someone else uses a word before we do. Someone has to be first. That said, non-native speakers might want to do so with care.


Posted 2015-03-03T22:29:50.730

Reputation: 108 123

I completely agree. I would also say, however, that the acceptability of these terms can be considered to tiptoe a bit into the grey area... meaning that native speakers will generally know what they mean but their propriety can be questionable. – Catija – 2015-03-03T23:10:09.197

The cartoon is great! But isn't its point that ish, -esque, -ian and the like are mostly vague suffixes for off-the-cuff talk, and don't really have any precise meaning? The humor, as I understand it, is that some people foolishly try to use them as a precise way to talk about hazy things (and that these pseudo-precise usages are de rigueur only among the most extreme fashion- and trend-followers). – Ben Kovitz – 2015-03-04T01:53:37.263


Yes, you can do that, in the sense that the face meaning of the word would be understood (though as pointed out above, it should clearly imply a specific point of comparison in order to be effective).

When you use "-ish" this way, you should do it with the understanding that you're coining a new word others might find silly, not just applying a rule. Silliness is fine in most contexts if it gets your point across.


Posted 2015-03-03T22:29:50.730

Reputation: 1 120


The suffix “-ish” has its own entry in many dictionaries. I’ve picked one I like:


  1. of or belonging to a nationality or group: Scottish

  2. (often derogatory) having the manner or qualities of; resembling: slavish, prudish, boyish

  3. somewhat; approximately: yellowish, sevenish
  4. concerned or preoccupied with: bookish

Source: definitions for -ish

Your example doesn’t fit any of the above categories particularly well. I suppose it’s close to the second sense, but that one isn’t used much to form new words. Usually, if someone’s forming an ad-hoc adjective with “-ish”, they’re going to mean it in the 3rd sense. The sky was yellowish at sixish today.

Luckily, there are many ways to create adjectives out of nouns. The easiest, most broadly understandable way is to add “-like” to the end of the noun. Here’s “-like” in a dictionary:


  1. a suffixal use of like in the formation of adjectives (childlike; lifelike), sometimes hyphenated.

Source: definitions for -like

Though he’s not known for a particular learning style, I think “Obama-like” is easier to understand than “Obama-ish”. You can also consider “-esque”, but that has more to do with expressive styles.

Tyler James Young

Posted 2015-03-03T22:29:50.730

Reputation: 11 315


Ryo you can do that. However, you would have to make sure that the people with whom you are using this word:

  1. are aware of the characteristics of Obama's learning style;
  2. are aware of the characteristic of "his" working style (whoever "his" happens to be);
  3. and are able to make the connection between the two working styles through the shares characteristics.

In your case, when you add the suffix -ish to a word, you do one of three things:

  1. form an adjective (girlish)
  2. having the qualities or characteristics of a noun (British)
  3. to mean somewhat (greenish)

Your sentence is an example of 1 (in the second list). However, because it is not an "accepted" word, and even if the context of characteristics is clear, you should put the word in quotation marks.

One example I have seen is in UK political discourse where former prime minister Tony Blair has a noted style with obvious characteristics. So instead of using everyone of those adjectives to describe the characteristics, they are all combined into a new word "Blairish". This is used to describe someone, especially in the Labour party, who has/shares these similar characteristics as Tony Blair.


Posted 2015-03-03T22:29:50.730

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