From Middle English -esse, borrowed from Old French -esse, from Late Latin -issa, from Ancient Greek -ισσα (-issa). Displaced Old English -en (feminine suffix of nouns).
-ess (plural -esses)
- Suffix appended to words to make a female form.
- Professions ending in -ter or -tor change to -tr when this suffix is added.
- A female sempster is a sempstress; a female actor is an actress.
- However, there are also terms with -ter-ess.
- Additionally, sometimes terms ending in -der/-dor can change to -dr when this suffix is added. Other changes are: -ger to -gr, -per to -pr, -pher to -phr.
- Professions ending in -e lose an e when this suffix is added.
- As in Romance languages, the masculine form may be used when referring to both males and females; however, in other cases using the masculine and feminine forms together may be preferred.
- Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart were very popular actors.
- The zoo has a breeding pair of tigers.
- Twelve gods (or: Twelve gods and goddesses) form the Greek pantheon.
- but: A procession of dukes and duchesses filed into the coronation.
- The unusual word marquess denotes males (the -ess ending is not this suffix; the feminine is marchioness).
- This suffix is sometimes regarded as sexist and as such is starting to fall into disuse, particularly when referring to professions. A single, gender-neutral term is preferred by some even though it is a less specific term. Many terms such as authoress or sculptress are considered dated and rarely used outside of historical references, and other forms such as doctress or philosophress are virtually obsolete. Usage is divided on words such as actress or waitress, which remain common but are deprecated by some, including some women who hold those positions. Use with titles of nobility is still universal (prince is never used to refer to a woman outside of special circumstances, only princess).
- Glenda Jackson is a famous actor.
- Glenda Jackson is a famous actress. More specific language signaling that Glenda is a female.
- Depending on etymology, other feminine affixes are used; see synonyms.
From Old French -esse, from Latin -itia.
- Used to form nouns from adjectives.
- Douglas Harper (2001–2023), “-ess”, in Online Etymology Dictionary.
- Alternative form of -esse