The Suffix -Esque Header Image

One of the most fun parts of writing is trying to describe a person, place, or feeling—but sometimes common adjectives don’t seem to capture what we want to convey! In these instances, we might reach for literary devices such as similes and metaphors, which let you compare one object to another. 

But what if you don’t really want to use the words “like,” or more wordy options like an entire metaphor? Here comes the very useful suffix, esque

How Do You Use “-Esque”?

The suffix esque is a handy tool for writers. It means “resembling,” “like,” “in the style of,” or “reminiscent of.” This makes it a good option for when you want to be succinct while describing an object as being like another object. 

The great thing about “-esque” is that you can add it to just about any noun, even proper nouns! For example, if you want to describe a mannerism as being similar to something that Donald Trump would do, you may say, “That’s so Trump-esque.” 

Then again, that may sound better as “Trump-ish” or “Trump-like,” depending on the context of your sentence.

Esque vs. -ish vs. -like

What is the difference between using esque and ish? They all mean the same thing, but they come from various origins.

-Esque

Esque is derived from the French adaptation of the Italian suffix “esco.” One major advantage of using esque over the other tags is its taste of formality, as it commands a level of awe that the other tags cannot. 

Examples: picturesque, arabesque

-Ish

-Ish is a Germanic suffix which indicates classification or origin, a disposition or inclination, a degree of some quality, or an approximation. 

This is the most versatile of these tags and can easily be added to any noun or adjective to mean that it has the characteristics or qualities of that noun or adjective. 

However, this suffix sometimes comes with unintended derogatory implications, as many words that use it come with negative connotations (such as “freakish”).

Examples: English, bookish, brownish, fifty-ish 

-Like

-Like is an English suffix that retains a very objective feel, making it a safe bet when you’re not sure how you may come off when linking something to another object. 

Examples: lifelike, pepperlike, catlike

suffix catlike image
Photo by Uriel Soberanes on Unsplash

All three of these suffixes mean the same thing, but using esque can make something sound more official or formal. 

So going back to our example of saying something is like what Donald Trump would do, if you were posting a casual comment on social media, Trump-ish or Trump-like may be the preferred choice. But for a formal, academic, or business article, Trump-esque may work better. 

In fact, Abraham Lincoln has the word Lincolnesque created just for him! 

So how do you choose which suffix to use? Unfortunately, there’s no hard and fast rule, except that it usually depends on the context and the sound. For example, when describing someone as resembling George Orwell’s 1984 totalitarian rule, we normally say “Orwellian” instead of “Orwellesque.”

Existing Words that Use “-Esque”

The English language already has several words that end in -eque. These include: 

  • picturesque: visually attractive in a pretty or quaint style. Literally: “like a picture”  
  • grotesque: repulsively or comically distorted or ugly; originates from the Italian word grottesca pittura, which means cave painting. 
  • burlesque: an absurdly exaggerated imitation of something in the sense of a dramatic work 
  • arabesque: an ornamental design made of intertwined flowing lines, with origins in Arabic decoration. The word likely started off as “Arab-esque” (see example in the image below).
  • statuesque: attractively dignified and tall, particularly for a woman. Literally: “like a statue.” 
Photo by Dimitry B on Unsplash

But the suffix actually can also be used to invent entirely new words! You can pick the noun that you want and just add esque to it. 

  • You can use it to describe a resemblance to people groups (e.g. Romanesque) 
  • You can attach it to a person’s name (e.g. Lincolnesque, Oprah-esque) 
  • You can add it to any regular noun (e.g. sunflower-esque) 

Using Esque with a Hyphen

Normally, if it’s a new word, you should use a hyphen to alert readers that it’s an invented word. Although the hyphen is not necessary, it helps readers have an idea what you mean. Also, the hyphen helps if the word you are attaching the suffix to already ends in a vowel. 

For example: 

  • The homeless man sported a Santa-esque look as he wandered through the streets in his red coat and pants. 
  • The little boy frowned and said in a clear Sheldon-esque tone, “You mean you don’t know what the word means?” 
  • The girls romped around the room, belting out a Disney-esque song at the top of their lungs. 

What To Do When You’re Uncertain

What happens if you want to use esque but you’re not sure if it’s appropriate? You have three options: 

  1. First, you can put a hyphen to make sure that your readers know it’s a coined term. You can almost always get away with this trick! 
  2. Your second option is to use an adjective instead! For example, instead of saying unicorn-esque, you can think of which qualities of a unicorn you mean to compare the object to. Do you mean to say it’s magical, powerful, or majestic? 
  3. Lastly, you may have to resort to using similes or metaphors. Even if you prefer not to sound long-winded, sometimes it may be clearer to describe something by making a direct comparison. 

Using Suffixes to Create Adjectives 

Now that you understand the meaning of esque and how to use it, you can enhance your writing with more creative descriptions.

Challenge yourself to learn new suffixes and their meanings so you can expand your vocabulary even more!

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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