Prefixes

Prefixes are a group of letters that are placed at the beginning of the base of a word to changes its meaning and/or parts of speech.

How to use "Prefixes" in English Grammar

What Are Prefixes?

A prefix is a group of letters that is added to the beginning of a word (nouns, adjectives, verbs, etc.) to change their meaning and use.
There are many prefixes in the English language and most of them are Latin. In this lesson, we are going to discuss old English, Latin, Greek, and old French prefixes.

Old English Prefixes

Old English prefixes are 'un-, up-, down-, under-, mid-, over-, trans-, fore-, mini-, be-, ex-, and con-.' In the following, we can see their meanings and examples:

Un-

meaning example
Not, absence of a quality Unstoppable, Unmodified, Unconvinced, Unnamed, Unnoticeable, Unpaired
Contrary to, opposite of Untidiness, Unbelief, Unrest, Unaptness, Untruth
The reverse of an action Untie, Uncover, Untangle, Unlock

Up-

meaning examples
Situated in a higher position Upstairs, Upland, Upstate, Upriver, Upstage, Upstream, Upstroke
Upward movement, direction Updraft, Upsurge, Upside, Upward
Lift, raise toward a higher level, position Upcast, Uplift, Uprise, Upthrow, Upthrust, Uproot, Upraise
Increase in size, scale, etc. Upscale, Up-tempo, Upbeat, Uproar
To a more recent time Update
To a better state Upgrade, Uplift, Upturn

Tip

Some words include 'up' in their construction, which does not have a specific meaning but serves as a prefix. For example, 'upwind, uptime (work time), upswing (an increase in strength), upfront (bold), upload, upkeep (care), upcoming, uplink, upbraid, uptake (take up, make use), upset (overturn).'

Down-

meaning examples
Situated in a lower position Downriver, Downland, Downfield, Downhill
Downward movement, motion Downcast
Reduce to a lower level, position, size, scale Downgrade, Downfall, Downscale, Downsize, Downturn, Downbeat, Downshift

Tip!

Some words include 'down' in their construction, which does not have a specific meaning but serves as a prefix. For example, 'downhearted, downside, downvote (disapproval), downwind (in the same direction), download.'

Under-

meaning examples
Beneath, directly under something else Underground, Underlay, Underline, Underworld, Underclothes, Undergarment, Underwear
Below, lower part, side, position Underlip, Underarm, Undershrub, Underside
Less than usual, not enough Undergrowth, Underman, Undernourished, Underpayment, Underprice, Underemployed, Undercharge,
Subordinating, lower rank, position Undersecretary, Undermanager, Undergraduate

Tip!

Some words include 'under' in their construction, which does not have a specific meaning but serves as a prefix. For example, 'underwriter', 'underhand' (hidden, deceitful), 'undergo' (experience), 'undertake' (accept), and 'undersign'.

Mid-

meaning examples
Half Midway, Midcap, Midlife, Midline, Midnight, Midpoint

Over-

meaning examples
Too much/excessive Overreact, Overanxious, Overboil, Overdress, Overcharge, Overdue, Oversimplify
Upper, outer Overcoat, Overleaf, Overclothe, Overshoe, Overskirt
Denoting a location above Overhead, Overcast, Overhang, Overfly
To a downward direction Overthrow, Overlook, Overshadow, Oversee

Tip!

There are some words in English that use 'over' in their construction, but have a different meaning. Examples of such words include overtime, overcome, overrule (cancel), overwinter (spend winter), overhear, overview, overland, overlap

Trans-

meaning examples
Across, beyond a place Transcultural, Transcontinental, Translunar, Transnational, Transoceanic, Transpolar, Transatlantic
Through Transdermal, Transfuse
Denoting change into another state Transform, Transfigure, Transubstantiate, Transgender, Transsexual
To move to another place Translocate, Transplant, Transship
Too much, beyond Transfinite, Transfix, Transmundane

Fore-

meaning examples
Going before, preceding Forerunner, Forefather, Forebear, Forenoon, Forego, Foreplay
The front part of something Forehead, Forearm, Forecastle, Foredeck
In front Foreshorten, Forecourt, Foreground
In advance Forebode, Forecast, Forefend, Foreknow

Mini-

meaning examples
Small, short Miniskirt, Minibar, Minicab, Mini-market, Mini-golf

Be-

meaning examples
Make, cause Bewitch, Befriend, Bedazzle, Become

Ex-

meaning examples
A former state Ex-wife, Ex-boyfriend, Ex-husband, Ex-member, Ex-Muslim

Con-

meaning examples
Together Confederate, Conjoin

2. Latin Prefixes

In the following, you will learn some Latin prefixes that are used in the English language. They are as follows:
de-, dis-, in- (and its variants that are il-, im-, ir-), non-, sub-, inter-, infra-, intra-, pre-, pro-, post-, re-, ultra-, extra-, bi-, tri-, multi-, poly-, super-, counter-, co-, post-, retro-, tele-.'

De-

meaning example
Removal, reversal Dehydrate, Defrost, Deforest, Decaffeinate
The meaning of the word is changed to the opposite Defame, Deconstruct, Demerit, Decamp, Decode, Deform

Dis-

meaning example
Denoting removal Disburden, Disarm, Discover, Disbud, Disambiguate
Denoting reversal Disembark, Discharge, Distrust, Disjoin, Disconnect, Disintegrate, Dismantle
Denoting absence, opposite to Dissimilar, Dislike, Disappear, Dishonest, Dissatisfied

In-

meaning example
Latin Not Inactive, Incapable, Inexact, Inexpensive, Ingenious, Insane
Without, lacking Indecision, Indiscretion, Inexperience, Ineffectiveness
Having a causative function Inflame, Intoxicate, Inaugurate, Inanimate, Inbreathe, Inbreed
English In, into, towards, within Inbox, Inflow, Inhale, Inland, Innate, Intake

Tip

If 'in-' means 'into, towards, or within', it has an English origin.

Il-

meaning examples
Not Illegal, Illiteracy, Illogical, Illiberal, Illegitimate, Illiberalize, Illegalize, Illegitimate

Im-

meaning examples
Latin Not Impossible, Imperfect, Impassive, Impracticability
Having a causative function Imperil, Imbricate
English In, into Immigrate

Tip!

If 'im-' means 'into', it has an English origin.

Ir-

meaning examples
Not Irresponsible, Irrational, Irreclaimable, Irregular, Irreligious, Irreversible

Tip

The prefix 'ir-' is used before words starting with the letter 'r', the prefix 'im-' is used before words starting with 'p' or 'b', the prefix 'il-' stands before words starting with 'l', and the prefix 'in-' is used before other letters.

Non-

meaning examples
Not Nonverbal, Nonexistent, Non-nuclear, Nonalcoholic, Nonflavored, Nonglutinous, Noninfectious Nonarbitrary, Nonuniformly, Non\fiction
Without Nonevent, Nonstop
Denoting absence Non-attendance, Non-interference, Noncooperation, Nonunion
Not causing or requiring Nonskid, Nonstick, Nonslip

Sub-

meaning examples
Lower position or level Subalpine, Subway, Submerge, Submarine, Subocean
Forming a subordinate part of a whole Subculture, Subclass, Subdivision, Subsection, Subclause, Subcommittee, Subcontract
Secondary in rank, subordinate Subdeacon, Subeditor
Of lesser quality, inferior, somewhat, nearly Subhuman, Substandard, Subaquatic, Subantarctic subacid, Subcontinent, Subtropical
Denoting a later or secondary action of the same kind Subdivide, Subcontract, Sublease, Sublet, Subsequent

Inter-

meaning examples
Between, among Interlink, Intersection, Intercellular, Interconnect, Interdepartment
Mutually, reciprocally Interdependent, Interactive, Interchangeable, Interrelationship

Re-

meaning examples
Back to a previous state Return, Reinstate, Relapse, Recall, Rebound, Refund, Reimbursement
Mutually React
In opposition Repel
With negative force Recant
With intensive repetitive force Refine, Refoulement, Repress

Infra-

Below Infrared, Infrastructure, Infraorder, Infrahuman

Intra-

meaning examples
Within, inside Intracellular, Intracerebral, Intradepartmental, Intralinguistic, Intramural, Intrastate

Pre-

meaning example
Before Preassembled, Precut, Prefix, Preorder, Preregistration

Pro-

meaning example
Supporting Pro-choice, Prolabor
Substituting for Procathedral, Proconsul
A motion forward, out, or away Proceed, Proclivity

Post-

meaning examples
After in time/order Postgraduate, Postdate, Postmodern, Postbiblical, Postdoctoral, Postmodernism

Re-

meaning examples
Once more, anew Redo, Reestablishment, Refurbish, Recount, Regelation, Reassure

Semi-

meaning examples
Half Semicircle, Semicircular, Semitone
Occurring twice in a period of time Semiannual, Semiweekly, Semimonthly
Partly, almost Semiliquid, Semi-conscious, Semi-darkness, Semi-skilled, Semifinal

Ultra-

meaning examples
Beyond a limit, on the other side of Ultraviolet, Ultralight, Ultrasonic, Ultramicroscopic
Extreme degree, very Ultra-ambitious, Ultra-modern

Extra-

meaning examples
Outside, beyond Extraterrestrial, Extracellular, Extra-constitutional, Extra-parliamentary
Beyond the scope of Extracurricular, Extraordinary, Extraordinaire, Extrasensory

Bi-

meaning examples
Two, having two Bicultural, Bipolar, Bisexual, Bicolored
On both sides, directions Bilateral, Biconcave
Occurring twice Biweekly, Bicentennial

Tri-

meaning examples
Three, having three Tricycle, Triangle, Trihydroxy, Trivalent
Occurring every three Trimonthly, Triannually

Multi-

meaning examples
Many Multimedia, Multicolored, Multistory, Multimillion

Poly-

meaning examples
Many Polyglot, Polytechnic

Super-

meaning examples
Extra-large of its kind Supermarket, Supercontinent, Supergiant, Superhighway
Beyond, over Supernormal, Superabundant, Supercharge, Supercritical, Superpower
Outstanding Superstar, Supermodel, Supermodel, Superhero, Superman, Superwoman, Superhuman
Higher in rank, superior to Superintendent, Supervisor
Placed on, positioned on something Superimpose, Superinfection, Superpose, Superstructure

Counter-

meaning examples
Opposition, against Counterattack, Counter-offensive, Counterpoint, Countercharge, Counteract, Counter-terrorist
Complementary Counterfoil
Corresponding Countertrade, Counterpart
Duplicate or substitute Counterfeit

Co-

meaning examples
Together, common Cooperation, Coproduction, Coworker, Copartner, Coeducation

Post-

meaning examples
After, later, subsequent to Postdoctoral, Postmodern, Postcolonial, Postwar

Retro-

meaning examples
Before, backwards Retroactive, Retrorocket, Retroscape

Tele-

meaning examples
Distant, transmission over distances Television, Telework, Telegram, Teleguide, Telemonitor

3. Greek Prefixes

Greek prefixes that are used in the English language are as follows: 'Anti, dys-, micro-, hemi-, proto-, mono-, meta-, hyper-, and auto-.'

Anti-

'anti-' is a type of prefix

meaning example
Against, opposed to Antifeminism, Anticlerical, Anticlockwise, Antiracist, Anti-government
Inhibiting, counteracting Antifreeze, Antibacterial, Antihistamine, Anti-aircraft

Dys-

meaning examples
Bad, difficult (medical) Dysfunction, Dysrhythmic, Dystrophic, Dyslogistic

Micro-

meaning examples
Small-scale Micrometer, Microcar, Microscope, Microphone, Microorganism

Hemi-

meaning examples
Half Hemisphere, Hemicycle, Hemimorphic, Hemilingual

Proto-

meaning examples
Original, primitive Prototype, Protostar
First, earliest Protomartyr

Mono-

meaning examples
One, alone, single Monolingual, Monocarboxylic

Meta-

meaning examples
Beyond Metaphysic, Metafiction, Metathesis, Metasomatism
Denoting change Metamorphosis
Situated behind or after Metaphase, Metapneumonic

Hyper-

meaning examples
Above normal Hyperactive, Hyper-critical, Hypercorrection, Hyperextended, Hypersonic

Auto-

meaning examples
One’s own, by oneself Autobiography, Autograph
By itself, self-sufficient Automobile, Autotoxidation, Auto-analysis, Autofocusing

4. Old French Prefixes

In the following, you can see French prefixes that are used in the English language. They are 'mis-, mal-, en-, and sur-'.

Mis-

meaning examples
Wrong, badly Misplace, Misrepresentation, Misdo, Mistrial, Misprint, Misadventure
Not, denoting lack Misfire, Mistrust,

Mal-

meaning examples
Wrong, faulty Malfunction, Malformed
Improper manner Maltreat, Malpractice
Inadequate Malnourishment, Malnutrition
Not, denoting lack Maladroit

En-

meaning examples
Make, cause to be Enable, Endanger, Enthrall, Ensure, Enarm
Put into, on Engulf, Entomb, Enthrone
Conversion into the specified state Encrust, Ennoble, Enliven
To go into, on Enplane
To cover with, surround Enmesh, Enrobe
As an intensifier Encourage, Entangle, Endure

Sur-

meaning examples
Over, beyond Surrealism, Surcharge
Upon, over Surface, Surcoat, Surname

Notes about Prefixes

Here are some tips to remember when using prefixes:

  • When a prefix is added to a word, the spelling of the root of word never changes.

happy → unhappy, legal → illegal

  • If the last letter of the prefix is the same as the first letter of the root, double letters are possible and there is no need to remove a letter.

mobilize → immobilize, natural → unnatural

  • Pay attention to words that look like they have a prefix but, in fact, do not.

uncle, reach, relative

  • When a prefix is added to a proper noun, a hyphen is needed.

Mid-Atlantic, Post-Elizabethan

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