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:


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


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


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).'


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


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.'


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


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'.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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-.'


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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


Below Infrared, Infrastructure, Infraorder, Infrahuman


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


meaning examples
Many Multimedia, Multicolored, Multistory, Multimillion


meaning examples
Many Polyglot, Polytechnic


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


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


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


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


meaning examples
Before, backwards Retroactive, Retrorocket, Retroscape


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-' is a type of prefix

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


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


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


meaning examples
Half Hemisphere, Hemicycle, Hemimorphic, Hemilingual


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


meaning examples
One, alone, single Monolingual, Monocarboxylic


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


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


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-'.


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


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


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


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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