Team English -
Created by: Team English -, Last Updated: June 10, 2024


Prefixes are essential linguistic tools that modify the meanings of words by preceding their roots. This article delves into how prefix and suffix influence language structure, altering interpretation and adding complexity to vocabulary.

What is Prefix?

A prefix is a group of letters placed before the root of a word to modify its meaning or create a new word. For example, in the word “unhappy,” “un-” is a prefix added to “happy” to change the meaning to its opposite. Prefixes can denote a wide range of relationships or conditions, such as location, time, or manner. They are a fundamental part of the morphology of many languages, helping to expand vocabulary and express different concepts.

Types of Prefix

  1. Negation or Inversion: Prefixes like “un-“, “in-“, “non-“, and “dis-” negate or invert the meaning of the word. For example, “unhappy” means not happy, “disagree” means not agree.
  2. Location: Prefixes like “sub-“, “inter-“, “ex-“, and “trans-” denote location or movement. “Submarine” refers to something under the sea, “transcontinental” relates to crossing continents.
  3. Number and Order: Prefixes like “uni-“, “bi-“, “tri-“, and “multi-” indicate number or order. “Unilateral” involves one side, “bicycle” has two wheels.
  4. Degree or Intensity: Prefixes like “hyper-“, “super-“, and “ultra-” denote an extreme level or higher degree of the base term. “Hypertension” refers to high tension or pressure, “superstar” denotes a star of very high standing.
  5. Size and Scale: Prefixes like “macro-“, “micro-“, and “mini-” relate to the size or scale. “Macroeconomics” deals with economics in large scale, while “microeconomics” deals with smaller scale economics.
  6. Time and Order: Prefixes like “pre-“, “post-“, “ex-“, and “neo-” denote time relative to an event or temporal order. “Prehistoric” refers to a time before written history, “postwar” refers to after the war.

Why is Prefix important?

  1. Vocabulary Expansion: Prefixes help create new words from existing ones, vastly increasing the vocabulary of a language without the need to invent entirely new terms. This allows speakers to express a wider range of ideas and nuances.
  2. Meaning Modification: Prefixes can alter the meaning of a word, adding layers of complexity. For example, adding “un-” to “happy” forms “unhappy,” expressing the opposite emotion.
  3. Grammatical Flexibility: In many languages, prefixes are used to adjust the grammatical function of words, aiding in the formation of different parts of speech. For instance, adding “de-” to “code” to form “decode” changes a noun into a verb.
  4. Linguistic Efficiency: Prefixes provide a succinct way to convey complex ideas or conditions. A single prefix can denote time (“pre-“, “post-“), negation (“in-“, “un-“), intensity (“super-“, “hyper-“), and more, making communication more efficient.
  5. Cognitive Development: Learning and using prefixes can enhance cognitive and language skills. It encourages pattern recognition and understanding of language rules, which are crucial cognitive abilities.
  6. Cross-linguistic Utility: Many prefixes have equivalents in other languages, facilitating language learning and the understanding of foreign languages. For example, the prefix “anti-” is used similarly in English, French, and other languages to indicate opposition.

How to use Prefix in Sentence

  1. Choose the Right Prefix: Determine what you want to convey. If you want to express negation, use prefixes like “un-“, “in-“, “non-“, or “dis-“. For example, “I am unable to attend the meeting.”
  2. Understand the Meaning: Know the meaning of the prefix and ensure it fits with the base word to form a correct and logical new word. For instance, using “pre-” to indicate something that comes before, as in “prearranged plans.”
  3. Match Prefix with Word Class: Some prefixes are typically used with certain types of words, like verbs or adjectives. Make sure the prefix and the word it attaches to belong to compatible classes. For example, “redo” (verb + verb) or “illegal” (prefix + adjective).
  4. Use Prefixes for Clarity or Emphasis: Prefixes can clarify or emphasize aspects of what you are saying. Saying “The project is incomplete” clearly indicates that the project is not finished.
  5. Create Contrasts in Sentences: Use prefixes to set up contrasts or oppositions within your sentences. For example, “While he is generally indecisive, in this particular case, he made a definitive choice.”
  6. Check for Commonly Paired Prefixes and Roots: Some prefixes and roots are commonly used together, and understanding these combinations can help you use them correctly. For instance, “misunderstand” or “overestimate.”
  7. Proofread for Common Mistakes: Double-check your usage. Some prefixed words can be confused with similar ones, like “uninterested” (not interested) versus “disinterested” (impartial).

Prefix Vs. Suffix

PositionAttached to the beginning of a root wordAttached to the end of a root word
FunctionModifies or changes the meaning of the wordOften changes the word class or grammatical tense
ExamplesUnhappy (un-), Redo (re-), Dislike (dis-)Happiness (ness), Running (ing), Careful (ful)
PurposeCan denote negation, intensity, or reversibilityUsed to indicate tense, case, or part of speech
EffectMainly affects the meaning of the base wordMainly affects the grammatical function
CommonalityCommon in forming adjectives and verbsFrequently used in forming nouns and adjectives

When to use a Prefix

Prefixes are used in English to alter the meaning of a base word, providing nuances or completely changing its meaning. Here are specific instances when to use a prefix:

  1. To Create Negatives or Opposites:
    • Use prefixes like un-, in-, dis-, im-, ir-, and non- to indicate the opposite or absence of something.
    • Examples: unhappy (not happy), incomplete (not complete), disagree (not agree), impossible (not possible), irregular (not regular), nonsense (without sense).
  2. To Indicate Time or Order:
    • Use prefixes like pre-, post-, and re- to denote time, sequence, or repetition.
    • Examples: preheat (heat before), postgraduate (after graduation), replay (play again).
  3. To Describe Position or Direction:
    • Use prefixes like sub-, inter-, super-, trans-, and over- to describe spatial relationships.
    • Examples: submarine (underwater vessel), international (between nations), supervise (oversee), transport (carry across), overcome (succeed against).
  4. To Express Size or Degree:
    • Use prefixes like micro-, macro-, mega-, hyper-, and mini- to convey size or extent.
    • Examples: microscope (device to see small things), macroeconomics (study of large-scale economics), megastore (very large store), hyperactive (excessively active), miniskirt (very short skirt).
  5. To Indicate Number and Quantity:
    • Use prefixes like mono-, bi-, tri-, multi-, and poly- to denote number or amount.
    • Examples: monologue (speech by one person), bicycle (two-wheeled vehicle), triangle (three-sided figure), multicultural (many cultures), polyglot (knows many languages).
  6. To Change a Verb into a Noun or Adjective:
    • Use prefixes like en-, em-, and be- to transform verbs.
    • Examples: enable (make able), empower (give power), beloved (dearly loved).
  7. To Form Adjectives from Nouns:
    • Use prefixes like non-, anti-, de-, and un- to form adjectives.
    • Examples: nonexistent (not existing), antibacterial (against bacteria), deactivate (make inactive), untouched (not touched).

Prefixes Indicating Negation and Opposition

  1. Un-: This is perhaps the most frequently used prefix for indicating negation or the reversal of an action. For example:
    • Unhappy: Not happy
    • Undo: Reverse the action of doing
    • Unfair: Not fair
  2. In-, Im-, Il-, Ir-: These prefixes are used before words starting with certain letters to make them flow better phonetically. They all indicate negation:
    • Invisible: Not visible
    • Impossible: Not possible
    • Illegal: Not legal
    • Irregular: Not regular
  3. Dis-: This prefix is used to indicate negation, removal, or release:
    • Disagree: Not agree
    • Disconnect: Detach or remove the connection
    • Displace: Move something from its usual place
  4. Non-: Indicates absence or the complete opposite of something:
    • Nonexistent: Not existing
    • Nonsmoker: Someone who does not smoke
    • Nonprofit: Not for profit
  5. Anti-: Used to denote opposition, against, or the opposite action:
    • Antisocial: Against social norms or not sociable
    • Antibiotic: Against life (used in the context of medicine to indicate substances that kill bacteria)
  6. De-: Indicates removal, reversal, or negation:
    • Deregulate: Remove regulations
    • Decompress: Release from compression
    • Devalue: Reduce in value
  7. A-, An-: These are used less frequently but also indicate negation or absence:
    • Apolitical: Not political
    • Anesthetic: A substance that removes

8.-s or -es: Used for forming the plural of noun.

  • Book becomes books
  • Bus becomes buses

9. -ed: Used to form the simple past tense and the past participle of regular verbs.

  • Walk becomes walked
  • Play becomes played

10. -ing: Used to form the present participle or gerund form of verbs.

  • Run becomes running
  • Sing becomes singing

11. -s or -es: Used to form the third person singular present tense of verbs.

  • He talks
  • She watches

12. -er: Used to form the comparative degree of adjectives and some adverbs.

  • Tall becomes taller
  • Fast becomes faster

13. -est: Used to form the superlative degree of adjectives and some adverbs.

  • Small becomes smallest
  • Quick becomes quickest

14. -en: Sometimes used to form the past participle of some irregular verbs.

  • Drink becomes drunken (less common, often just drunk)

Examples of Prefix in English: Inflectional

  1. Re-: Indicates repetition or doing something again.
    • Rebuild: To build again.
    • Rewrite: To write again.
  2. Un-: Can indicate negation or the reverse of an action.
    • Unlock: To reverse the locking process.
    • Unfold: To reverse the folding of something.
  3. Pre-: Indicates something occurring before another thing.
    • Preheat: To heat something before using it.
    • Prewrite: To write preliminarily before the main writing.
  4. Dis-: Often used to indicate opposition, negation, or separation.
    • Disagree: To not agree.
    • Disconnect: To sever or interrupt a connection.
  5. Over-: Can indicate excessiveness.
    • Overcook: To cook too much.
    • Overestimate: To estimate more than the actual amount.
  6. Under-: Indicates insufficiency or beneath.
    • Underpay: To pay less than necessary.
    • Undervalue: To value less than the actual worth.

Prefix Examples in Sentences

Here are some examples of sentence using words with prefixes:

  1. Negatives or Opposites:
    • She was unhappy with the results of the test.
    • The task was impossible to complete in one day.
    • They had to disagree on the best approach to solve the problem.
  2. Time or Order:
    • Make sure to preheat the oven before baking the cake.
    • She attended a postgraduate course to further her studies.
    • He had to rewrite the essay to improve its quality.
  3. Position or Direction:
    • The submarine navigated through the deep ocean.
    • The international conference attracted experts from around the world.
    • The manager supervised the project to ensure its success.
  4. Size or Degree:
    • Scientists use a microscope to study tiny organisms.
    • Macroeconomics examines the economy as a whole.
    • The megastore offers a wide variety of products.
  5. Number and Quantity:
    • The author delivered a captivating monologue during the play.
    • She rides her bicycle to work every day.
    • The organization promotes multicultural understanding and tolerance.
  6. Changing Verbs to Nouns or Adjectives:
    • The new policy will enable employees to work from home.
    • The program aims to empower young people to achieve their goals.
    • She is his beloved daughter.
  7. Forming Adjectives from Nouns:
    • The creature they thought to be a dragon was nonexistent.
    • They used antibacterial soap to prevent infections.
    • The team needed to deactivate the alarm system.

List of Common Prefixes with Examples

List of Common Prefixes with Examples
un-notunhappyShe felt unhappy about the news.
re-againredoHe had to redo his homework.
pre-beforepreheatPlease preheat the oven.
dis-opposite ofdisagreeWe disagreed on the approach.
mis-wronglymisleadThe sign was misleading.
in-notincompleteThe solution was incomplete.
trans-across, throughtransportThe goods were transported.
sub-undersubmarineThe submarine submerged.
inter-betweeninternationalThey discussed international policies.
super-above, beyondsuperhumanShe has superhuman strength.
semi-half, partlysemicircleThe cake was cut into semicircles.
anti-againstantibacterialShe used an antibacterial soap.
auto-selfautobiographyShe wrote an autobiography.
bi-twobilingualThe country is bilingual.
co-with, togethercooperateThe companies cooperated.
non-notnontoxicIt’s a nontoxic solution.
ex-former, out ofex-husbandHer ex-husband moved away.
multi-manymultilingualHe is multilingual.
over-too muchovereatDon’t overeat during the holidays.
under-not enough, belowunderdevelopedThe area is underdeveloped.
fore-before, in front offoreseeI can foresee potential problems.
de-opposite, removedefrostDefrost the chicken before cooking.
en-cause to, put intoenableThis feature will enable you to do more.
em-cause toempowerThe initiative aims to empower women.
pro-for, forwardpromoteThey aim to promote education.
micro-smallmicroscopeThe microscope reveals tiny details.
macro-largemacroeconomicsHe studies macroeconomics.

Prefix Examples in Medical Terminology

Medical terminology often uses prefixes to convey specific meanings. Here is a list of common medical prefixes along with their meanings and examples:

a-, an-without, notAnemiaCondition characterized by a lack of red blood cells.
brady-slowBradycardiaAbnormally slow heart rate.
tachy-fastTachycardiaAbnormally fast heart rate.
hyper-above normal, excessiveHypertensionHigh blood pressure.
hypo-below normal, deficientHypoglycemiaLow blood sugar levels.
peri-aroundPericardiumMembrane surrounding the heart.
endo-within, insideEndoscopyProcedure to look inside the body.
epi-upon, on topEpidermisOuter layer of the skin.
inter-betweenIntercostalBetween the ribs.
intra-within, insideIntravenousAdministered within a vein.
sub-under, belowSubcutaneousUnder the skin.
trans-across, throughTransdermalThrough the skin.
poly-manyPolyuriaExcessive urination.
oligo-few, deficientOliguriaReduced urine output.
dys-difficult, painful, abnormalDyspneaDifficult or labored breathing.
hemi-halfHemiplegiaParalysis of one side of the body.
hemo-, hemato-bloodHemoglobinProtein in red blood cells that carries oxygen.
neuro-nerveNeurologyStudy of the nervous system.
osteo-boneOsteoporosisCondition characterized by weak and brittle bones.
cardio-heartCardiologyStudy of the heart and its functions.
derm-skinDermatologyStudy of skin and its diseases.
gastro-stomachGastroenterologyStudy of the stomach and intestines.
hepato-liverHepatologyStudy of the liver.
nephro-kidneyNephrologyStudy of kidney function and diseases.
uro-urine, urinary tractUrologyStudy of the urinary system.
onco-tumorOncologyStudy and treatment of tumors (cancer).

Prefix Examples for Names

Here are some prefix examples for names:

Personal Titles:

  • Mr. John Smith
  • Ms. Jane Doe
  • Mrs. Emily Johnson
  • Dr. Michael Brown
  • Prof. Laura White
  • Rev. David Green
  • Sir Arthur King

Professional Titles:

  • CEO Mark Davis
  • President Sarah Lee
  • Captain Robert Wilson
  • Chief Lisa Martinez
  • Officer James Clark

Academic Titles:

  • PhD Angela Lewis
  • MD Richard Harris
  • MSc Nancy Robinson
  • BA Patrick Walker

Military Titles:

  • General Steven Young
  • Colonel Jessica Hall
  • Major Matthew Allen
  • Sergeant Kimberly Scott

Religious Titles:

  • Father Thomas Adams
  • Rabbi Samuel Baker
  • Imam Abdullah Carter
  • Pastor Paul Perez

Honorary Titles:

  • Hon. Karen Mitchell
  • Dame Alice Turner
  • Lord Charles Collins
  • Lady Rebecca Edwards

What is a prefix?

A prefix is a group of letters added to the beginning of a word to change its meaning, such as “un-” in “unhappy” or “pre-” in “preview.”

How do prefixes affect word meaning?

Prefixes alter the meaning of the root word. For example, “dis-” in “dislike” changes the meaning to the opposite, indicating a negative or reverse action.

Can prefixes be used with any word?

Not all prefixes can be used with every word. They must create a meaningful and recognizable term, following language rules and conventions.

What are some common prefixes?

Common prefixes include “un-” (not), “re-” (again), “pre-” (before), “dis-” (opposite of), “mis-” (wrongly), and “non-” (not).

Are prefixes the same in all languages?

No, prefixes vary between languages. While some prefixes might be similar, each language has its own set of prefixes with specific meanings.

Can a word have more than one prefix?

Generally, words have only one prefix, but in some cases, compound prefixes like “unmistakable” (un + mis + take) can occur.

Do prefixes change word pronunciation?

Yes, adding a prefix can sometimes change the word’s pronunciation, especially in cases where the prefix alters the word’s stress pattern or phonetic structure.

How do prefixes differ from suffixes?

Prefixes are added to the beginning of a word, while suffixes are added to the end. Both modify the meaning but are used differently.

Can prefixes form new words in modern language?

Yes, new words are regularly created by adding prefixes to existing words, adapting to evolving language needs and technological advancements.

What is the importance of learning prefixes?

Understanding prefixes enhances vocabulary, reading comprehension, and the ability to deduce meanings of unfamiliar words, aiding effective communication.

AI Generator

Text prompt

Add Tone

10 Examples of Public speaking

20 Examples of Gas lighting