Welcome back to our Free Blogs Corner, where we cover a new topic each week, helping you understand the English language. Last week, it was all about the suffixes. This week, we will cover prefixes, including how to spot them, understand them, and examples of them.
Prefixes are letters or a combination of letters that are put in front of a word to change the meaning. Just remember that a prefix is at the start of a word and a suffix is at the end of a word. There are just as many prefixes as there are suffixes, so we can’t list them all out, but we will explain the most common ones for you.
Before we go into what is a suffix, we’d like to tell you what isn’t! Letter combinations such as bio- or auto- are not listed below for a reason. They are actually combining forms. Combining forms are very similar to both affixes, but there are some key differences. Combining forms, unlike affixes, are substantial enough to construct a word simply by attaching to an affix, as when the combining form cephal- unites with the suffix -ic to make cephalic. A combining form differs from an affix in that it is generated from a separate word. In the term paratrooper, for example, para- is a combining form since it represents the word parachute. However, in the phrases paranormal and paramedic, para- is a prefix. A combining form can also be distinguished historically from an affix by the fact that it is a descriptively a word or a combining form in another language, such as the French mal giving English the mal- in malfunction.
Suffixes are added to the front of words to change the meaning. Each suffix normally has a particular meaning, except in the case of A- which has many! We’ll leave this one until last on our list. Prefixes can change positive words into negative ones, they can imply the intensity of the word, and they can give you a sense of time. Yes, one, two, or three-letter combinations can do all that!
Now that we understand a little more about prefixes, let’s go through some of the main examples that we use in everyday English.
There are a few prefixes that all turn the base word into a negative format. They are easily confused because they are very similar, but there are slight differences.
The prefix un means not, reverse action, deprive of, or release from. This is the most common negative prefix used. There are a few examples below of different ways to use UN prefixes.
The prefix mis simply means wrong. This negative form doesn’t mean not, so that’s a great differentiator from the others! Here are some examples:
The prefix dis also means not and the opposite of. Here are some examples:
The prefix im- can also mean not and opposite of. You may also see in- as well. There is no real difference between the two. However, if you’re not sure, but say it fast enough, nobody can tell the difference! Here are some examples of both below:
There are some prefixes out there that will alter the time or size of a word. They can make words mean “in excess”, and they can make the word mean before or after the event.
The prefix pre- is used when you want to convey that the base word is before the event. This changes the time period. Here are some examples:
This prefix is the opposite of pre-. Post- will change the word to mean after the event. This also changes the time period. Here are some examples:
Re– is along the same lines with time changing, but means again. Using re- will tell you that the action has already occurred before and is now happening again. It is used a lot! Here are some examples:
Although the word on its own can mean to be energetic and giddy, the prefix Hyper- means more than or beyond. This exaggerates the size of the base word. Some examples are:
Like Hyper, this prefix also makes the word excessive or exaggerated, or completely. However, in some cases, it can also literally mean outer or over, depending on the base word. In this instance, it’s normally an actual object, like an overcoat (the coat that goes over an outfit). Here are some examples of the “excessive” meaning:
This changes the word to exceed the original meaning of the base word. Out- is used a lot when comparing two actions. See our examples below:
You’ll see A- being used a lot and there are lots and lots of different meanings for it depending on the base word. Here are a few definitions and examples of each:
Not/ Without: asymmetric means not symmetrical or not evenly shaped.
To/Toward: aside means to the side. Step aside means to step to the side.
Completely: Aghast means to be completely shocked.
In a particular state: Aglow means that something is glowing. The lights were aglow.
Semi-/Hemi- means half. For example, a semicircle is half of a circle. Think of the shape of the half-moon.
Inter- means between something. For example, “interchange” is changing between two things. For example, what made the meeting exciting was the interchange of ideas from different disciplines.
Ex- can mean both previous and out. Ex-wife or ex-husband means there was a divorce. Exclude means “out”. To expand means to grow outwards, like the universe.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our blog on prefixes. Remember this is the rule of thumb and there are lots of irregularities that you’ll see while learning English. English is a funny language! All you need is time and practice.
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