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Prefix

There are many different ways to form new words in the English language. One of the ways is with the use of prefixes.

This article will define what a prefix is, provide plenty of examples of the different prefixes used in the English language, and explain how and when you should use them.

What is a Prefix?

A prefix is a type of affix attached to the beginning of a base word (or root) to change its meaning.

Affix - Letters that are added to the base form of a word to give it a new meaning.

The word prefix itself actually contains a prefix! The letters 'pre' is a prefix which means before or in front of. It is attached to the root word fix, which means attach.

Prefixes are always derivational, meaning once a prefix is used, it creates a new word with a different meaning from the base word.

When the prefix 'un ' is added to the base word 'happy ', it creates the new word 'unhappy'.

This new word (unhappy) has the opposite meaning of the base word (happy).

What is Prefix as a Verb?

As a verb, the term prefix means placing in front of

Redo: Here, the letters 're' are prefixed to the base word 'do'. This creates a new word with a new meaning.

What is Prefix as a Noun?

As a noun, a prefix is a type of affix that is attached to the beginning of a base word to alter its meaning.

Polyglot: the prefix 'poly' (meaning: many ) is attached to the base word 'glot' (meaning: speaking or writing in a language ), to form a new word - polyglot - which is used to refer to a person who knows and can speak in more than one language.

What are some examples of Prefixes?

The following table shows a comprehensive but not complete list of prefixes used in the English language.

Examples of prefixes that negate a word:

Certain prefixes create a new word with the opposite or nearly opposite meaning of the base word. In many cases, the word changes from something positive to something more negative. Here is a list of prefixes that negate (make negative) a word:

Prefix Meaning Examples
a / anlack of, without, not asymmetric, atheist, anaemic
abaway, not abnormal, absent
anti contrary to, against anti-inflammatory, antisocial
countercontrary to, against counter-argument, counterproposal
de undo, remove deter, deactivate
exprevious, former ex-husband
il not, without illegal, illogical
imnot, without improper, impossible
in no, lacking injustice, incomplete
irnot irreplaceable, irregular
non not, lacking non-fiction, nonnegotiable
unnot, lacking unkind, unresponsive

Prefix the words illegal and legal wirtten on paper StudySmarterThe prefix 'il' can be added to the word 'legal' to form a new word - Pixabay

Examples of common prefixes in English:

Some prefixes don't necessarily negate the meaning of a base word but alter it to express the word's relationship with time, place, or manner.

Prefix Meaning Example
ante before, prior to anterior, antebellum
autoself autobiography, autograph
bi twobicycle, binomial
circum around, to go around circumnavigate, circumvent
cojointly, together copilot, coworker
ditwodiatomic, dipole
extrabeyond, more extracurricular
hetero differentheterogeneous, heterosexual
homo samehomogeneous, homosexual
interin between intersect, intermittent
midmiddle midpoint, midnight
prebefore preschool
post afterpost-workout
semipartialsemicircle

Using hyphens with prefixes

There are no fixed and complete rules regarding when you should and should not use a hyphen to separate a base word from its prefix. However, there are a few things you should be aware of to help you use prefixes and hyphens correctly.

Use a hyphen with a proper noun

You must use a hyphen if a prefix is attached to a proper noun.

  • Pre-World War I
  • Anti-American

Use a hyphen to avoid ambiguity

A hyphen should be used with a prefix in cases where it may lead to confusion over meaning or spelling. Confusion most commonly arises when the base word plus a prefix creates a word that already exists.

Re-cover vs Recover

Adding the prefix 're' to the word 'cover' creates a new word 'recover', which means to cover again.

However, this may cause confusion as the word recover already exists (a verb meaning to return to health).

Adding a hyphen makes it more apparent that 're' is a prefix.

Use a hyphen to avoid double vowels

If a prefix ends with the same vowel that the base word starts with, use a hyphen to separate the two.

  • Re-enter
  • Ultra-argumentative

There may be exceptions to this rule with the vowel "o". For example, 'coordinate' is correct, but 'coowner' is incorrect. In such cases, using a spellchecker may prove to be helpful.

Use a hyphen with 'ex' and 'self'

Certain prefixes such as 'ex' and 'self' are always followed by a hyphen.

  • Ex-wife
  • self-control

What is the Importance of prefixes in English?

Knowing how to use prefixes will make you more proficient in the language and improve your vocabulary. It will also allow you to convey information in a more concise and precise manner.

Using the word 'reestablish' instead of 'establish it again' will allow for more concise communication.

Prefix - Key takeaways

  • A prefix is a type of affix attached to the beginning of a base word (or root) to change its meaning.
  • The word prefix itself is the combination of the prefix - pre and the base word - fix.
  • Some examples of prefixes are - ab, non, and ex.
  • A hyphen must be used alongside a prefix for several reasons, such as to prevent ambiguity, when the root word is a proper noun, when the last letter of the prefix is the same as the first letter of the root word, and when the prefix is either ex or self.

Frequently Asked Questions about Prefix

A prefix is a type of affix that goes at the beginning of a word. An affix is a group of letters attached to the root word to change its meaning. 

Some examples of prefixes are bi, counter and ir. E.g. bisexual, counterargument, and irregular. 

Common prefixes are those that alter the meaning of the root word to express relationships of time, place or manner. Some examples are: ante, co, and pre

In English, prefixes are attached to the beginning of the base word. They may or may not be separated by a hyphen. 

The prefix a/an means not or without—E.g. antivenom.

Final Prefix Quiz

Question

What is a prefix?

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Answer

A prefix is a type of affix that is attached before the root word, to change its meaning. 

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Question

What do we mean when we say prefixes are derivational?

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Answer

By derivational, we mean that the prefix changes the meaning of the base word. 

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Question

What are common prefixes? 

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Answer

Common prefixes are those that alter the meaning to express relationships of time, place or manner. 

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Question

What does the prefix poly mean?

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Answer

Many 

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Question

Give an example of a prefix that negates a word 

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Answer

Prefix (il) + Base word (logical) = illogical 

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Question

Which prefix negates a word? 

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Answer

none of the options 

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Question

Which of the following has a common prefix?

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Answer

autobiography 

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Question

Which of the following is the correct form?

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Answer

Anti-American 

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Question

Fill in the blank:

He had to ___ the topics for those who missed his class

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Answer

re-cover 

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Question

When do we use a hyphen? 

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Answer

When the base word is a proper noun 

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Question

Which are the prefixes that always use a hyphen? 

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Answer

Ex and Self 

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Question

What is the importance of prefix?

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Answer

Prefixes allows for concise and precise communication 

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Question

Do prefixes go at the end or beginning of a word?

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Answer

The beginning.

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Question

Prefixes are a type of what?

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Answer

Affix

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Question

True or false, prefixes always change the meaning of a word?

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Answer

True.

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Question

True or false, prefixes always negate a word?

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Answer

False.

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Question

What are the two types of affixes?

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Answer

Prefixes and suffixes.

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