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A prefix is an affix which is placed before the stem of a word.[1] Adding it to the beginning of one word changes it into another word. For example, when the prefix un- is added to the word happy, it creates the word unhappy. Particularly in the study of languages, a prefix is also called a preformative, because it alters the form of the words to which it is affixed.

Prefixes, like other affixes, can be either inflectional, creating a new form of the word with the same basic meaning and same lexical category (but playing a different role in the sentence), or derivational, creating a new word with a new semantic meaning and sometimes also a different lexical category.[2] Prefixes, like all other affixes, are usually bound morphemes.[1]

In English, there are no inflectional prefixes; English uses suffixes instead for that purpose.

The word prefix is itself made up of the stem fix (meaning "attach", in this case), and the prefix pre- (meaning "before"), both of which are derived from Latin roots.

In English[edit]

List of English derivational prefixes[edit]

In English, a fairly comprehensive list, although not exhaustive, is the following. Depending on precisely how one defines a derivational prefix, some of the neoclassical combining forms may or may not qualify for inclusion in such a list. This list takes the broad view that acro- and auto- count as English derivational prefixes because they function the same way that prefixes such as over- and self- do.

As for numeral prefixes, only the most common members of that class are included here. There is a large separate table covering them all at Numeral prefix > Table of number prefixes in English.

Prefix Meaning Example Comments
a- "not" asymmetric, "not symmetric" a- before consonants, an- before vowels
acro- "high" acrophobia, "fear of heights" (more)
allo- "other" allotransplantation, "transplant of tissue from another person" (more)
alter- "at least secondary" alter ego, "an at least secondary personality" (more)
an- "additional" anaerobic, "additionally to a multicellular or unicellular organism relating to oxygen" a- before consonants, an- before vowels
ante- "prior" antebellum, "before a war"
anti- "opposite" anti-inflammatory, "against inflammation" (more)
auto- "by oneself or itself" automobile, "moves itself" (more)
bi- "two" bicentennial, "consisting of or occurring every two centuries"

binomial, "two terms"

See number prefixes in English
co- "together" cooperation, "working together"
contra- "below" ; "against" contraindication, "against indication" (more)
counter- "against" countermeasure, "action against" (more)
de- "negative, remove" deactivate, "stop from working"
di- "two" diatomic, "two atoms"

dipole, "two poles"

See number prefixes in English
dis- "negative, remove" disappear, "vanish" (more)
down- "down"; "reduce" downshift, "shift to a lower gear"
downregulation, "regulation toward lessened expression" (more)
dys- "negative, badly, wrongly" dysfunction, "bad function" (more)
epi- "upon addition" , "above" epidural, "outside the dura mater" (more)
extra- "to a greater extent" ; "beyond" extracellular, "outside a cell" (more)
fore- "before" foresight, "seeing beforehand" (more)
hemi- "half" hemisphere, "half of a sphere" (more) See number prefixes in English
hexa- "six" hexagon, "six-sided polygon" (more) See number prefixes in English
hyper- "beyond" hypercalcemia, "too much calcium in the blood" (more) See hyper
hypo- "marginal"; "not enough" hypokalemia, "not enough potassium in the blood" (more)
ig- "not" ignoble, "not noble"
ignorant, (from roots meaning) "not knowing"
ig- (before gn- or n-), il- (before l-), im- (before b-, m-, or p-), in- (before most letters), or ir- (before r-)
il- "within" ; "toward" ; "marginal or not" illegal, "not legal" (more) ig- (before gn- or n-), il- (before l-), im- (before b-, m-, or p-), in- (before most letters), or ir- (before r-)
im- "within" ; "toward" ; "marginal or not" imbalance, "lack of balance" (more) ig- (before gn- or n-), il- (before l-), im- (before b-, m-, or p-), in- (before most letters), or ir- (before r-)
in- "within" ; "toward" ; "marginal or not" inactive, "not active" ig- (before gn- or n-), il- (before l-), im- (before b-, m-, or p-), in- (before most letters), or ir- (before r-)
infra- "below" infrared, "below red on the spectrum" (more)
inter- "between" interobserver, "between observers" (more)
intra- "within" intracellular, "inside a cell" (more)
ir- "within" ; "toward" ; "marginal or not" irregular, "not regular" (more) ig- (before gn- or n-), il- (before l-), im- (before b-, m-, or p-), in- (before most letters), or ir- (before r-)
macro- "large-scale" ; "exceptionally prominent" macroeconomics, "workings of entire economies" (more)
mal- "unpleasant", "not" malocclusion, "bad occlusion" (more)
maxi- "big", "as big as possible" maxi-single, "single with extras" (more)
meso- "middle" mesoamerican, "middle of the Americas" (more)
meta- "self-referential" metadata, "data that provides information about other data" (more)
micro- "small-scale" micrometer, "small-measurement instrument" (more)
mid- "middle" midportion, "middle part" (more)
mini- "small" miniature, "small"; "smaller version" (more)
mis- "bad", "wrong" misspelling, "incorrect spelling" (more)
mono- "one" monotheism, "belief in one god" (more) See number prefixes in English
multi- "many", "more than one" multiplex, "many signals in one circuit" (more)
non- "no", "not" nonstop, "without stopping" (more)
octo- "eight" octopus, "eight-footed" (more) See number prefixes in English
over- "excess", "too much";
"on top"
overexpression, "too much expression"
overcoat, "outer coat" (more)
pan- "all" pancytopenia, "low counts across all cell types"
pan-American, "involving all of the Americas"
Sometimes "all-" is used, especially in Asian English, where All-Union was a standard translation of the Russian word meaning "pan-USSR" or "USSR-wide", and "All-India" is a similar standard term in India, comparable to words such as national, nationwide, or federal (in the case of federations).
para- "beside"; "beyond"; "related to"; "altered" paranormal, "beyond the normal"
paresthesia, "altered sensation"
paramilitary, "military-like" (more)
penta- "five" pentateuch, "the five books of Moses" (more) See number prefixes in English
per- "through"; "throughout" percutaneous, "through the skin" (more)
peri- "around" pericardial, "around the heart" (more)
poly- "many" polyglot, "many languages" (more)
post- "after" postoperative, "after surgery" (more)
pre- "before"; "already" preassembled, "already built" (more)
pro- "on behalf of" ; "before" pro-science, "in favor of science" (more)
proto- "first"; "primitive"; "precursor" Proto-Indo-European, "precursor of Indo-European" (more)
pseudo- "false", "specious" pseudonym, "fake name" (more)
quadri- "four" quadrilateral, "four-sided" (more) See number prefixes in English
quasi- "somewhat", "resembling" quasiparticulate, "resembling particles" (more)
re- "again" reestablish, "establish again" (more)
self- "[acting on or by] oneself" self-cleaning, "cleans itself" (more) By normative convention, always hyphenated (except for a few multiprefix compounds such as unselfconscious)
semi- "partial"; "somewhat"; "half" semiarid, "somewhat arid" (more) See number prefixes in English
sub- "below" subzero, "below zero" (more)
super- "above"; "more than"; "great" supermarket, "big market" (more)
supra- "above" supraorbital, "above the eye sockets" (more)
tetra- "four" tetravalent, "four valence electrons" (more) See number prefixes in English
trans- "across"; "connecting" transatlantic, "across the Atlantic Ocean" (more)
tri- "three" tripartite, "three parts" (more)
ultra- "beyond"; "extremely" ultraviolet, "beyond violet on the spectrum" (more)
un- "not"; "remove"; "opposite" unopened, "not opened" (more)
under- "beneath"; "not enough" underexposure, "not enough exposure" (more)
up- "up"; "increase" upshift, "shift to a higher gear"
upregulation, "regulation toward increased expression" (more)
xeno- "foreign" xenophobia, "fear of strangers or foreigners"
xenotransplantation, "transplant from another species" (more)


The choice between hyphenation or solid styling for prefixes in English is covered at Hyphen > Prefixes and suffixes.

In other languages[edit]


The most commonly used prefix in Japanese, o-, is used as part of the honorific system of speech. It is a marker for politeness, showing respect for the person or thing it is affixed to.[3]

Bantu languages[edit]

In the Bantu languages of Africa, which are agglutinating, the noun class is conveyed through prefixes, which is declined and agrees with all of its arguments accordingly.[4]

Example from Luganda[edit]

Noun class Prefix
1 o-mu-
2 a-ba-
3 o-mu-
4 e-mi-
5 e-ri-/CC-
6 a-ma-
7 e-ki-
8 e-bi-
9 e-N-
10 e-N-/zi-
  • The one, old, fat farmer goes.
ò-mú-límí ò-mú-néné ò-mú-kâddé ò-mú à-∅-gênda
ag-1-farmer ag-1-fat ag-1-old ag. one he-Pres-go


Verbs in the Navajo language are formed from a word stem and multiple affixes. For example, each verb requires one of four non-syllabic prefixes (, ł, d, l) to create a verb theme.[5]


In the Sunwar language of Eastern Nepal, the prefix ma- म is used to create negative verbs. It is the only verbal prefix in the language.

  • Bad child! (scolding)
ma.rimʃo al
NEG.nice child[6]


As a part of the formation of nouns, prefixes are less common in Russian than suffixes, but alter the meaning of a word.

пред- and положение 'position' becomes предположение 'supposition'
пре- and образование 'formation (verb)' becomes преобразование 'transformation'[7]


In German, derivatives formed with prefixes may be classified in two categories: those used with substantives and adjectives, and those used with verbs.[8] For derivative substantives and adjectives, only two productive prefixes are generally addable to any substantive or adjective as of 1970: un-, which expresses negation (as in ungesund, from gesund), and ur-, which means "original, primitive" in substantives, and has an emphatic function in adjectives. ge-, on the other hand, expresses union or togetherness, and cannot simply be added to any noun or adjective.[9]

Verbal prefixes commonly in use are be-, er-, ent-, ge-, ver-, zer-, and miss- (see also Separable verb).[9] be- expresses strengthening or generalization. ent- expresses negation. ge- indicates the completion of an action, and that's why its most common use has become the forming of the past participle of verbs; ver- has an emphatic function, or it is used to turn a substantive or an adjective into a verb.[8] In some cases, the prefix particle ent- (negation) can be considered the opposite of particle be-, while er- can be considered the opposite of ver-.[10][11]

The prefix er- usually indicates the successful completion of an action, and sometimes the conclusion means death.[12] With fewer verbs, it indicates the beginning of and action.[8][12] The prefix er- is also used to form verbs from adjectives (e.g. erkalten is equivalent to kalt werden which means to get cold).[12]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Wilson 2011, p. 152–153.
  2. ^ Beard, Robert (1998). "She Derivation". The Handbook of Morphology. Blackwell. pp. 44–45. |access-date= requires |url= (help)
  3. ^ Wikibooks - Japanese/Grammar/Honorific prefixes
  4. ^ Nurse & Philippson (2003). The Bantu Languages. Routledge. pp. 103–110.
  5. ^ Young & Morgan (1980). The Navajo Language: A Grammar and Colloquial Dictionary. University of New Mexico Press. p. 99.
  6. ^ Borchers, D. (2008). A Grammar of Sunwar: Descriptive Grammar, Paradigms, Texts and Glossary. Brill Academic Publishers. p. 169.
  7. ^ Wade, T. (2000). A Comprehensive Russian Grammar. Blackwell Publishers. pp. 32, 33.
  8. ^ a b c Chambers, W. Walker and Wilkie, John R. (1970) A Short History of the German Language, London: Methuen & Company, Ltd., p. 63
  9. ^ a b Cf. Chambers, W. Walker and Wilkie, John R. (1970) A Short History of the German Language, London: Methuen & Company, Ltd., p. 63
  10. ^ Daniel Boileau (1820) The Nature and Genius of the German Language pp. 203, 211
  11. ^ Maylor, B. Roger (2002) Lexical template morphology: change of state and the verbal prefixes in German p. 12
  12. ^ a b c Schmidt, Karla (1974) Easy ways to enlarge your German vocabulary p. 86

Works cited[edit]

External links[edit]