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English prefixes

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English prefixes are affixes (i.e., bound morphemes that provide lexical meaning) that are added
before either simple roots or complex bases (or operands) consisting of (a) a root and other
affixes, (b) multiple roots, or (c) multiple roots and other affixes. Examples of these follow:
• undo (consisting of prefix un- and root do)
• untouchable (consisting of prefix un-, root touch, and suffix -able
• non-childproof (consisting of prefix non-, root child, and root proof)
• non-childproofable (consisting of prefix non-, root child, root proof, and suffix -able)
English words may consist of multiple prefixes: anti-pseudo-classicism (containing both an anti-
prefix and a pseudo- prefix).
In English, all prefixes are derivational. This contrasts with English suffixes, which may be
either derivational or inflectional.

[edit] Selectional restrictions

As is often the case with derivational morphology, many English prefixes can only be added to
bases of particular lexical categories (or "parts of speech"). For example, the prefix re- meaning
"again, back" is only added to verb bases as in rebuild, reclaim, reuse, resell, re-evaluate,
resettle. It cannot be added to bases of other lexical categories. Thus, examples of re- plus a noun
base (such as the ungrammatical *rehusband, *remonopoly) or re- plus an adjective base
(*renatural, *rewise) are virtually unattested.[1]
These selectional restrictions on what base a prefix can be attached to can be used to distinguish
between otherwise identical-sounding prefixes. For instance, there are two different un- prefixes
in English: one meaning "not, opposite of", the other meaning "reverse action, deprive of, release
from". The first prefix un- "not" is attached to adjective and participle bases while the second
prefix un- "reverse action" is attached to either verb or noun bases. Thus, English can have two
words that are pronounced and spelled the same and have the same lexical category but have
different meanings, different prefixes, a different internal morphological structure, and different
internal bases that the prefixes are attached to:
• unlockable "not able to be locked"
• unlockable "able to be unlocked"
In the first unlockable "not able to be locked", the prefix un- "not" is attached to an adjective
base lockable (which, in turn, is composed of lock + -able). This word has the following internal
[ un [ [ lock ]verb able ]adj ]adj
In the second unlockable "able to be unlocked", the prefix un- "reverse action" is attached to a
verb base lock, resulting in the derived verb unlock. Subsequently, the -able suffix is added after
the newly created unlock adjective base deriving the adjective unlockable. This word has the
following internal structure:
[ [ un [ lock ]verb ]verb able ]adj
Only certain verbs/nouns can be used to form a new verb having the opposite meaning. In
particular, using verbs describing an irreversible action produces words often considered
nonsense eg unkill, unspend, unlose, unring. These words may nevertheless be in occasional use
or humorous or other effect.
[edit] Changes in lexical category
Unlike derivational suffixes, English (derivational) prefixes typically do not change the lexical
category of the base (and are called class-maintaining prefixes). Thus, the word do consisting of
a single morpheme is a verb as is the word redo, which consists of the prefix re- and the base
root do.
However, there are a few prefixes in English that are class-changing in that the word resulting
after prefixation belongs to a lexical category that is different from the lexical category of the
base. Examples of this type include a-, be-, and en-. a- typically creates adjectives from noun and
verb bases: blaze (noun/verb) > ablaze (adj). The relatively unproductive be- creates transitive
verbs from noun bases: witch (noun) > bewitch (verb). en- creates transitive verbs from noun
bases: slave (noun) > enslave (verb)
[edit] Native vs non-native (neo-classical) prefixing
Several English words are easily analyzed as a combination of a dependent affix and an
independent base, such as in the words boy-hood or un-just. Following Marchand (1969), these
types of words are referred to as words formed by native word-formation processes.
Other words in English (and also in French and German) are formed by foreign word-formation
processes, particularly Greek and Latin word-formation processes. These word types are often
known as neo-classical (or neo-Latin) words and are often found in academic learned vocabulary
domains (such as in science fields). Words of this nature are borrowed from either Greek or
Latin or have been newly coined based upon Greek and Latin word-formation processes. It is
possible to detect varying degrees of foreignness.[2]
Neo-classical prefixes are often excluded from analyses of English derivation on the grounds that
they are not analyzable according to an English basis.[3] Thus, anglicized neo-classical English
words such as deceive are not analyzed as being composed of a prefix de- and a bound base
-ceive but are rather analyzed as being composed of a single morpheme (although the Latin
sources of these English words are, of course, analyzed as such as Latin words in the Latin
language).[4] However, not all foreign words are unanalyzable according to an English basis:
some foreign elements have become a part of productive English word-formation processes. An
example of such a now native English prefix is co- as in co-worker, which is ultimately derived
from the Latin prefix com- (with its allomorphs co-, con-, col-, and cor-).
[edit] Initial combining forms vs prefixes
• Combining form
[edit] List of English prefixes
Prefix Meaning Example

A-/an- lacking in, lack of asexual, anemic

verb > predicative adjective with

A- afloat, atremble
progressive aspect

Ante- before antebellum, antediluvian

Anti- against anti-war, antivirus, anti-human

Arch- supreme, highest, worst arch-rival, archangel

equipped with, covered with, beset bedeviled, becalm, bedazzle,

with (pejorative or facetious) bewitch

co-worker, coordinator,
Co- joint, with, accompanying

Counter- against, in opposition to counteract, counterpart

De- reverse action, get rid of de-emphasise

Dis- not, opposite of disloyal, disagree

Dis- reverse action, get rid of disconnect, disinformation

En-/em- to make into, to put into, to get into enmesh, empower

Ex- former ex-husband, ex-boss, ex-


Fore- before forearm, forerunner

In-/il-/im-/ir- not, opposite of inexact, irregular

Inter- between, among interstate, interact

Mal- bad(ly) malnourish

Mid- middle midlife

Mini- small minimarket, mini-room

Mis- wrong, astray misinformation, misguide

Out- better, faster, longer, beyond outreach, outcome

Over- too much overreact, overact

Pan- all, worldwide pan-African

Post- after post-election, post-graduation

Pre- before pre-election, pre-enter

Pro- for, on the side of pro-life

Re- again, back rerun

Self- self self-sufficient

Step- family relation by remarriage stepbrother

Trans- across, from one place to another transatlantic

Twi- two twibill, twilight

Ultra- beyond, extremely ultraviolet, ultramagnetic

Un- not, opposite of unnecessary, unequal

reverse action, deprive of, release

Un- undo, untie

below, beneath, lower in underachieve, underground,

grade/dignity, lesser, insufficient underpass

Up- upgrade

Vice- deputy vice-president, vice-principal

With- against withstand

Afro- relating to Africa Afro-American

Ambi- both ambitendency

amphiaster, amphitheater,
Amphi- two, both, on both sides
An-, a- not, without anemic, asymmetric

Ana-/an- up, against anacardiaceous, anode

Anglo- relating to England Anglo-Norman

Ante- before antenatal

Anti- opposite anti-clockwise

Apo- away, different from apomorphine

Astro- star astrobiology

Auto- self autobiography, automatic

Bi- two bicycle

Bio- biological biodegrade

Circum- around circumnavigate

Cis- on this side of cislunar

confederation, commingle,
Con-/com-/col-/cor-/co- together or with
colleague, correlation, cohabit

Contra- opposite contradict

Cryo- ice cryogenics

Crypto- hidden, secret cryptography

De- down depress

Demi- half demigod

Demo- people demography

Di- two dioxide

Dis-, di-, dif- apart differ, dissect

to make something lesser, lower or

Down- downgrade

Du-/duo- two duet

Eco- ecological ecosystem

Electro- electric, electricity electro-analysis

Epi- upon, at, close upon, in addition epidermis

Euro- European Eurocentric

Ex-, e-, ef- out of export

Extra- outside extracurricular

Fin- kinship affinity

Franco- French, France Francophile

Geo- relating to the earth or its surface geography

Hetero- different heterosexual

Hemi- half hemimorphic

Homo- same homosexual

Hydro- relating to water, or using water hydroelectricity

Hyper- above, over hyperthermia

Hypo- under or below something, low hypothermia

Ideo- image, idea ideograph

Idio- individual, personal, unique idiolect

In- in, into insert

Indo- relating to the Indian subcontinent Indo-European

Infra- below, beneath infrared

Inter- among, between intercede

Intra- inside, within intravenous

Iso- equal isochromatic

Macr(o)- long macrobiotic

Maxi- very long, very large maxi-skirt

Mega-, megalo- great, large megastar, megalopolis

after, along with, beyond, among,

Meta- meta-theory

Micro- small microbacillus

Midi- medium-sized midi-length

Mon(o)- sole, only monogamy

Multi- many multi-storey

Neo- new neolithic

Non- not nonexistent

Omni- all omnipotent, omnipresent

Paleo- old paleolithic

Para- beside, beyond parallel

Ped-/pod- foot pedestrian, podiatrist

through, completely, wrongly,

Per- permeate, permute

Peri- around periphrase

Photo- light, photography, photograph photoelectric

Poly- many polygon

Post- after postpone

Pre- before predict

Preter- beyond, past, more than preternatural

Pro- substitute, deputy proconsul

Pro- before procambium

Pros- toward prosthesis

Proto- first, original protoplasm, prototype

Pseudo- false, imitation pseudonym

Pyro- fire pyrokinetic

partly, almost, appearing to be but

Quasi- quasi-religious
not really

Retro- backwards retrograde

Semi- half semicircle

Socio- society, social, sociological sociopath

Sub-, su-, suc-, suf-,

submerge, success, support,
sug-, sum-, sup-, sur-, below, under
surreptitious, suspect, sustain

Super- above, over supervisor

Supra- above, over suprarenal

Sur- above, over surname, surreal, surrender

Syn-, sy-, syl-, sym-, synthesis, symbol, syllable,

together, with
sys- system

Tele- at a distance television

Trans- across transverse

Tri- three tricycle

Ultra- beyond ultraviolet

Uni- one unicycle

to make something greater, higher,

Up- upgrade
or better

[edit] Archaic

Prefix Meaning Example

inflectional yclad, yclept (both archaic

prefix words)