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Prefixes Word beginnings

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Prefixes, along with suffixes and word roots, are a useful way to build vocabulary. This page explains what prefixes are and gives examples of some common prefixes. At the end there are some exercises to help you practise.

What are prefixes?

As noted in the section on vocabulary building, prefixes are word components which are added to the beginning of a word. They usually change the meaning rather than the word form. Although most prefixes are Latin in origin, many come from Greek or Anglo-Saxon, with the result that there may be more than one prefix with the same meaning. For example, uni- (from Latin) and mono- (from Greek) both mean one, e.g. universe (everything that exists) and monolingual (one language, e.g. a monolingual dictionary). Prefixes from one language origin usually combine with a root of the same language, although this is not always the case; in fact, the word monolingual is an example of mixed languages, as mono- is Greek while lingual is from Latin. Some prefixes with the same meaning and origin have more than one form, often because of spelling rules and the sounds which follow them. For example, the negative prefix in- becomes im- when followed by an -m- or -p- (immodest, impossible), il- when followed by an -l- (illogical) and so on.

Common prefixes

The following table shows some common prefixes, with their meaning and some example words. They are grouped according to their general meaning (negative prefixes, number prefixes and so on). They are listed alphabetically in each section except for number prefixes, which are listed in order of the numbers they represent. They are colour-coded according to language of origin: Greek prefixes in green, Latin prefixes in red, other prefixes in black. Many Greek and Latin prefixes occur in pairs with the same meaning.

General meaningPrefixMeaningExamples
negative a(n)-without, notanaesthetic, atheist, amoral
de-, dis-not, oppositedefrost, devalue, deselect, disagree, disappear, disallow, disadvantage
in-, im-, il-, ir-notinjustice, impossible, illogical, irregular
mis-wronglymistake, misinform, misconduct, mismanagement
non-, un-notnonsense, non-conformity, non-traditional, unfriendly, unable, unreal, unhappy
numberhemi-, semi-halfhemisphere, semicircle, semi-final, semiconscious
mono-, uni-onemonolingual, monopoly, uniform, universe
di-, bi-, du(o)twodichotomy, bicycle, bilingual, duet
tri-threetriple, triangle
deca-, deci-, decem-tendecade, decimal, December (the tenth month in the ancient Roman calendar)
cent(e)-hundredcentury, centipede, cent
kilo-, milli-, mille-thousandkilobyte, kilogram, millennium, millisecond
mega-, magna-millionmegabyte, megaton, magnify, magnificent, magnitude
poly-, multi-manymultiple, multi-national, polygon, polysyllable
position (space)ex-outexit, extinguish, extract, exhale
exo-, ecto-, extra-, extro-outsideexoskeleton, extraordinary, extrovert
in-in, into, insideinsight, inpatient
inter-betweeninteract, interference, interrupt, intervene
intra-, intro-withinintravenous, introvert
out-out, outsideoutbuilding, outpatient
peri-, circum-aroundcircumference, circumscribe, peripheral, periscope
sub-, under-undersubmarine, subset, subdivision, subway, undersea, underwater
tele-distanttelecommunications, television, telephone
trans-across transportation, transmit, transform
position (time)ante-, pre-, fore-beforeantecedent, antebellum, forecast, foresee, prefix, predict
post-after postwar, postgraduate, postpone
quantityhyper-, over-excessive, too muchhyperactive, hypertension, oversleep, overwork, overeat, overdo
hypo-, under-insufficient, not enoughhypodermic, hypothetical, underpay, underworked, underused, undervalue
qualityeu-, ben-good, normaleugenics, eulogy, benefit, benign
dys-, mal-baddysfunctional, malfunction, maltreatment, malnutrition
relationshipsym-, syn-, co(m)-, con-with, togethersympathy, synthetic, co-operate, communicate, companion, concurrent
anti-, contra-, counter-againstanticlimax, antibiotic, antioxidant, contradict, counteract, counter-argument
sizemacro-largemacrocosm, macro-economics
micro-, mini-smallmicrobe, microscope, micro-economics, miniature, mini-computer
moreout-more, betteroutperform, outbid, outdo
super-, ultra-more than, beyondsuperlative, superpower, superstar, ultrasound, ultrasonic
sur-over and abovesurcharge
otherauto-selfautobiography, automobile, autonomous
be-make or causebefriend, belittle
en-, em-cause toencode, enlarge, embrace, enliven
ex-formerex-chairman, ex-hunter
neo-newneo-colonialism, neo-classical
omni-allomnipotent, omnivorous
pro-forward proceed, progressive, promotion
pro-in favour ofpro-government
pseudo-falsepseudo-expert, pseudo-scientific
re-againreturn, revisit, reappear, review


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The following checklist summarises the information on this page. Use it to check your understanding.

Area OK Comments
I know what prefixes are.
I understand the prefixes generally change the meaning of the word, not the word form.
I know why there is sometimes more than one prefix with the same meaning (e.g. uni- and mono-).
I know some common prefixes.

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Sheldon Smith

Author: Sheldon Smith    ‖    Last modified: 10 September 2019.

Sheldon Smith is the founder and editor of He has been teaching English for Academic Purposes since 2004. Find out more about him in the about section and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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