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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.

In linguistics, an affix is a morpheme that is attached to a word stem to form a new word or word form. Affixes may be derivational, like English -ness and pre-, or inflectional, like English plural -s and past tense -ed. They are bound morphemes by definition; prefixes and suffixes may be separable affixes. Affixation is the linguistic process that speakers use to form different words by adding morphemes at the beginning (prefixation), the middle (infixation) or the end (suffixation) of words.

In linguistics, a stem is a part of a word used with slightly different meanings and would depend on the morphology of the language in question. In Athabaskan linguistics, for example, a verb stem is a root that cannot appear on its own, and that carries the tone of the word. Athabaskan verbs typically have two stems in this analysis, each preceded by prefixes.


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]

Inflection modification of a word to express different grammatical categories such as tense, mood, voice, aspect, person, number, gender and case

In linguistic morphology, inflection is a process of word formation, in which a word is modified to express different grammatical categories such as tense, case, voice, aspect, person, number, gender, mood, animacy, and definiteness. The inflection of verbs is called conjugation, and one can refer to the inflection of nouns, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, determiners, participles, prepositions and postpositions, numerals, articles etc., as declension.

In traditional grammar, a part of speech is a category of words that have similar grammatical properties. Words that are assigned to the same part of speech generally display similar syntactic behavior—they play similar roles within the grammatical structure of sentences—and sometimes similar morphology in that they undergo inflection for similar properties.

Morphological derivation, in linguistics, is the process of forming a new word from an existing word, often by adding a prefix or suffix, such as un- or -ness. For example, unhappy and happiness derive from the root word happy.

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

English language West Germanic language

English is a West Germanic language that was first spoken in early medieval England and eventually became a global lingua franca. It is named after the Angles, one of the Germanic tribes that migrated to the area of Great Britain that later took their name, as England. Both names derive from Anglia, a peninsula in the Baltic Sea. The language is closely related to Frisian and Low Saxon, and its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by other Germanic languages, particularly Norse, and to a greater extent by Latin and French.

In linguistics, a suffix is an affix which is placed after the stem of a word. Common examples are case endings, which indicate the grammatical case of nouns or adjectives, and verb endings, which form the conjugation of verbs.

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.

Latin Indo-European language of the Italic family

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. The Latin alphabet is derived from the Etruscan and Greek alphabets and ultimately from the Phoenician alphabet.

A root is a word that does not have a prefix in front of the word or a suffix at the end of the word. The root word is the primary lexical unit of a word, and of a word family, which carries the most significant aspects of semantic content and cannot be reduced into smaller constituents. Content words in nearly all languages contain, and may consist only of root morphemes. However, sometimes the term "root" is also used to describe the word minus its inflectional endings, but with its lexical endings in place. For example, chatters has the inflectional root or lemma chatter, but the lexical root chat. Inflectional roots are often called stems, and a root in the stricter sense may be thought of as a monomorphemic stem.

In English

List of English derivational prefixes

This is a fairly comprehensive, although not exhaustive, list of derivational prefixes in English. 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.

Classical compounds and neoclassical compounds are compound words composed from combining forms derived from classical Latin or ancient Greek roots. New Latin comprises many such words and is a substantial component of the technical and scientific lexicon of English and other languages, including international scientific vocabulary. For example, bio- combines with -graphy to form biography.

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.

Numeral or number prefixes are prefixes derived from numerals or occasionally other numbers. In English and other European languages, they are used to coin numerous series of words, such as unicycle – bicycle – tricycle, dyad – triad – decade, biped – quadruped, September – October – November – December, decimal – hexadecimal, sexagenarian – octogenarian, centipede – millipede, etc. There are two principal systems, taken from Latin and Greek, each with several subsystems; in addition, Sanskrit occupies a marginal position. There is also an international set of metric prefixes, which are used in the metric system, and which for the most part are either distorted from the forms below or not based on actual number words.

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.

Japanese language

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 language

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

Noun classPrefix
ag-1-farmerag-1-fatag-1-oldag. onehe-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.

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' becomesпредположение 'supposition'
пре- and образование 'formation (verb)' becomesпреобразование '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

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  1. 1 2 Wilson 2011, p. 152–153.
  2. Beard, Robert (1998). "She Derivation". The Handbook of Morphology. Blackwell. pp. 44–45.
  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. ISBN   9781405136396.
  8. 1 2 3 Chambers, W. Walker and Wilkie, John R. (1970) A Short History of the German Language, London: Methuen & Company, Ltd., p. 63
  9. 1 2 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. 1 2 3 Schmidt, Karla (1974) Easy ways to enlarge your German vocabulary p. 86

Works cited