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

List of English derivational prefixes

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-"not/without"anaerobic, "not requiring air to live"a- before consonants, an- before vowels
ante-"before"antebellum, "before a war"
anti-"against"anti-inflammatory, "against inflammation" (more)
auto-"self"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-"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-"on, above"epidural, "outside the dura mater" (more)
extra-"outside"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-"a lot"; "too much"hypercalcemia, "too much calcium in the blood" (more)See hyper
hypo-"a little"; "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-"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-"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-"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-"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"macroeconomics, "workings of entire economies" (more)
mal-"bad", "wrong"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-"in favor of"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


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

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
  • The one, old, fat farmer goes.
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.

  • 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 prefixes are still in use 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- expresses union or togetherness.[8]

On the other hand, verbal prefixes are still much in use: be-, er-, ent-, ge-, ver-, zer-, and miß- (see also Separable verb).[8] 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-.[9][10]

The prefix er- usually indicates the successful completion of an action, and sometimes the conclusion means death.[11] With fewer verbs, it indicates the beginning of and action.[8][11] The prefix er- is also used to form verbs from adjectives (e.g. erkalten is equivalent to kalt werden which means to get cold).[11]

See also


  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.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Chambers, W. Walker and Wilkie, John R. (1970) A Short History of the German Language, London: Methuen & Com- pany, Ltd., p. 63
  9. Daniel Boileau (1820) The Nature and Genius of the German Language pp. 203, 211
  10. Maylor, B. Roger (2002) Lexical template morphology: change of state and the verbal prefixes in German p. 12
  11. 1 2 3 Schmidt, Karla (1974) Easy ways to enlarge your German vocabulary p. 86

Works cited

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