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35 Most Common Prefixes in English with their Meanings

35 Most Common Prefixes in English with their Meanings

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Prefixes are fascinating tools in our language that allow us to alter the meaning of words with just a few letters. When we add these meaningful bits to the beginning of a word, we can transform the entire context, giving us the power to craft a vast array of nuanced expressions. Understanding prefixes is essential for our mastery of the English language, since they are foundational components that help us decipher meaning, even in words we may have never encountered before. 

Fundamentals of Prefixes

35 Most Common Prefixes in English with their Meanings

Definition of Prefixes

Prefixes are placed before the words to modify their meanings; like suffixes, they are groups of letters that rarely serve a purpose unless attached to a word.

Types of Prefixes

Prefixes can be classified into several categories based on their function and meaning. Here are common types:

  • Negation: Prefixes like “un-“, “in-“, and “non-” negate or reverse the meaning of the word they precede.
    Prefix Example Meaning
    un- unhappy not happy
    in- invisible not visible
    non- nonstick not sticking
  • Time and Order: Prefixes such as “pre-“, “post-“, and “ex-” indicate timing or sequence.
    Prefix Example Meaning
    pre- preseason before the season
    post- postgame after the game
    ex- ex-president former president
  • Amount or Intensity: “multi-“, “over-“, and “under-” convey the degree of something.
    Prefix Example Meaning
    multi- multicolored having many colors
    over- overachiever to achieve excessively
    under- undercooked not cooked enough
  • Direction or Position: “sub-“, “inter-“, and “super-” denote location or direction.
    Prefix Example Meaning
    sub- submarine under the sea
    inter- interact between actions
    super- supermarket over or above

Functions of Prefixes

Creating New Words

By affixing prefixes to existing words, we explore new conceptual realms. For instance, the prefix anti- signifies opposition, so when we add it to virus, forming antivirus, a word designating something that counters virus activity is born. Here’s a list of prefixes commonly used to forge new terms:

  • Pre-: Preflight, Prepaid
  • Re-: Rebuild, Reset
  • Un-: Unfold, Unwind

Altering Word Class

When we attach certain prefixes to words, we can shift their grammatical role. For example, the addition of en- to slave, creating enslave, transforms a noun into a verb. Other prefixes that alter word class include:

  • De-: Deactivate (verb from adjective/noun)
  • Over-: Overcrowd (verb from adjective)

Conveying Negation or Opposition

We effectively convey the opposite meaning through prefixes. The prefix un- attached to the adjective happy yields unhappy, indicating the lack of happiness. Here’s how prefixes commonly express negation or opposition:

  • In- (or Im-Il-Ir- depending on the following letter for phonetic consistency): Inactive, Imbalance, Illegal, Irregular
  • Non-: Nonprofit, Nonexistent

Common Prefixes in English


  • Meaning: Three
  • E.g.  triangle, tripod, etc.
  • The sum of all the angles of a triangle is 180 degrees.


  • Meaning: Not
  • E.g. inconvenience, infield, innocent, etc.
  • I don’t want to put you to any inconvenience.


  • Meaning: Wrong, wrongly
  • E.g.  misunderstand, misfire, misfortune, misbehavior, etc.
  • This misbehavior will certainly go against his chances of promotion.


  • Meaning: Former, older, out of, away from, lacking
  • E.g.  exhale, ex-wife, excentral, exclude
  • We can exclude the possibility of total loss from our calculations.


  • Meaning: Not, opposite of, reverse
  • E.g. disagree, disappear, disregard, disqualified, disqualify, etc.
  • Lack of education will disqualify you for most good jobs.


  • Meaning: Again
  • E.g. return, remainder, re-useable, refold, regain, etc.
  • She will now begin occupational therapy to regain the use of her hands.


  • Meaning: Against
  • E.g. antifreeze, antipathy, antibiotic, antisocial, anti-war, etc.
  • Lack of antifreeze is a major cause of highway breakdowns.


  • Meaning: Before
  • E.g. prefix, preschool, pre-intermediate, pre-tax
  • But he is heading off to preschool, and we wanted to get him some educational programs.


  • Meaning: Later
  • E.g. post-office, postgraduate, postscript
  • There was the usual romantic postscript at the end of his letter.


  • Meaning: Self,
  • E.g. automatic, automobile
  • The movements of machines are completely automatic, you only need to start and stop the machines.


  • Meaning: Not
  • E.g. unhappy, unfriendly, unpleasant, unwell, etc.
  • This unpleasant incident detracted from our enjoyment of the evening.


  • Meaning: Not
  • E.g. irrelevant, irregular, irresponsible, etc.
  • Thick patchy fog and irresponsible driving were to blame.


  • Meaning: Not
  • E.g. impolite, impossible, immortal, impatient, etc.
  • Don’t be so impatient! The bus will be here soon.


  • Meaning:  Too, in excess of
  • E.g. overlook, overdose, overdue, overall, overconfident, etc.
  • He proved overconfident on the witness stand.


  • Meaning: Half
  • E.g. semifinal, semicircle, semi-final, semiformal, semiannual, etc.
  • I had never been to a semiformal dance before, and now was my chance.

List of Prefixes | Image

List of prefixes | Image 2

35 Most Common Prefixes in English with their Meanings

List of prefixes | Image 3


Frequently Asked Questions

Can you give me examples of common prefixes used in English?

We often see prefixes like re-un-, and pre- in the English language. For instance, re- is used in words like return, which means to go back, and un- is seen in unhappy, indicating not happy.

What prefixes are typically used in chemistry terminology?

In chemistry, prefixes like iso-poly-, and hydro- are quite prevalent. Iso- indicates molecules with the same formula but different arrangements, poly- is used for polymers or compounds with many parts, and hydro- relates to hydrogen.

Could you explain the meaning of some widely-used prefixes?

Sure! The prefix bio- means life, as seen in biology, the study of life. Tele- implies distance, evident in telephone, a device for sound transmission over long distances. Auto- refers to self or same, like in automatic, which operates by itself.

How would you go about pronouncing various prefixes?

We pronounce prefixes usually by stressing their first syllable. For example, ‘anti-‘ is pronounced as AN-ti, not an-TI. Learning correct pronunciation often comes from listening and practice.


Tuesday 3rd of November 2020

Do I have permission to print the Grammar lists to use with my students?


Wednesday 11th of March 2020

what about bio

Teacher Elo

Tuesday 1st of December 2020

bio means life or living