Prefixes in English: 40 Must-know Letter Combinations That Change the Meaning of Words
Prefixes are combinations of letters that go before a root word to change its meaning.
Learning a few prefixes means you can learn hundreds of new words easily!
Think about the prefix un-, which means “not” and appears in words like unhappy (not happy), unable (not able), unpopular (not popular) and unnatural (not natural).
English prefixes can help you grow your vocabulary fast and communicate better in general.
Plus, knowing prefixes helps you figure out the meanings of unfamiliar words.
In this post, you’ll learn 40 prefixes in English to put you on the right track.
- 40 Common Prefixes in English
- How to Learn Prefixes in English
- And One More Thing...
40 Common Prefixes in English
Here are 40 common prefixes along with their definition and two or three examples of words that contain each prefix. As we mentioned before, study this list and add other example words as you find them!
The top 10 most common English prefixes are pre-, re-, semi-, sub-, super-, trans-, un-, under-, dis- and ir-.
(capable of using both your right and left hands)
(open to both or multiple interpretations of something)
(a cure that acts against poison)
(an unlikely hero, a hero who goes against the norm)
(the study of stars)
(a person trained to travel to the stars)
(two times a year)
(a vehicle with two wheels)
(a viewing instrument with two lenses)
|Con-||Against, opposite|| contradict
(to say the opposite thing as someone else)
(to go against someone or something)
(to go down)
(to be emptied, taken down)
|Dis-||Opposite, not|| disappear
(to do the opposite of appear; to vanish)
|Em-||To make, put into|| empower
(to make powerful)
(to put into a hug)
|Extra-||More than|| extraordinary
(more than ordinary, special)
(more elaborate than it needs to be)
|Fore-||Before, front|| foresee
(to see before it happens)
(the front of the head)
(attracted to a different sex)
(used to describe a group of many different things)
|Hind-||After, back|| hindsight
(to see or understand after something happened)
(back legs of an animal)
(of the same kind)
(attracted to the same sex)
(two words that are pronounced the same)
|Im-||Opposite, not|| impossible
|In-||Opposite, not|| incomplete
(action between people or objects)
|Mal-||Bad, wrong|| malfunction
(bad or evil)
(the middle point)
(the middle of the night)
(a person whose attitude or personality is wrong for a group)
(to do something wrong)
(belief in one god)
(glasses for just one eye)
(without elements of fiction)
|On-||Near, connected|| online
(connected to the internet)
(someone watching from nearby)
(a complete view of all the area)
(a diseases that covers all of a country or the world)
(a lever operated by your foot)
(a person walking on foot)
(an added note after a letter)
(letters that come before a word to change its meaning)
(taking caution before something happens)
(a partial view before you see the rest of something)
|Pro-||Forward, for|| proceed
(to move forward)
(for the government)
(say it again)
(half a circle)
(halfway between casual and formal)
(a vessel that travels below water)
(to go over what was expected)
(bizarre, to be over what’s normal)
|Trans-||Across, changed|| transportation
(to travel across a space)
(a change in appearance)
(a vehicle with three wheels)
(a shape with three sides)
(two people born at the same time)
(happening two times)
(a frequency beyond human hearing)
(beyond the spectrum of human vision)
|Un-||Opposite, not|| undone
(a fictional horse with one horn)
(a vehicle with only one wheel)
|Under-||Not enough|| understaffed
(not enough staff)
(to not perform well enough)
|Up-||Higher, better|| uplift
(to lift something or someone higher)
(the higher level of a house)
How to Learn Prefixes in English
Prefixes are hidden in hundreds of words you hear daily, but how can you practice them?
Study a list
One idea is to study a list of common prefixes, like the list we shared above.
It can be helpful to memorize these prefixes and their definitions.
If you think of any other example words that use these prefixes, you can add them to the list to practice.
As you continue to study English, you can add any new prefixes you’ve learned to the list as well. Make sure to also write down example words so you can practice using the new prefix.
Find prefixes in your entertainment
Another way to study is to practice finding prefixes in English conversations, movies, books, magazines and videos. Write down any words with prefixes and try to guess what the word means before you use a dictionary.
When you’re watching movies, series or other types of videos, use subtitles like the ones on FluentU so it’s easier to spot these little words.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Use online quizzes and resources
To see how much you’ve learned, it can be helpful to take a quiz about prefixes. There are many quizzes out there for you to use. For example:
- ProProfs has a quiz that focuses on the definitions of prefixes. It has questions like: “Which prefix means “not”?” with multiple-choice answers. This is a great way to study prefixes on their own.
- English Media Lab focuses on words with prefixes instead of just the definitions. This quiz is a slightly higher level. It can help you see if you’ve improved and test your knowledge of prefixes and vocabulary in general.
- The prefixes and suffixes quiz on Quizizz is for advanced learners. This quiz is focused on grammar and asks questions about how to use prefixes. These are also multiple-choice questions, and you can create a free account to see the correct answers to each question.
Now that you’ve learned these 40 prefixes, it’s time to practice what you’ve learned. Practice using prefixes in conversation, and listen for when other English speakers use them.
In no time, you’ll realize that you can determine the meanings of hundreds of new vocabulary words.
By just learning these prefixes, you’re well on your way to mastering the English language.
And One More Thing...
If you like learning English through movies and online media, you should also check out FluentU. FluentU lets you learn English from popular talk shows, catchy music videos and funny commercials, as you can see here:
The FluentU app and website makes it really easy to watch English videos. There are captions that are interactive. That means you can tap on any word to see an image, definition, and useful examples.
For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:
Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.
The best part? FluentU remembers the vocabulary that you’re learning. It gives you extra practice with difficult words—and reminds you when it’s time to review what you’ve learned. You have a truly personalized experience.
Start using FluentU on the website with your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or from the Google Play store.