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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.

Contents

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-.

PrefixMeaningExamples
Ambi- Both ambidextrous
(capable of using both your right and left hands)
ambivalent
(open to both or multiple interpretations of something)
Anti- Against antidote
(a cure that acts against poison)
antihero
(an unlikely hero, a hero who goes against the norm)
Astro- Star astronomy
(the study of stars)
astronaut
(a person trained to travel to the stars)
Bi- Two biannual
(two times a year)
bicycle
(a vehicle with two wheels)
binoculars
(a viewing instrument with two lenses)
Co- Together cohabitate
(live together)
cooperate
(work together)
Con- Against, opposite contradict
(to say the opposite thing as someone else)
confront
(to go against someone or something)
De- Down descend
(to go down)
deflate
(to be emptied, taken down)
Dis- Opposite, not disappear
(to do the opposite of appear; to vanish)
dissatisfied
(not satisfied)
Em- To make, put into empower
(to make powerful)
embrace
(to put into a hug)
Extra- More than extraordinary
(more than ordinary, special)
extravagant
(more elaborate than it needs to be)
Fore- Before, front foresee
(to see before it happens)
forehead
(the front of the head)
Hetero- Different heterosexual
(attracted to a different sex)
heterogeneous
(used to describe a group of many different things)
Hind- After, back hindsight
(to see or understand after something happened)
hindquarters
(back legs of an animal)
Homo- Same homogeneous
(of the same kind)
homosexual
(attracted to the same sex)
homonym
(two words that are pronounced the same)
Im- Opposite, not impossible
(not possible)
impractical
(not practical)
In- Opposite, not incomplete
(not complete)
incompatible
(not compatible)
Inter- Between international
(between nations)
interactive
(action between people or objects)
Mal- Bad, wrong malfunction
(functions wrongly)
malicious
(bad or evil)
Mid- Middle midpoint
(the middle point)
midnight
(the middle of the night)
Mis- Wrong misfit
(a person whose attitude or personality is wrong for a group)
mistake
(to do something wrong)
Mono- One monotheistic
(belief in one god)
monocle
(glasses for just one eye)
Non- Without nonsense
(without sense)
nonfiction
(without elements of fiction)
On- Near, connected online
(connected to the internet)
onlooker
(someone watching from nearby)
Pan- All panorama
(a complete view of all the area)
pandemic
(a diseases that covers all of a country or the world)
Ped- Foot pedal
(a lever operated by your foot)
pedestrian
(a person walking on foot)
Post- After postpartum
(after birth)
postscript
(an added note after a letter)
Pre- Before prefix
(letters that come before a word to change its meaning)
precaution
(taking caution before something happens)
preview
(a partial view before you see the rest of something)
Pro- Forward, for proceed
(to move forward)
pro-government
(for the government)
Re- Again repeat
(say it again)
revisit
(visit again)
reconstruct
(build again)
Semi- Half semicircle
(half a circle)
semi-formal
(halfway between casual and formal)
Sub- Below subzero
(below zero)
submarine
(a vessel that travels below water)
Sur- Over surpass
(to go over what was expected)
surreal
(bizarre, to be over what’s normal)
Trans- Across, changed transportation
(to travel across a space)
transform
(a change in appearance)
Tri- Three tricycle
(a vehicle with three wheels)
triangle
(a shape with three sides)
Twi- Two twins
(two people born at the same time)
twice
(happening two times)
Ultra- Beyond ultrasonic
(a frequency beyond human hearing)
ultraviolet
(beyond the spectrum of human vision)
Un- Opposite, not undone
(not done)
uncomfortable
(not comfortable)
unbelievable
(not believable)
Uni- One unicorn
(a fictional horse with one horn)
unicycle
(a vehicle with only one wheel)
Under- Not enough understaffed
(not enough staff)
underperform
(to not perform well enough)
Up- Higher, better uplift
(to lift something or someone higher)
upstairs
(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.

You can try FluentU for free for 2 weeks. Check out the website or download the iOS app or Android app.

P.S. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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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:

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If you want to watch it, the FluentU app has probably got it.

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.

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FluentU lets you learn engaging content with world famous celebrities.

For example, when you tap on the word "searching," you see this:

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FluentU lets you tap to look up any word.

Learn all the vocabulary in any video with quizzes. Swipe left or right to see more examples for the word you’re learning.

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FluentU helps you learn fast with useful questions and multiple examples. Learn more.

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 the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes or Google Play store. Click here to take advantage of our current sale! (Expires at the end of this month.)

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