Work smarter. Not harder.
Have you ever heard this English expression?
Basically, it means that hours and hours of hard work aren’t always the right way to achieve a goal.
Sometimes, it’s a better idea to think about a problem and develop tricks that’ll save you time and energy.
So, how can you work smarter when learning English?
One way is to learn English prefixes.
Prefixes are letters that go at the beginning of words and change their meanings. If you learn a couple prefixes, you can instantly learn hundreds of new words quickly and easily!
Don’t believe me?
Well, think about the prefix un- which means “not.”
Take a look at those two little letters. Memorize them.
Now, look at this list of words:
Unhappy (not happy). Unable (not able). Unpopular (not popular). Unnatural (not natural).
The list goes on and on!
Knowing lots of English vocabulary words is essential for communicating well in English. And with English prefixes, you can quickly add to your English vocabulary knowledge. You’ll learn hundreds of new words to express different emotions and ideas.
So, let’s “work smart!”
What Is a Prefix in English?
In English, many words are made up of prefixes, root words and suffixes.
A root word is the base of a word. It’s a simple word with a clear meaning that can be used alone or with the addition of prefixes and suffixes.
Prefixes are combinations of letters that go before a root word to change its meaning.
Suffixes are combinations of letters that go after a root word to change its meaning.
Technically, you can add many prefixes and many suffixes to make a super long English word. But for now, let’s just keep it simple!
When you’re learning vocabulary, it’s helpful to learn the definitions of common prefixes. In studying, you’ll find many new words that start with each prefix.
Knowing prefixes in English can also be helpful if you come across an unfamiliar word. You can break the word down to find the root word and the prefix. If you know what the prefix means, you’ll have a better idea of what the word means, too.
How to Learn Prefixes in English
How do you practice English prefixes? Prefixes are hidden in hundreds of words that you hear every day, but how can you be smart about learning them?
Study a List
One idea is to study a list of common prefixes. Lucky for you, we’ve included a list here with 40 common prefixes along with their definition and some example words.
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.
For example, you can look for prefixes while watching videos on FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.Each FluentU video includes native speakers of English, so you’ll learn how English is really spoken. This means you’ll hear tons of different prefixes!
You can use FluentU’s interactive English subtitles to follow along as you watch. If you see any words with prefixes, write them down, or click on them to add them to a customized vocabulary list! Then, you can use FluentU’s learn mode and flashcard feature to review these words later on.
You’ll be a master of prefixes in no time! Click here to check out FluentU’s free trial.
Use Online Quizzes and Resources
In order 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. We’ve listed a few here:
- 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, let’s move on to the prefixes!
40 Common Prefixes in English: The Smartest Way to Improve Your Vocabulary Quickly
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!
By the way, if you’re unsure how to pronounce any of the words on this list, we recommend looking them up in an interactive pronunciation dictionary like Forvo.
ambidextrous — capable of using both your right and left hands
ambivalent — open to both or multiple interpretations of something
antidote — a cure that acts against poison
antihero — an unlikely hero, a hero who goes against the norm
astronomy – the study of stars
astronaut – a person trained to travel to the stars
biannual — two times a year
bicycle — a vehicle with two wheels
binoculars — a viewing instrument with two lenses
cohabitate — live together
cooperate — work together
Con- (against or opposite)
contradict — to say the opposite thing as someone else
confront — to go against someone or something
descend — to go down
deflate — to be emptied, taken down
Dis- (opposite or not)
disappear — to do the opposite of appear; to vanish
dissatisfied — not satisfied
Em- (to make or 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 or front)
foresee — to see before it happens
forehead — the front of the head
heterosexual — attracted to a different sex
heterogeneous — used to describe a group of many different things
Hind- (after or back)
hindsight — to see or understand after something happened
hindquarters — back legs of an animal
homogeneous — of the same kind
homosexual — attracted to the same sex
homonym — two words that are pronounced the same
Im- (opposite or not)
impossible — not possible
impractical — not practical
In- (opposite or not)
incomplete — not complete
incompatible — not compatible
international — between nations
interactive — action between people or objects
Mal- (bad or wrong)
malfunction — functions wrongly
malicious — bad or evil
midpoint — the middle point
midnight — the middle of the night
misfit — a person whose attitude or personality is wrong for a group
mistake — to do something wrong
monotheistic — belief in one god
monocle — glasses for just one eye
nonsense — without sense
nonfiction — without elements of fiction
On- (near or connected)
online — connected to the internet
onlooker — someone watching from nearby
panorama — a complete view of all the area
pandemic — a diseases that covers all of a country or the world
pedal — a lever operated by your foot
pedestrian — a person walking on foot
postpartum — after birth
postscript — an added note after a letter
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 or for)
proceed — to move forward
pro-government — for the government
repeat — say it again
revisit — visit again
reconstruct — build again
semicircle — half a circle
semi-formal — halfway between casual and formal
subzero — below zero
submarine — a vessel that travels below water
surpass — to go over what was expected
surreal — bizarre, to be over what’s normal
Trans- (across or changed)
transportation — to travel across a space
transform — a change in appearance
tricycle — a vehicle with three wheels
triangle — a shape with three sides
twins — two people born at the same time
twice — happening two times
ultrasonic — a frequency beyond human hearing
ultraviolet — beyond the spectrum of human vision
Un- (opposite or not)
undone — not done
uncomfortable — not comfortable
unbelievable — not believable
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 or better)
uplift — to lift something or someone higher
upstairs — the higher level of a house
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.
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn English with real-world videos.