prefixes in english

40 Common Prefixes in English: The Smartest Way to Improve Your Vocabulary Quickly

If you want to work smarter, not harder, when learning English, look at English prefixes.

Prefixes are letters that go at the beginning of words and change their meanings—learn some prefixes and 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 add to your English vocabulary knowledge and communicate better in general.


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.

Now, let’s move on to the prefixes!

40 Common Prefixes in English to Help Build Your Vocabulary

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.

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 or 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 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

Hetero- (different)

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

Homo- (same)

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

Inter- (between)

international — between nations

interactive — action between people or objects

Mal- (bad or 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 or 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 or 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 or 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 or 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 or better)

uplift — to lift something or someone higher

upstairs — the higher level of a house

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, 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 so it’s easier to spot these little words. The movie scenes, trailers and comedy sketches on the FluentU language program have interactive subtitles that can give you more information on prefixes, like definitions and other videos that feature them.

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 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.

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