21 French Prefixes

Prefixes are cute little buggers that can help you build your French vocabulary quickly and painlessly.

They’re affixed before the stem of nouns, verbs, adjectives and other root words and help you boil down what would otherwise be a multi-word phrase into a single word. 

Instead of  pas typique (not typical), for example, you can simply say atypique (atypical).

Luckily, many French prefixes originate in Latin or Greek like English prefixes do. As you go through the prefixes below, you’ll find many similarities in how they’re used in French and English.

Once you’ve added the most common French prefixes to your arsenal, you’ll be able to decode the meanings of unfamiliar words more easily.

Convinced? All right, let’s get this show on the road!

Let’s look at some prefixes, shall we?


1. a- (“without” or “the opposite of”)

Type of prefix: adjectival (i.e., it’s added in front of adjectives)


a- +  typique (typical) → atypique (atypical)

Marie a un parcours atypique. (Marie has an atypical background.)

2. anté- (“before” or “in front of”)

Type of prefix: nominal (placed before a noun) or verbal (placed before a verb)


anté- historique (historical) →  antéhistorique (prehistoric)

Jeanne s’intéresse à l’art antéhistorique. (Jeanne is interested in prehistoric art.)

Note:  Préhistorique (prehistoric) also exists. In fact, the synonym antéhistorique is less commonly used, but it’s good to keep in your pocket if you want to impress some French academics.

Here’s another example:

anté- poser (put down) → antéposer (put or place something before something else)

On antéposé les adjectifs pour en accentuer l’effet. (We put adjectives in front to emphasize their effect.)

3. anti- (“against” or “opposed to”)

Type of prefix: nominal or adjectival


anti- bactérien (bacterial) →  antibactérien (antibacterial)

J’utilise un savon antibactérien.  (I am using an antibacterial soap.)

anti- racisme (racism) →  antiracisme (antiracism)

L’antiracisme est notre but.  (Antiracism is our goal.)

4. auto- (“self”)

Type of prefix: nominal or adjectival


auto- + biographie (biography) →  autobiographie (autobiography)

Je lui ai acheté l’autobiographie de son artiste préféré. (I bought him the autobiography of his favorite artist.)

5. contra-/contre- (“counter” or “against”)

Type of prefix: nominal


contre- + enquête (investigation) →  contre-enquête (counter-investigation)

Il a ouvert une contre-enquête.  (He opened a counter-investigation.)

6. dé-/dés- (“not” or “separate from”)

Type of prefix: verbal


dés- + obéir (obey) →  désobéir (disobey)

Hélène désobéit à sa mère.  (Hélène disobeys her mother.)

7. dys- (“bad,” “deformed,” “difficulty” or “abnormal”)

Type of prefix: nominal or adjectival


dys- + lexique (vocabulary, words) →  dyslexique (dyslexic, literally “difficulty with words”)

La fille d’Alice est dyslexique. (Alice’s daughter is dyslexic.)

8. é- (indicates removal)

Type of prefix: nominal, adjectival or verbal


é- feuiller (come into leaf) →  effeuiller (pluck the leaves off)

Marie effeuille le persil pour sa recette.  (Marie plucks the leaves off the parsley for her recipe.)

9. em-/en- (“into” or “in”)

Type of prefix: verbal


en- fouir (dig) →  enfouir (bury)

La souris enfouit des noix pour l’hiver.  (The mouse is burying nuts for the winter.)

10. extra- (“beyond” or “outside of”)

Type of prefix: nominal or adjectival


extra- ordinaire (ordinary) →  extraordinaire (extraordinary)

Une chance extraordinaire s’ offre à toi. (An extraordinary opportunity presents itself to you.)

11. hyper- (“over” or “excessive”)

Type of prefix: nominal or adjectival


hyper- actif (active) →  hyperactif (hyperactive)

Mon fils est hyperactif. (My son is hyperactive.)

12. il-/im-/in-/ir- (opposite of root word)

Type of prefix: adjectival, nominal or adverbial

Il- goes before words that begin with l.

il-légal (legal) →  illégal (illegal)

La société lutte contre le travail illégal. (The company is fighting against illegal work.)

Im- is used for words that begin with b, m or p.

im-partial (partial) →  impartial (impartial)

Je dois rendre une décision impartiale. (I must make an impartial decision.)

In- is the most common variant of the prefix, and is affixed to words that begin with vowels or consonants—except for b, l, m, p or r.

in- acceptable (acceptable) →  inacceptable (unacceptable)

Son attitude est inacceptable. (His attitude is unacceptable.)

Ir- is added to words that begin with r.

ir-régulier (regular) →  irrégulier (irregular)

Il y a beaucoup de verbes irréguliers en français. (There are a lot of irregular verbs in French.)

13. infra- (“below” or “beneath”)

Type of prefix: nominal or adjectival


infra- structure (structure) →  infrastructure (infrastructure)

L’infrastructure est moderne.  (The infrastructure is modern.)

14. mal-/mau-/mé-/més- (“bad” or “mis-“)

Type of prefix: nominal, adjectival or verbal


mal-heureux (happy) →  malheureux (unhappy)

Charles est malheureux.  (Charles is unhappy.)

mé- +  connaître (know) →  méconnaître (misunderstand, not recognize or know)

Le médecin méconnait la cause de ma maladie.  (The doctor does not know the cause of my illness.)

15. multi- (“many” or “much”)

Type of prefix: quantitative


multi- culturelle (cultural) →  multiculturelle (multicultural)

C’est une ville multiculturelle.  (It’s a multicultural city.)

16. non- (“not”)

Type of prefix: negational


non- fumeur (smoker) →  non-fumeur (non-smoking area)

C’est une table non-fumeur.  (It’s a non-smoking table.)

17. pré- (“before”)

Type of prefix: nominal or adjectival


pré- cuit (cooked) →  précuit (precooked)

Le pain est précuit. (The bread is precooked.)

18. pro- (“in favor of” or “for”)

Type of prefix: nominal or adjectival


pro-actif (active) →  proactif (proactive, in favor of being active)

Eric est proactif.  (Eric is proactive.)

19. r-/re-/ré-/res- (“return” or “redo”)

Type of prefix: verbal

Re- is generally added to verbs that begin with a consonant or an aspirated h.

re- + faire (do or make) →  refaire (redo or remake)

Elisabeth refait ses devoirs.  (Elisabeth is redoing her homework.)

Re- often becomes res- when placed in front of a verb that begins with an s.

res- + sortir (go out) →  ressortir (go out again)

Je dois ressortir ce soir. (I must go out again tonight.)

Ré- and r- are usually added in front of verbs that begin with vowels and h muet (silent h).

ré- écrire (write) →  récrire or réécrire (rewrite)

Je réécris ma liste de courses.  (I am rewriting my shopping list.)

r- + habiller (dress) →  rhabiller (dress again)

Elise rhabille son enfant. (Elise dresses her child again.)

20. sur-/super- (“above,” “over” or “on top of”)

Type of prefix: nominal, adjectival or verbal


super- poser (place or put) →  superposer (to place on top of)

Elise a superposé les coussins pour ne pas avoir mal au dos. (Elise put the cushions on top of each other so she wouldn’t hurt her back.)

21. ultra- (“beyond,” “extreme” or “surpassing”)

Type of prefix: nominal or adjectival


ultra- sons (sounds) →  ultrasons (ultrasounds)

Elle a eu deux ultrasons. (She had two ultrasounds.)

Resources for Practicing French Prefixes

If you’d like to stay even further ahead of the prefix game, check out these resources for some more practice.

  • The Francophone site Études littéraires offers quick reference guides to an extensive list of prefixes with examples for you to pore over and find le mot juste (the right word).
  • “Exploring the French Language” by R. Anthony Lodge et al. is a fantastic text for all of you budding French linguists out there. For example, in the section entitled “Word Formation and Etymology,” you’ll learn that French words are categorized as either simple, derived or compound, along with the historical evolution of French prefixes (and suffixes) from Old French to the French we know today.

There’s another way to pick up new vocabulary using prefixes, and that’s by going on a language learning platform like FluentU.

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