Understand Prefixes to Expand Your Vocabulary

The larger your vocabulary is, the faster you can read because you don’t stumble as often on words you don’t know or recognize. When you read words that you’re already familiar with, you read beyond the words for their meanings. In the act of reading, you absorb ideas, thoughts, feelings, and descriptions — not individual words. You see the forest, not the trees.

One way to get a head start on expanding your vocabulary is to be able to recognize and interpret prefixes, roots, and suffixes in words. Many English words are constructed from the same prefixes, roots, and suffixes. Master these affixes (as linguists call them) and you can interpret many words you don’t understand without having to resort to a dictionary.

A prefix appears at the beginning of a word to give the word a new inflection or meaning. The following table lists common prefixes and their meanings and lists example words to help you understand what these prefixes do to words.

Common Prefixes
Prefix Meaning Example Words
a/an not, lacking in amoral, anarchy, asymmetrical
ab apart from abdicate, abnormal, abduct
ante before antechamber, antedate, antecedent
anti against anticlimax, antimatter, antipathy
arch supreme archbishop, archenemy, archetype
auto self autobiography, autocrat, autoimmune
be beset with becalm, beguile, bewildered
bi two bicycle, binary, bipartisan
co accompanying cooperation, coordinator, coworker
contra opposite contraception, contradict, contravene
counter in opposition counteract, counterbalance, counterpoint
de reverse debrief, decompress, deface
demi half demigod, demitasse, demimonde
dis opposite of disagree, disenfranchise, disinherit,
en (em) put into effect empower, empurple, enforce, enlighten
epi on, over epicenter, epidermis, epitaph
ex out exotic, exterior, exoskeleton
fore before forecast, foreclose, forerunner
in not inept, inexact, inhospitable
inter between interchangeable, interrelated, interact
ir not irrational, irregular, irrelevant
mal badly maladroit, malcontent, malnourished
micro small micromanage, microorganism, microscope
mid middle midday, midlife, midnight
mis wrong misguided, misinformation, misplace
neo new neoclassic, neoconservative, neologism
non not nondescript, nonentity, nonstop
omni all omnibus, omnipotent, omniscient
out beyond outcast, outlaw, outreach
over in excess of overcharge, overpower, overreact,
paleo old Paleolithic, Paleozoic, paleontology
para beside paralegal, paraphrase, paraprofessional
per completely permeate, permutated
poly many polygamy, polygon, polytheism
post after postgraduate, postpone, postscript
pre before prefix, preview, prescient
quasi partly quasi-intelligent, quasi-happy
re again rerun, revamp, revise
retro backward retrofit, retrograde, restrospect
self self self-confident, self-defense, self-sufficient
semi half semicircle, semi-developed, semifinal
step family relation stepparent, stepbrother, stepsister
sub under, lesser subconscious, subcommittee, subterranean
super over, more superhero, supernatural, superpower
syn together synchronize, syncopation, synthesis
trans across transatlantic, transcontinental, transverse
ultra extremely ultracritical, ultraviolet, ultrared
un not ungrammatical, unidentified, unnecessary
under below, less underachieve, underdog, underground
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