A BIG List of Prefixes and Suffixes and Their Meanings

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A prefix is a letter or a group of letters that appears at the beginning of a word and changes the word’s original meaning. A suffix is a letter or a group of letters that is usually added onto the end of words, to change the way a word fits into a sentence grammatically.

Nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs all tend to use different suffixes, so this makes it a little easier to remember! Collectively, prefixes and suffixes are known as ‘affixes’.

Combining forms

When you are learning the different types of prefixes, it is important to remember that not every word containing these combinations is a prefix. Sometimes words have ‘combining forms’, which look very similar to prefixes but work differently!

Let me explain….
As you know, a prefix is a letter or a group of letters that appears at the beginning of words, but it can also be removed from the base word, and the word would still be a word without it, even if the meaning changes.

For example, non- means ‘not’ or ‘without’, this is used in words such as ‘nonsense’. The word ‘sense‘ can be separated from the prefix and it would still be a word on its own, even if the meaning is different.

Combining forms are similar to prefixes, and are sometimes known as ‘chameleon prefixes’, because they act like them and appear at the beginning of words like them, BUT the combining form is intrinsic to the word, meaning it is a part of the word and cannot be removed. They are called ‘chameleons’, because they change their spelling and physical form to suit the word they are attached to!

So, combining forms act as prefixes but are different, because the remaining letters cannot be separated to form an independent word.

Here are some examples of prefixes that are also ‘combining forms’:

PREFIXMEANINGEXAMPLECOMBINING FORMMEANINGEXAMPLE
com-, con-with, alongsidecomprise, connotecom-, con-with, jointlycompanion, comrade, community
contra-againstcontraindicatecontra-againstcontraceptive, contradict
de-oppositedevaluede-down, awaydescend
ex-formerex-husbandex-outexhort
a-not, withoutamorala-, an-not, withoutapathy, anaemic
in-notinconvenientin-intoinebriate, indulge
homo-samehomograph, homophonehomo-samehomogeneous
magn-greatmagnatemagn-greatmagnificent, magnanimous, magnitude, magnify
para-besideparagraph, paramedicpara-besideparadox
sub-undersubmarinesub-undersubstitute
trans-acrosstransnational, transparenttrans-through, acrosstransmit, transcend
tri-threetriangle, tripodtri-threetriceps, triathlon

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prefix placePrefixes

A prefix is a letter or a group of letters that attaches to the beginning of a word and helps to indicate or modify its meaning. An easy example would be the word ‘prefix’ itself! It begins with the prefix pre-, which means ‘before’.

It is quite important to understand what different prefixes mean as they can help to understand the meanings of any new vocabulary that you learn. However, you do need to be careful, as sometimes a prefix can have more than one meaning!

An example would be im-, this can mean ‘not’ or ‘into’.

Here is a list of the most common prefixes:

PREFIXMEANINGEXAMPLES
ante-beforeantenatal, anteroom, antedate
anti-against, opposingantibiotic, antidepressant, antidote
circum-aroundcircumstance, circumvent, circumnavigate
co-withco-worker, co-pilot, co-operation
de-off, down, away fromdevalue, defrost, derail, demotivate
dis-opposite of, notdisagree, disappear, disintegrate, disapprove
em-, en-cause to, put intoembrace, encode, embed, enclose, engulf
epi-upon, close to, afterepicentre, episcope, epidermis
ex-former, out ofex-president, ex-boyfriend, exterminate
extra-beyond, more thanextracurricular, extraordinary, extra-terrestrial
fore-beforeforecast, forehead, foresee, foreword, foremost
homo-samehomosexual, homonuclear, homoplastic
hyper-over, abovehyperactive, hyperventilate
il-, im-, in-, ir-notimpossible, illegal, irresponsible, indefinite
im-, in-intoinsert, import, inside
infra-beneath, belowinfrastructure, infrared, infrasonic, infraspecific
inter-, intra-betweeninteract, intermediate, intergalactic, intranet
macro-largemacroeconomics, macromolecule
micro-smallmicroscope, microbiology, microfilm, microwave
mid-middlemidfielder, midway, midsummer
mis-wronglymisinterpret, misfire, mistake, misunderstand
mono-one, singularmonotone, monobrow, monolithic
non-not, withoutnonsense, nonentity, nondescript
omni-all, everyomnibus, omnivore, omnipotent
para-besideparachute, paramedic, paradox
post-afterpost-mortem, postpone, post-natal
pre-beforeprefix, predetermine, pre-intermediate
re-againreturn, rediscover, reiterate, reunite
semi-halfsemicircle, semi-final, semiconscious
sub-undersubmerge, submarine, sub-category, subtitle
super-above, oversuperfood, superstar, supernatural, superimpose
therm-heatthermometer, thermostat, thermodynamic
trans-across, beyondtransport, transnational, transatlantic
tri-threetriangle, tripod, tricycle
un-notunfinished, unfriendly, undone, unknown
uni-oneunicycle, universal, unilateral, unanimous

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suffix placeSuffixes 

A suffix is a letter or a group of letters that is usually attached to the end of a word to form a new word, as well as alter the way it functions grammatically.

Depending on whether it is a noun, verb, adjective or adverb, a different suffix would be required. For example, the verb read can be altered to become the noun reader by adding the suffix ­-er. The same verb can also be turned into the adjective readable by adding the suffix –able.

It is just as important to understand the definitions of suffixes as prefixes, because they too help us to deduce the meanings of any new words that we learn. I have listed some of the most common suffixes below:

SUFFIXMEANINGEXAMPLE
NOUN SUFFIXES
-acystate or qualitydemocracy, accuracy, lunacy
-althe action or process ofremedial, denial, trial, criminal
-ance, -encestate or quality ofnuisance, ambience, tolerance
-domplace or state of beingfreedom, stardom, boredom
-er, -orperson or object that does a specified actionreader, creator, interpreter, inventor, collaborator, teacher
-ismdoctrine, beliefJudaism, scepticism, escapism
-istperson or object that does a specified actionGeologist, protagonist, sexist, scientist, theorist, communist
-ity, -tyquality ofextremity, validity, enormity
-mentconditionenchantment, argument
-nessstate of beingheaviness, highness, sickness
-shipposition heldfriendship, hardship, internship
-sion, -tionstate of beingposition, promotion, cohesion
VERB SUFFIXES
-atebecomemediate, collaborate, create
-enbecomesharpen, strengthen, loosen
-ify, -fymake or becomejustify, simplify, magnify, satisfy
-ise, -izebecomepublicise, synthesise, hypnotise
ADJECTIVE SUFFIXES
-able, -iblecapable of beingedible, fallible, incredible, audible
-alhaving the form or character offiscal, thermal, herbal, colonial
-esquein a manner of or resemblingpicturesque, burlesque, grotesque
-fulnotable forhandful, playful, hopeful, skilful
-ic, -icalhaving the form or character ofpsychological, hypocritical, methodical, nonsensical, musical
-ious, -ouscharacterised bypious, jealous, religious, ridiculous
-ishhaving the quality ofsqueamish, sheepish, childish
-ivehaving the nature ofinquisitive, informative, attentive
-lesswithoutmeaningless, hopeless, homeless
-ycharacterised bydainty, beauty, airy, jealousy
ADVERB SUFFIXES
-lyrelated to or qualitysoftly, slowly, happily, crazily, madly
-ward, -wardsdirectiontowards, afterwards, backwards, inward
-wisein relation tootherwise, likewise, clockwise

So as you can see, affixes can dramatically change the definitions of words. Knowing the various prefixes and suffixes along with their meanings can really help you to understand how words are used, and also how they should be spelt.

Although these groups of letters (affixes) are important and assist with forming words, they are not words in their own right and cannot stand alone in a sentence.

If they are printed or written alone, then they should have a hyphen before or after them to demonstrate that they are to be attached to other letters to form words (the way I have listed them in the above tables).

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Written by: Nadia Ilyas

Nadia is a British English teacher and the head writer at MyEnglishTeacher.eu. In her free time she loves mountaineering and travelling around the world.