What is a prefix?

Prefixes are an exciting and simple way to massively expand our vocabulary. This means we have an enormous amount of words ready and waiting for us to use in our speaking and writing!

Jessica Milner

Author
Jessica Milner

Published
December 4, 2023

What is a prefix?

Prefixes are an exciting and simple way to massively expand our vocabulary. This means we have an enormous amount of words ready and waiting for us to use in our speaking and writing!

Jessica Milner

Author
Jessica Milner

Published
Dec 4, 2023

What is a prefix?

Prefixes are an exciting and simple way to massively expand our vocabulary. This means we have an enormous amount of words ready and waiting for us to use in our speaking and writing!

Jessica Milner

Author
Jessica Milner

Published
Dec 4, 2023

Key takeaways

  • The best way to learn prefixes and suffixes is slowly – no one can remember everything at once!
  • Not all prefixes and suffixes follow the rules. Use them as guidance.
  • The more you learn, the easier learning new prefixes and suffixes will become – winner!

Prefixes are everywhere. You use them all the time, every day! 

Chances are, you already know hundreds of words with prefixes and prefix meanings

Learning how to spot a word with a prefix is an invaluable skill. It means that you’ll increase your vocabulary and understand the meaning of words better.

When you can understand how to use prefixes, you’ll start to be able to use them easily. In fact, once you’ve learned all about prefixes, you might not even have to think very hard before you use them, as it’ll come naturally!

What is a prefix?

Prefix definition

A prefix is a letter, or group of letters, added to the start of a word. This changes the existing word and gives it a new meaning.

You can’t use a prefix on its own – it has to be added to an existing word to work.

Prefixes usually change the word’s meaning to the opposite, make it negative or positive, or express relations of time, place or manner.

Prefixes follow rules. Usually, they change the root word’s meaning to follow their rule (the root word is the base word with no prefix or suffix). 

Though not all prefixes follow their rules perfectly, it can be very helpful to learn the meanings of common prefixes. 

This can help us guess the meaning of the new word that adding the prefix has created.

Understanding a little about where words come from (etymology) and how they’re built (morphology) can also help you work out the meaning of a word. Most prefixes and suffixes come from Latin or Greek, which is where most of the English language comes from too!

Righto, let’s check out some prefix examples. Doing this will help us understand what they are and how they work!

Prefix examples

We’ve put together a list of some common prefixes and how they usually change the root word.

When you look at the examples, can you start to see how the prefix works to alter the root word?

Remember, the rule is never set in stone, so just use it to help you. If you need to look up a word or you find it difficult, move on and come back later.

These examples are designed to help you to learn, not make you feel like you’re gonna pop!

 

Un – ‘un’ often means not

  • Unhappy
  • Unimportant
  • Unlock

 

Dis / Mis – ‘dis’ and ‘mis’ usually make words have negative meanings

  • Disagree
  • Dislike
  • Dishonest
  • Misbehave
  • Miserable
  • Misunderstand

 

Re – ‘re’ usually means to do again, or go back

  • Repair
  • Redo
  • Retry

 

Sub – ‘sub’ often means to go under, or below

  • Submerge
  • Submarine
  • Substandard

 

Pro – ‘pro’ usually means for or forward

  • Project
  • Proactive
  • Provoke

 

Im – ‘im’ often means not or no

  • Impossible
  • Improbable
  • Impatient 

Explore prefixes with DoodleEnglish

Want to have a go at some questions? DoodleEnglish is an app that’s filled with thousands of interactive exercises covering reading, grammar, spelling and more!

Designed to be used for 10 minutes a day, it creates each child a unique learning experience tailored to their needs, boosting their confidence and skills. Try it free today!

try doodleenglish for free

Prefixes and suffixes: what's the difference?

The difference between a prefix and a suffix is simple!

A prefix comes at the start of the root word, whereas a suffix comes at the end.

Both change the meaning of the root word.

Examples of suffixes include: s, ed, er, ise, ish, ful, ness, ly, ment, less

Suffixes often change the grammatical meaning of the root word.

For example, adding the suffix ‘s’ will make a word plural (more than one):

Goat + s = goats

Adding the suffix ‘ed’ often makes that word have happened in the past

Walk + ed = walked

Rain + ed = rained

What if we add the suffix ‘ful’?

Wish + ful = wishful

Hope + ful = hopeful

Wonder + ful = wonderful

Can you see how ‘ful’ usually means ‘full of’?

When do children learn about prefixes?

By the start of Key Stage 2, you may have already seen some common prefixes.

Key Stage 2 is the time when you really start to learn all about prefixes, a little more each year, from Year 3 to Year 6.

You’ll learn how to spot a prefix, what they mean and how to use them in your writing and speaking.

You’ll also learn how to spell words using prefixes and suffixes.

Summary

There’s a lot to learn here; the best way to learn it is to go slowly and focus on the prefixes and suffixes that you get the most excited about.

As you learn more about them, you’ll find it much easier to add new ones to the list of words you use daily – and you’ll notice when other people use them too!

If you’d like to learn more about prefixes, be sure to check out our English app. It’s filled with thousands of fun, interactive exercises and games that explore the whole English curriculum!

Try DoodleEnglish for free!

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Jessica Milner

Jessica Milner

This decade is a super exciting one for EdTech, and I'm lucky enough to be right in the middle of it. I've used green screens as an English teacher in Vietnam, written children’s books that wow and motivate, been the head scriptwriter for a popular children's EdTech app and been an all-dancing-all-singing online teacher! I believe in making education inviting and accessible to all. My ethos is: we're all different and we all learn differently, so why not lay out a smorgasbord of educational treats and dig in!

Jessica Milner

Jessica Milner

This decade is a super exciting one for EdTech, and I'm lucky enough to be right in the middle of it. I've used green screens as an English teacher in Vietnam, written children’s books that wow and motivate, been the head scriptwriter for a popular children's EdTech app and been an all-dancing-all-singing online teacher! I believe in making education inviting and accessible to all. My ethos is: we're all different and we all learn differently, so why not lay out a smorgasbord of educational treats and dig in!

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