Grammar: Prefix

Posted January 11, 2015 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Grammar Explanations, Self-Editing, Writing

A prefix is a handy little group of letters — a bound morpheme which occurs before a root, a.k.a., an unbound morpheme, that enable you to create alternative meanings from existing words. It is part of what contributes to the precision and richness of English.

The prefix generally allows its root word to retain its base meaning while fine-tuning it to be more specific.

Consider the word decorated and all sorts of possibilities it raises. Husbands think ick, work…painting the room, spending money on new furniture, please don’t let her do frilly, etc. Wives think paint colors, textures, roman blinds versus balloon shades.

Now consider underdecorated. Sparsely furnished. White walls. No pillows. No pictures.

The other extreme is overdecorated with frilly ruffles, lots of lace, 18,000 pillows on the bed, so much furniture you can’t move. Or maybe it’s gilt everywhere with tons of crushed velvet and Elvis paintings. Three completely different images involving decorate that depend upon the prefix used.

Grammar Explanations is…

…an evolving list of the structural rules and principles that determines where words are placed in phrases or sentences as well as how the language is spoken. Sometimes I run across an example that helps explain better or another “also known as”. Heck, there’s always a better way to explain it, so if it makes quicker and/or better sense, I would appreciate suggestions and comments from anyone on an area of grammar with which you struggle or on which you can contribute more understanding.

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Prefix
Credit to: Skillin, 168, 223-224, ; Chicago Manual of Style, 7.9
Definition: A letter or group of letters that is put or attached to the front of a word and not in the middle (an infix) or the end (a suffix) of a word to create a new word or intensify meaning. The opposite of a suffix.

Affix is a general term for infix, prefix, and suffix.

Partial List of Prefixes
Prefixes that feature a dotted underline are combined forms.

a- 1
all- 2
ante-
anti-
auto-
bi-
co-
counter-
cyber-
de-
extra- 2
half- 2
hyper-
hypo-
infra-
inter-
intra-
macro-
mega-
meta-
micro-
mid-
mini-
multi-
neo-
non-
out-
over-
para-
post-
pre-
pro-
proto-
pseudo-
quasi- 2
re-
self- 2
semi-
socio-
sub-
super-
supra-
trans-
tri-
ultra-
un-
under-

1 An old particle that means in the act of.
2 Technically, these form compound words, but use hyphens and not en dashes.

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Rule: The current tendency is to eliminate the hyphen between a prefix and a root word unless:

Current Practice Don’t Double Up a Vowel
allspice midthirties
antiwar midcareer
coauthor overdecorated
defoliate postgraduate
extracurricular selfhood
extramural selfless
halfhearted selfsame
halfway supermarket
hyperresonant ultrahigh
hypoactive unnamed
infrared unselfconscious [CMOS]
macrocosm unself-conscious [Webster]
microbrew

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extra-administrative
extra-articular
intra-abdominal
supra-auditory
ultra-atomic
anti-independence
anti-inflammatory
anti-insurgency
anti-intellectual
anti-itch
Exceptions include:
Rule: Compound words which use a hyphen and not an en dash Rule: You may double up the vowels on the following prefixes:
  • all-around
    all-embracing
    half-asleep
    half-blooded
    half-dollar
    self-conscious
    self-control
    self-destructive
    self-restraint
    self-realization
    self-seeking
    self-sustaining
co- cooperative
cooperator
coordinate
de- demulsification
deexcite
pre- preeclampsia
preelect
preemergence
preemploy
preestablish
preexamine
preexistent
pro- proopiomelanocortin
prootic
prooxidant
re- reelect
reeligible
reembark
reemergent
reemphasize
reenactment
Rule: …with Adjectives
  • quasi-judicial
    quasi-public
  •  
Rule: Noun compounds are open with no prefix
  • quasi corporation
    quasi scholar
Rule: Certain words are expected to be hyphenated. If you question whether it should or should not be hyphenated, check the dictionary.
  • co-op
  • co-opt
  • co-worker

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Rule: When attached to a capitalized word, prefixes are capped when part of a specific name and not capped when added to proper nouns or adjectives.
Part of a Specific Name Added to Proper Names/Adjectives
Anti-Lebanon Mountains
Neo-Christianity
Neo-Hebraic
Pan-American
Pan-Slavic
Neo-Impressionism
ante-Norman
anti-French
ex-Senator
post-Regency
pre-Christian
pro-American
un-Platonic
Use an En Dash with a Compound Word
Rule: Use an en dash when using a prefix on a compound word
pre–Revolutionary War
post–World War II
Exceptions include:
Antiremonstrant Precambrian postexilic transatlantic
Neoplatonism unplatonic transpacific

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Rule: Use a hyphen between prefix and homograph IF the context isn’t enough to prevent confusion. For example, repose means rest while re-pose indicates that someone or something needs to be moved or a sentence needs to be reworded.
react re-act repose re-pose
really re-ally represent re-present
recollect re-collect research re-search
recover re-cover reserve re-serve
recreate re-create resign re-sign
reform re-form resolve re-solve
release re-lease resound re-sound
remark re-mark restore re-store
The Prefix-Suffix website has an English Language Roots chart that lists and explains the more common prefixes to base words and is a small part of their 2,000 word root database which is searchable using their root search engine.

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