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Vocabulary Building with Prefixes

Vocabulary Building with Prefixes

Author: Alex Seydow

In this learning packet you will learn several common prefixes along with examples and definitions of words.

Prefixes come at the beginning of the word and carry meaning. By studying the prefixes in this learning packet, you will be able to expand your vocabulary tremendously and will be able to guess at the meaning of more complex words. This packet is especially useful for students studying for the ACT, SAT, or GRE Verbal section.

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Prefixes start the beginning of a word.  They are often, but not always, short (two syllables or less).  They carry meaning and so can change the meaning of an existing word such as adding the prefix a- (meaning not or without) to the word social to create asocial or not social. Prefixes may also be added to roots which cannot stand by themselves.  For example, the word circumvent means to go around or to surround.  The prefix circum- means around.  So even if you did not know the meaning of circumvent, you could perhaps guess at its meaning by knowing that circum- means around.  In the next sections we will go through several common prefixes and examples.




Prefix: Hyper-             Meaning: Over                  


1.  Hypertension (high blood pressure)

2.  Hypersensitive (overly sensitive)

3.  Hyperactive (overly active)




Prefix: Ab-                     Meaning: Away from


1. Abduction (the action of moving muscles away from the median axis of the body; second definition: kidnapping, taking someone away)

2. Abstain (to hold oneself back from something)

3. Abnormal (deviating from the standard)



Prefix: Com-               Meaning: With, together, in association


1.  Communal (shared by everyone)

2.  Commission (a group of people who are in charge of something)

3.  Commingle (to mix together)

4.  Combine (to join together to make a whole)

Il- , In-, Im-, Ir-


Prefixes: Il-, In-, Im-, Ir- Meaning: Not* 


1. Invisible (not visible) 

2. Indiscreet (lacking prudence or good judgment)

3. Irredeemable (cannot be sold or bought back)

4. Irreverent (disrespectful)

5. Imperishable (does not decay)


**NOTE: The prefix dis- can also mean not as in dissatisfied. Im- and In- can also mean into as in incorporate or imbibe (drink in).



Prefix: Liter-                Meaning: Letter


1. Literature (printed material, a whole collection of writings in one language)

2. Literal (following the exact words from the original, true to fact)

3. Literate (able to read printed material)




Prefix: Proto-                Meaning: first


1. Protoplast (the primordial cell, a person or thing that is formed first)

2. Prototype (first in time)

3. Proto-industrial (the time before industrialization) 



Prefix: Epi-                 Meaning: Upon


1. Epitaph (an inscription on a tomb or monument of a person who is buried there)

2. Epidermis (the outer layer of the skin)

3. Epithesis (the addition of a letter at the end of the word without changing its sense as in whilst instead of while)



Prefix: Eso-                         Meaning: Inward, within


1. Esophagus (the muscular passage between the mouth and stomach)

2. Esoteric (not openly admitted, restricted to a select few) 

3. Esophoria (a squint with the eyes turned in toward the nose)



Prefix: Eu-                  Meaning: Well, good 


1. Euphoric (happiness or confidence, exaggerated happiness)

2. Euphuize (to be over over nice in language and expression, excessive refinement)

3. Euphemism (the substitution of mild for something offensive or blunt)



Prefix: Contra-            Meaning: Against


1.  Contraception (prevention of pregnancy)

2. Contravene (to act against)

3. Contravention (opposition)



Prefix: Tele-                 Meaning: Distant, far off


1. Telephone (an archaic and inconvenient form of communication with far away people)

2. Telepathy (communication between minds)

3. Teleport (to transport by telekinesis)

More Prefixes

Prefix                  Meaning              Example

A-                        not, without                    amoral

Ad-                      to, toward                       adjoin

Ambi-                   both                              ambidextrous

Ana-                     up, back, again                anagram

Anti-                    against                          antiwar

Apo-                    from, away from             apologize

Auto-                   self                               autobiography

Bene-                   good                              benefactor

Cat-                     down, against                 catastrophe

Centro-                around, center               centrifugal

Circum-                around                            circumlocution

Dis-                     apart, not                      discomfort

Ecto-                   on the outside                 Ectoderm

Ex-                      out of, from                    Extract

Hetero-               other, different              Heterogeneous

Homo-                 same                               Homogeneous

Hypo-                  under                              Hypodermic

In-                      into                                Incorporate

Inter-                 between                         Interstate

Intra-                within                              Intramural

Macro-              large                               Macroeconomics

Mal-                  bad, evil                          Malnutrition

Meta-                beyond                            Metaphysics

Micro-               small                               Microscope

Mono-                one, single                        Monarchy

Neo-                  new, recent                     Neolithic

Ob-                   against                             Object

Pan-                  every, all                          Panorama

Para-                subsidiary                         Paralegal    

Phil-                 like, lover of                     Philanthropy

Poly-                many                                Polytheism

Post-                after                               Postpone

Pre-                 before                             Predict

Pseudo-            false                               Pseudoscientific      

Re-                  again, back                       Recede

Retro-             back                                Retrograde

Sub-                under                              Substandard

Sur-, Super-    over, above                    Surpass, Superhuman

Trans-             across                            Transatlantic


**For even more prefixes: