In today’s English grammar lesson, we talk about adding a prefix to an English word to change its meaning. We’ve talked about prefix and suffixes in previous English lessons. Today we focus on prefix rather than suffix, using a lot of interesting examples.
Other than when to use a hyphen and when not to, prefixes are pretty straightforward. In fact, although some people will frown at me for saying this, if you don’t use a hyphen most people won’t even notice them missing. For example, self-made or self made millionaire. Your spell checker is the only thing likely to complain.
If you’re unfamiliar with prefixes, then you might already use English words that include them without even knowing. I’ve included some modern uses and some words with prefixes that you’ve almost certainly heard but may not have spotted.
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Prefix Suffix Reproduce Preamble Premeditated Postmortem Translucent
Hi and welcome to this latest podcast from Adept English.
Let’s go this week with another idea for Rule Six, the Helping Hand of Adept English. Learn grammar as you go today. Let’s pull together a theme – so this podcast will contain words that you’ll have met, which you’ll have encountered and understood, but which follow a particular pattern.
So if you want to know how to improve English grammar, then giving a focus to one part of the English language just pulls together your knowledge in a way that’s helpful and promotes greater understanding. And if you don’t know what I mean by Rule Six, the Helping Hand of Adept English? Well, if you sign up for our free course The Seven Rules of Adept English – you can find out – for free!
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How about today we look at some prefixes, which have the same meanings in different words? Basic English grammar, but with a story around it, a podcast around it to help you remember.
So first of all, a prefix, that’s PREFIX. It means the part of a word that goes at the beginning – a set of letters which you can add to the front of a word, the beginning of a word, to make a different meaning.
The opposite of a prefix is a suffix, SUFFIX – and that means a part of a word that goes at the end, a set of letters which you can add to the ends of certain words, which change the meaning. So an example of a suffix might be ‘less’, LESS on the end of a word. ‘Effortless’, ‘careless’, ‘meaningless’, ‘faultless’. So LESS on the end of these words is a quick way of saying ‘without effort’, ‘without care’, ‘without meaning’, ‘without fault’. So that’s a suffix.
And an example of a prefix would be with the verb ‘to use’, you might add a prefix ‘re’, RE on the front to make that ‘to reuse’. So you probably know the verb ‘to use’ – it means you utilise something, you perform an action with something.
A photograph of a young man with shopping bags. An example of the English prefix re in this case someone reusing shopping bags.
You might ‘use a pen’ or ‘use a computer’. But if you ‘reuse’ something – it means you ‘use it again’. So you might say ‘I am reusing all of my plastic shopping bags’. That means you use the same plastic shopping bags each time you go shopping – you ‘reuse’ them.
So ‘re’, RE is an example of a prefix, which changes a meaning. And usually if the prefix is ‘re’, it means you do something again, or you do it repeatedly. You can reorganise, rebuild, reproduce, review, recycle. But be careful – for it to be a prefix, the word must exist in its own right, without the prefix – and the prefix must affect the meaning.
What about if you meet the prefix ‘pre’, PRE at the start of a word. So be careful here – there are lots of words which begin with the letters PRE, but it doesn’t mean it’s always a prefix. But if you say ‘prehistoric’ – that means like Jurassic Park, things that come from a time before history, prehistory, before we have any record of them happening.
That’s prehistoric. So the prefix, PRE, just as in the word ‘prefix’ – means ‘before’. Other examples of words with the prefix ‘pre’, PRE – premeditated, preamble, preview, predate, premenstrual – be careful what you say about that one! And many more.
It’s difficult to give an example of a prefix like pre, without also talking about the prefix ‘post’, POST – which has the opposite meaning. So if you see POST added as a prefix to the start of a word, it means ‘after’ or ‘afterwards’. Perhaps remember this one with the English word ‘postmortem’, POSTMORTEM.
This is a word which comes from the Latin, meaning ‘after death’. A postmortem in UK English is the same as what the Americans would call an ‘autopsy’, AUTOPSY – so that’s an investigation around ‘cause of death’, an examination of a body ‘after death’. It’s the sort of scene you might see in a crime drama, where someone has been murdered.
They’ll do a postmortem – an ‘after death’ examination. Some other words, with the prefix ‘post’? Postgraduate –that means ‘after you graduate’, postmodernism – of course comes ‘after modernism’. Postnatal – means ‘after birth’. So lots of words in English take this form. But this isn’t to be confused with the post, POST – which means the system in the UK for sending letters and parcels, which I talked about last week!
Or another use of the word ‘post’ – as a verb, you can ‘post’ material online, on Facebook or on Instagram. Or if it’s a noun, ‘a post’ can also be part of a fence – an upright piece of wood in a fence, is a fence post!
Anyway, let’s have a look at another prefix – what about the prefix ‘circum’, CIRCUM? You may notice, if you know Latin, that a lot of these prefixes in English come from Latin. So ‘circum’ means ‘around’. So if you ‘circumnavigate the world’ – you sail around the world.
The ‘circumference’ of an object is the line around the edge of the object. You also have words in English like ‘circumspect’, which means that you are alert to what’s happening around you, circumstance, which means the situation around you, the context if you like.
A verb example – you might ‘circumvent’ something – which literally means you ‘go around something’. And ‘circumcision’ – you can look that one up yourself, but it literally means ‘to cut around’. Mmm.
Moving on - another English language prefix – the prefix ‘tele’, TELE. This prefix is Greek in origin, not Latin. Used as a prefix ‘tele’ usually means ‘at a distance’. So words like ‘television’ means ‘vision or seeing at a distance’, rather like Fernsehapparat in German – which is a television set, a device for ‘seeing far’!
What about ‘telephone’? That’s literally ‘sound at a distance’. We use words like teleconference – so a conference, a meeting done over distance. Other words with the prefix ‘tele’ meaning distance – telescope, teleportation, telegraph, telepathy – that’s an interesting one – or telekinesis even! Interesting subjects, those kinds of things!
Shall we do a couple more?
What about the prefix ‘inter’, INTER? Well, in Latin again ‘inter’ means ‘between’. So ‘international’ means ‘between nations’, ‘interstate’ means between states. You might come across verbs like ‘to intersperse’, which means ‘to spread between’, or ‘to interweave’, or ‘to interpret’ or ‘interracial’, meaning ‘between races’. You might talk about an ‘interracial marriage’.
And the prefix ‘super’, SUPER – which means ‘above or over or beyond’. So if you go ‘supersize’ on your fast food, you’re getting a portion beyond what’s normal, more than a normal amount. Superman and superwoman – mean people with powers above, beyond normal human beings.
You get words like ‘superstar’, ‘superbug’, ‘superglue’, ‘supersonic’ – which all mean that they’re beyond the level that you might normally expect. Even words like ‘superlative’ which means ‘the most extreme, the best’ contain this prefix.
There are a lot of these prefixes. Let’s just do one more. What about trans, TRANS? Well, again, Latin in origin and ‘trans’ means ‘across’. So ‘to transport’ means literally ‘to carry across’, transatlantic – well that’s self-explanatory.
Transsexual – that means someone who moves from being one sex to being the other sex. ‘To translate’ means literally ‘to carry across’ to another language, and ‘to transmit’ means ‘to send across’. There’s also to transfer, to transform, to transcend and translucent – which means literally ‘light coming across’.
If something is ‘translucent’ it means you can’t quite see through it – that would be ‘transparent’ like glass. But ‘translucent’ means you can see light coming through it - like [through] a lunchbox lid perhaps!
I imagine that you’ve come across many of these words before – and it may be that your language also uses some of these Latin prefixes. Or it may be that this entirely new to you, because your language doesn’t contain any of these words at all.
Hopefully I’ve helped you recognise some more patterns in English. Learn grammar like this, learn English grammar step by step, as you listen to a podcast topic – and you’ll find it sticks in your memory better. I think it’s good to have a depth of knowledge about the language that you’re learning.
Let me know if you’d like me to cover some more of these prefixes.
Enough for now. Have a lovely day. Speak to you again soon.