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How to Teach Prefixes

How to teach prefixesA prefix is a word part placed in front of a base word that usually changes the meaning of the base word. This guide offers easy strategies for teaching prefixes, as well as a list of 90 common prefixes.

 

 

 

What You'll Find in this Free Guide:

Section 1: What Is a Prefix?

Section 2:
The Two Most Common Prefixes

Section 3:
Handy Tips for Adding Prefixes

Section 4:
Six Rules for Using Hyphens with Prefixes

Section 5:
Activities for Learning Prefixes

Section 6:
Resource List of 90 Prefixes

What Is a Prefix?

A prefix is a word part placed in front of a base word. A prefix usually changes the meaning of the base word. Here's an example:

The prefix un added to the word happy makes a new word with a new meaning. The prefix un means not, so it changes the meaning of the word happy to not happy.

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The Two Most Common Prefixes

The most common prefixes are un and re.

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These two prefixes are the most useful for beginning spellers to learn because they appear frequently and their meanings are easy to understand.

Un means not (unhappy = not happy) or the reverse of or opposite of (as in untie).

Re means again (redo = do again) or back (as in repay).     

 

Handy Tips for Adding Prefixes

  • The spelling of the base word never changes. Simply add the prefix to the beginning of the base word, as in the word unhappy.
  • The spelling of the prefix never changes. A prefix will be spelled the same no matter what base word it is attached to. For example, if you learn to spell the prefix poly, as in polygon, you can depend on poly to be spelled the same in the words polygraph, polyester, and polygram.
  • Be aware that double letters can occur. If you add the prefix un to natural, both the prefix and the base word retain their original spelling. The result is unnatural. Take a look at these other words where double letters occur:

il + logical = illogical
im + mature = immature
il + legal = illegal
un + necessary = unnecessary

Other examples: unnoticeable, illiteracy, immaterial, immeasurable, immigrant, immobile, immoral, dissatisfy, disservice, dissimilar, dissolve, irreconcilable, irredeemable, irreducible, irregular, irrelevant, irreparable, irrestistible, irresponsible, misspoke, misspell, misstep

  • Watch out for prefix look-alikes. Some words contain the same string of letters as a prefix, but upon closer examination you’ll find that they are not prefixes. The re in real is not a prefix. Other examples include uncle, pretty, press, interest, reach, irony, dish, and antique.

 

Six Rules for Using Hyphens with Prefixes

A prefix is usually added directly to the base word, but sometimes a hyphen is needed. Following are six common rules for adding a hyphen between the prefix and the base word:

  1. Hyphenate when the prefix comes before a proper noun or a numeral.

    Examples: un-American, pre-1980

  2. Hyphenate when adding the prefix ex meaning former.

    Example: ex-president
    (Do not use a hyphen if ex means out of or away from, as in expel.)

  3. Hyphenate after the prefix self.

    Examples: self-respect, self-assured, self-control

  4. Hyphenate to separate two a’s, two i’s, or other letter combinations that might cause misreading or mispronunciation.

    Examples: ultra-ambitious, anti-intellectual, co-worker

  5. A hyphen may be used to separate two e’s or two o’s to improve readability or prevent mispronunciation.

    Examples:
    co-opt and co-owner vs. coordinate
    de-emphasize vs. reenter

    (Note that many words with double e’s used to be hyphenated as a general rule, as in re-elect, re-establish, and pre-existing. However, current style manuals and dictionaries now tend toward “closing” the word except in cases where readability is affected. Both versions are currently accepted and listed in most dictionaries.)

  6. A hyphen is sometimes used after the prefix re to prevent misreading or confusion with another word.

    Examples:
    re-cover vs. recover, as in Re-cover the boat when you recover from the flu.
    re-lay vs. relay, as in Please relay the message that they will re-lay the tiles.

 

Activities for Learning Prefixes

  1. Practice adding prefixes to base words to form new words. Start with a common prefix such as re and have students add the prefix to simple base words. Words for this activity can be written on index cards or slips of paper. Be sure to discuss the meanings of the new words. Once students are comfortable with the activity, they can practice combining other prefixes and words.

    re  +     do     =    redo
    re +    build   =    rebuild
    re +     open  =    reopen
    re +    think   =    rethink
    re +    fill        =    refill
    re +    pay     =    repay
    re +    make  =    remake
    re +    move  =    remove
    re +    place   =    replace
    re +    turn     =    return

  2. Create a Prefix List. Start with a few examples and have students add to the list as they discover words with prefixes. Discuss the meanings of the words on the list as they are added.

  3. Look up prefixes in the dictionary and examine the entries near the word. When students look up the word hydro, for example, they’ll find hydroelectric, hydropower, and hydrophobia. Discuss how the prefix affects the meaning of the base word.

Resource List of 90 Prefixes

 

Prefix

Meaning

Example

a

not, without

aseptic

a

at, in, on, to

asleep

ab

from, away from

abnormal

ad

against

adjacent

ambi

both

ambidextrous

ante

before

antecedent

anti

against

antipiracy

arch

senior, chief

archangel

at

to, toward

attend

auto

self

automobile

bi

two, twice

biannual

be

about, become

befriend

bene

good

benevolent

circum

around

circumnavigate

co

together

coexist

con

with

construct

contra

against

contradict

counter

against

counterclockwise

de

down, away from

denounce

deca

ten

decathlon

demi

half

demigod

di

two

divert

dia

through, across

diameter

dis

not, do the opposite

discontinue

dys

bad, badly

dysfunction

en

to cause, provide

enable

endo

internal

endocrine

epi

to, against, added on

epidemic

equi

equal

equidistant

ethno

race, nation

ethnography

eu

good, happy

eulogy

ex

out of, away from

exceed

ex

former

ex-president

exo

outside

exoskeleton

extra

outside, beyond

extraordinary

for

away, against, not

forbid

fore

before, in front of

forehead

homo

same

homogeneous

hydro

water

hydroelectric

hyper

extra, over, beyond

hyperextend

hypo

under, below

hypothermia

il

not

illegible

im

not

improper

in

within, into

intrude

in

not

inhumane

infra

below, underneath

infrastructure

inter

among, between

interfere

intra

inside

intravenous

intro

inwards

introspect

ir

not

irresponsible

iso

equal

isosceles

macro

large

macroeconomics

mal

bad

maltreat

mega

large

megaphone

meta

altered, behind

metaphysics

micro

very small

microscope

mini

small

minibus

mis

wrongly, badly

misbehave

mono

one, single

monorail

multi

many

multicolor

neo

neo

neoclassical

non

not

nonexistent

ob

in the way of

obscure

octa

eight

octopus

omni

all

omnipotent

over

above, too much

overdo

pan

whole

panorama

para

alongside, similar to

paramedic

patri

father

patriarch

peri

around

periscope

poly

many

polygamy

post

after

postpone

pre

before

prevent

pro

forward, in favor of

propose

proto

earliest, original

prototype

pseudo

not real

pseudoscience

quad

four

quadruple

re

again, back

retell

retro

backward

retroactive

semi

half, partially

semicircle

step

relationship due to remarriage

stepmother

sub

under, near

submarine

super

more than, above, extra

supermarket

tele

far

telescope

trans

across, beyond

transportation

tri

three

tricycle

ultra

beyond, extreme

ultraconservative

un

un, the reverse of

uninspired

under

beneath, below, insufficient

undercook

uni

one

unicycle

up

up

uplift

vice

in place of

vice-president 

with

from, against

withhold

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