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Prefix (linguistics)

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Prefix (linguistics)

This article is about the linguistic feature. For other uses, see Prefix (disambiguation).


A prefix is an affix which is placed before the stem of a word.[1] Particularly in the study of languages, a prefix is also called a preformative, because it alters the form of the words to which it is affixed. Prefixes, like other affixes, can be either inflectional, changing the syntactic category, or derivational, changing either the lexical category or the semantic meaning.[2] In English, there are no inflectional prefixes. Prefixes, like all other affixes, are bound morphemes.[1]

Example of English derivational prefixes

  • unhappy: un is a negative or antonymic prefix.
  • prefix, preview: pre is a prefix, with the sense of before
  • redo, review: re is a prefix meaning again.
  • dishonest, disobey: dis is also a negative prefix, but it isn't an antonymic prefix.
  • impolite, immature: im has the meaning of dis.
  • inadequate, incomplete: in has the meaning of dis and im.
  • atheist, anarchy : a and an have the meaning of dis, im, and in (not) and without.

The word prefix is itself made up of the stem fix (meaning "attach", in this case), and the prefix pre- (meaning "before"), both of which are derived from Latin roots.

In other languages


The most commonly used prefix in Japanese, o-, is used as part of the honorific system of speech. It is a marker for politeness, showing respect for the person or thing it is affixed to.[3]

Bantu languages

In the Bantu languages of Africa, which are agglutinating, the noun class is conveyed through prefixes, which is declined and agrees with all of its arguments accordingly.[4]

Example from Ganda

Noun class Prefix
1 o-mu-
2 a-ba-
3 o-mu-
4 e-mi-
5 e-ri-/CC-
6 a-ma-
7 e-ki-
8 e-bi-
9 e-N-
10 e-N-/zi-
  • The one, old, fat farmer goes.
ò-mú-límí ò-mú-néné ò-mú-kâddé ò-mú à-∅-gênda
ag-1-farmer ag-1-fat ag-1-old ag. one he-Pres-go


Verbs in the Navajo language are formed with a stem and multiple affixes. For example, each verb requires one of four non-syllabic prefixes (, ł, d, l) to create a verb theme.[5]


In the language of the Sunuwar people of Eastern Nepal, the prefix ma- म is used to create negative verbs. It is the only verbal prefix in the language.

  • Bad child! (scolding)
ma.rimʃo al
NEG.nice child [6]


As a part of the formation of nouns, prefixes are less common in Russian than suffixes, but alter the meaning of a word.

в- and ложение 'position' becomes вложение 'investment'
пре and образование 'formation (verb)' becomes преобразование 'transformation'[7]


In German, derivatives formed with prefixes may be classified in two categories: those used with substantives and adjectives, and those used with verbs.[8] For derivative substantives and adjectives, only two prefixes are still in use as of 1970: un-, which expresses negation (as in Ungesund from Gesund), and ur-, which means "original, primitive" in substantives, and has an emphatic function in adjectives. ge- expresses union or togetherness.[8]

On the other hand, verbal prefixes are still much in use: be-, er-, ent-, ge-, ver-, zer-, and miß-.[8] be- expresses strengthening or generalization. ent- expresses negation. ge- indicates the completion of an action, and that's why its most common use has become the forming of the past participle of verbs; ver- has an emphatic function, or it's used to turn a substantive or an adjective into a verb.[8] In some cases, the prefix particle ent- (negation) can be considered the opposite of particle be-, while er- can be considered the opposite of ver-.[9][10]

The prefix er- usually indicates the successful completion of an action, and sometimes the conclusion means death.[11] With fewer verbs, it indicates the beginning of and action.[8][11] The prefix er- is also used to form verbs from adjectives (e.g. erkalten is equivalent to kalt werden which means to get cold).[11]

See also


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