Build Your Vocabulary with Prefixes and Suffixes

What do the words repeat, restart, review, and remember all have in common?

They all ask you to do something again.

  • Repeat = say something again
  • Restart = begin something again
  • Review = look at something again
  • Remember = think of something again

With all four words, the prefix re- is key. Once you know how to use this prefix, you can use it to make other words that mean, “to do something again,” for example, repaint, reorder, and replace.

Learning to recognize common prefixes and suffixes is one of the best things you can do to build your vocabulary. It will help you guess the meaning of new words while reading, help you use dictionaries better, and help you when you take tests, such as IELTS and TOEFL.

Understanding How English Words Are Formed
English words “borrow” from many languages, including Greek and Latin. We can often guess the meaning of unfamiliar words if we know something about their origins.

An English word can consist of three parts: the root, a prefix, and a suffix.

The root is the part of the word that contains its basic meaning. For example, take the word invisible. The root of this word, -vis-, comes from the Latin visus, which means, “to see”. You can see this root at work in other words, such as vision, television and video, which are all related to sight.

A prefix is a letter or group of letters that you place at the beginning a word to change its meaning. For example, if you take the word kind, and place the letters un before it, you form the word, unkind. By adding the prefix un-, you change the meaning of the word completely.

A suffix is a letter or group of letters that you add at the end of a word to change its meaning, or grammatical function. For example, the word kind is an adjective, but by adding the suffix –ness, we turn it into a noun: kindness.

Common Roots
Some common roots include:

Root

Meaning

Examples

aster, astr (Greek) star astronomy, astrology
bio (Latin) life biology, biography
graph (Greek) to write graphic, photography
meter, metr (Greek) measure metric, kilometer
op, oper (Latin) work operation, operator
phil (Greek) love philosophy, Francophile
tele (Greek) far, distant telephone, television

Common Prefixes
Prefixes can be grouped according to function, for example:

Prefixes showing quantity

Prefix

Meaning

Examples

semi, hemi half semiannual, hemisphere
bi, di two biweekly, dilemma
cent hundred century, centimeter
milli, kilo thousand millimeter, kilometer

Prefixes showing time

Prefix

Meaning

Examples

pre, pro before previous, prologue
post after postwar, posterior
re again rewrite, recall

Prefixes showing position

Prefix

Meaning

Examples

super above supervise, superhero
trans across transportation, transmit
co with communicate, costar
sub below subway, submarine

Prefixes showing negativity

Prefix

Meaning

Examples

il, im, un without illegal, immoral, unskilled
non, anti opposing nonsense, antipathy
counter opposite to counterclockwise
de remove, reduce decrease, devalue

Common Suffixes
Some common suffixes include:

Suffix

Usage

Examples

-er, -est Turns a word into a comparative or superlative adjective hotter, hottest
-ly Turns a word into an adverb quickly, comfortably
-ize Turns a word into a verb memorize, harmonize
-ness Turns a word into a noun kindness, friendliness
-able Turns a word into an adjective joyful, helpful

Learning Roots, Prefixes, and Suffixes
The following tips will help you build your vocabulary by learning English roots, prefixes, and suffixes.

1. Read as much as you can. Reading is the key to developing vocabulary, so the more you do it, the more words you’ll learn. You should develop a habit of reading for pleasure. Just read anything you like – sports, fashion, or literature – it doesn’t matter.

2. Guess the meaning of new words. When you come upon a new word, try and guess what it means. See if you can figure out the word’s root, prefix, or suffix. You’ll be surprised how easy it becomes to figure out even complicated words.

For example, take this sentence:

Opponents are seeking to delegitimize recent election results.

Delegitimize is not a common word, but you can understand it if you break it down:

  • root: legit, from the Latin legis, meaning law (similar words: legal, legislature)
  • prefix: de-, meaning to remove
  • suffix: -ize, turns the word into a verb

From this you can guess that delegitimize means “to remove the legal status of something”; in this case, opponents wish to remove the legality of the recent election.

3. Look up prefixes and suffixes in the dictionary. When you are unable to guess the meaning of a word, go ahead and use a dictionary. Many dictionaries include a word’s etymology, or history. Make sure you read this information, so you can build your vocabulary.

 

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