What are prefixes and why are they useful in academia?

This is the first of three lessons about Prefixes. To complete this course, read each lesson carefully and then unlock and complete our materials to check your understanding.   

– Introduce the concept of affixation

– Discuss how prefixes may be used and recognised

– Provide examples prefixes and word forms

Lesson 1

One aspect of word structure that you shouldn’t ignore while at university is the controlled use of prefixes in your work, whether for a formal presentation or a written essay. By developing a conscious understanding of prefixation, you’ll soon be able to quickly and effectively better grow your active vocabulary. The following three lessons and associated worksheets have therefore been designed to not only assist you in understanding what prefixation is, but to also help you recognise the different types of prefix which exist as well as to highlight those prefixes which are particularly common in academic contexts.

Before we can discuss prefixation specifically however, it’s important to first understand the basics of affixation so that you have a better comprehension of the wider processes at work. Affixation is a lexical process in which morphemes (pieces of words) are attached to an existing word to alter its grammar, meaning or class. Affixation may occur either in the middle of a word (infixation), at the end of a word (suffixation), or at the beginning of a word (prefixation). While suffixes in the English language tend to be inflectional and therefore alter the grammar or class of a word, prefixes are a type of derivational affixation which generally affects a word’s meaning. Consider the following examples:

Prefixes 1.1 Prefix, Verb and Meaning

In the above examples, we can see that the verb ‘do’ has had its meaning altered by attaching the prefixes ‘re-’ and ‘un-’, which have created different words with different meanings. Indeed, one word may in fact have multiple prefixes attached to it simultaneously to change its meaning, such as in the following examples:

Prefixes 1.2 Prefix, Verb and Meaning

Clearly then, prefixes generally change the meaning of a word and may also sometimes be used in combination, such as in the verb ‘overreact’. However, do be careful when attempting to correctly recognise prefixation as some words may only appear to contain prefixes simply because of the way they are spelled. This is true of the word ‘predator’. While ‘predator’ may appear to have the prefix ‘pre-’, it is in fact spelled this way only because of its Latin etymology. An easy test with words such as this is to see if any suspected prefixes can be successfully separated from their base word, and in this case ‘dator’ without the prefix ‘pre-’ has little clear meaning and cannot stand alone as an acceptable word.

One additional aspect to be conscious of with prefixes is how they’re used to create new words in English. Indeed, many new words which have recently entered English dictionaries have done so because of the processes of affixation – as is the case with the relatively recent addition ‘pre-prepare’. While some English speakers may argue that ‘pre-prepare’ is not a word, this word does have the unique meaning ‘to produce something in advance’ and therefore has entered the language because it fills a lexical gap. Now that you understand the basics of prefixation, let’s discuss the different types of prefix you may find in academic English.

1 of 3 Lessons Completed


Once you’ve completed all three lessons about prefixes, you might also wish to download our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets to test your progress or print for your students. These professional PDF worksheets can be easily accessed for only a few Academic Marks.

Our prefixes guidance sheet (including all four lessons about this topic) can be accessed here at the click of a button.

Gain unlimited access to our prefixes beginner worksheet, with activities and answer keys designed to check a basic understanding of this topic’s lessons.

To check a confident understanding of this topic’s lessons, click on the button below to download our prefixes intermediate worksheet with activities and answer keys.

Our prefixes advanced worksheet with activities and answer keys has been created to check a sophisticated understanding of this topic’s lessons. 

To save yourself 5 Marks, click on the button below to gain unlimited access to all of our prefixes guidance and worksheets. The All-in-1 Pack includes every lesson on this topic, as well as our beginner, intermediate and advanced worksheets in one handy PDF.


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