Definition of Prefix

In semantics, a prefix is a single letter or a group of letters, which adds to the meaning of a word when placed at the beginning. It has been derived from the Latin word praefixus, which is a combination of two words pre means “before,” and fix means “to fasten.” Hence, prefix means “to place before.”

A prefix is a bound morpheme that cannot stand alone, or in other words, it cannot stand as a word independently. Prefixing is a process of adding prefixes to other words to create appropriate diction for a piece of writing. Most common prefixes include a-, an-, anti-, auto-, co-, com-, con-, contra-, dis-, en-, extra-, hetero-, hyper, inter-, non-, pre-, pro-, sub-, tri-, un-, and uni-.

Everyday Use of Prefix

  • Sara disagreed with Mark’s philosophy.
  • They have mismanaged the deal.
  • The café is unavailable
  • With determination and hard work, nothing is impossible.
  • Has she planned to renew her subscription?

In these examples, dis-, mis-, un-, im and re- are examples of prefix.

Examples of Prefix in Literature

Example #1: Pride and Prejudice (by Jane Austen)

“What can be the meaning of that emphatic exclamation?” cried he. “Do you consider the forms of introduction, and the stress that is laid on them, as nonsense? For you are a young lady of deep reflection, I know, and read great books and make extracts … Mr. Bingley was obliged to be in town the following day, and, consequently, unable to accept the honour of their invitation, etc. Mrs. Bennet was quite disconcerted. She could not imagine what business he could have in town so soon after his arrival in Hertfordshire; and she began to fear that he might be always flying about from one place to another, and never settled at Netherfield as he ought to be.”

In this example, Jane Austen has used various prefixes as in the underlined words “unable,” “disconcerted,” and “another.”

Example #2: The Crucible (by Arthur Miller)

“When one rises above the individual villainy displayed, one can only pity them all, just as we shall be pitied someday … Long-held hatreds of neighbors could now be openly expressed, and vengeance taken, despite the Bible’s charitable injunctions … Susanna, craning around Parris to get a look at Betty: He bid me come and tell you, reverend sir, that he cannot discover no medicine for it in his books … Parris, his eyes going wide: No – no. There be no unnatural cause here.”

In this passage, Miller has employed four prefixes in the words “displayed,” “expressed,” “discover,” and “unnatural.” They are “dis-, ex-, dis- and un-.”

Example #3: Hedda Gabler (by Henrik Ibsen)

“GEORGE TESMAN comes from the right into the inner room, humming to himself, and carrying an unstrapped empty portmanteau. He is a middle-sized, young-looking man of thirty-three, rather stout, with a round, open, cheerful face, fair hair and beard. He wears spectacles, and is somewhat carelessly dressed in comfortable indoor clothes… No no, I suppose not. A wedding-tour seems to be quite indispensable nowadays.”

Here three words “unstrapped,” “comfortable,” and “indispensable” show the use of prefixes. Without adding these prefixes, the words do not make sense and seem incomplete.

Example #4: To the Lighthouse (by Virginia Woolf)

“There was a purplish stain upon the bland surface of the sea as if something had boiled and bled, invisibly, beneath. This intrusion into a scene calculated to stir the most sublime reflections and lead to the most comfortable conclusions stayed their pacing. It was difficult blandly to overlook them; to abolish their significance in the landscape; to continue, as one walked by the sea, to marvel how beauty outside mirrored beauty within … [Mr. Carmichael brought out a volume of poems that spring, which had an unexpected success. The war, people said, had revived their interest in poetry.]

Woolf has used three prefixes in this example: in-, un- and re-“. They have transformed the meanings of the words they are used with.

Function of Prefix

Prefixes either change the meaning of words or make completely new words. It is, in fact, a common way of forming new words with different meanings. Prefixes help readers understand different shades of meanings of words that they encounter for the first time. By separating prefixes from the base words or roots readers can understand how new words are formed and how they could be used in different ways in a text.

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