Using Prefixes for Spelling Help Study Guide

based on 6 ratings
Updated on Sep 28, 2011


Prefixes are another important word part. They combine with roots and suffixes to form words. This lesson will explain what they are and how to understand their meanings.

A prefix is another word part; it is added in front of the root to create a word. Like roots, prefixes have fixed meanings that remain the same no matter to which word they are attached. By adding a prefix to a word or root, you will enhance or change its meaning.

Although you cannot tell the meaning of a word from the prefix alone, the prefix can help you get an idea of what the word is about. In fact, you can look at the prefix of prefix to determine the meaning: pre- means before and the root, fix, means fix or attach. So, by combining the meanings, you can figure out that prefix means attach before. And that is exactly what you do with a prefix: You attach it before the root. In other words, a prefix appears at the beginning of a word.

Let's look at another one. The prefix omni-, for example, means all. This prefix can be found in the words omnipresent, which means all present, and omnivore, which means someone that eats all foods. Now, let's apply your knowledge of this prefix to another word. Read the following sentence:

When Tyler became the team captain, he started to act as if he was omnipotent.

What does omnipotent mean? You know that the prefix means all so you already know that the word means all something. Since the root is pot, which means powerful, you can correctly deduce that omnipotent means all powerful. This exercise is one that you can repeat with any new word you encounter. Break the word into its parts, determine the meanings of those parts, and then string the individual meanings together to get to the full meaning of the word. If you're still unsure, take a peek into your dictionary, or refer to the lists in this book.

TIP: Many prefixes have similar or the same meanings, such as dis-, il-, and un-. They are not always interchangeable, however, because their subtle differences will either change the meaning of a word or simply make it wrong. The former is the case with disable and unable. While their meanings are similar, there is a distinct difference. Disable is a verb that means to deprive of capability or effectiveness, especially to impair the physical abilities of, and to make incapable of performing a certain action. Unable, on the other hand, is an adjective that means lacking the necessary power, authority, or means; not able, incapable, and lacking the mental or physical capability or efficiency; and incompetent.

As you grow familiar with the meanings and nuances of prefixes, you will become better equipped to choose the correct one to use in any situation.

Common Prefixes

This list of prefixes covers the most common prefixes, their meanings, and some examples of words using each prefix.


Numerical Prefixes 

Several prefixes refer to numbers; thinking about them as a group may help you to remember them better. Here is a list of numerical prefixes that you will routinely come across.


Practice exercises for this study guide can be found at:

Using Prefixes for Spelling Help Practice Exercises

Add your own comment