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Common Prefixes and Suffixes Study Guide

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Updated on Sep 20, 2011

Common Prefixes and Suffixes

Let language be the divining rod that finds the sources of thought.

—KARL KRAUS, (1874–1936) (AUSTRIAN WRITER AND JOURNALIST)

This study guide helps build word power by providing practice in taking words apart. Knowing common prefixes and suffixes and how they work, you'll gain vocabulary fluency with unfamiliar words. And you'll learn to expand and modify words you already know!

You probably haven't thought much about how words are made up of parts, but did you know that you can often figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word by looking at its component parts? Remember that word component? You learned it in Lesson 3. Well, the parts are usually fairly easy to identify. In general, words are made up of three parts:

  • Root. The main part of a word, to which prefixes and suffixes are added.
  • Prefix. The syllable(s) attached to the beginning of a word to alter or add to its meaning.
  • Suffix. The syllable(s) attached to the end of a word to alter or add to its meaning.

In this study guide, we'll concentrate on prefixes and suffixes, and leave word roots for a later study guide. You've been using prefixes and suffixes all your life, probably without even noticing them, and you no doubt already know most of them.

Prefixes

The word prefix itself uses a prefix (pre-), which means before. The prefix changes the meaning of the word root, which is fix. Here's how:

Fix: to place securely

Prefix: a syllable placed at the beginning of a word.

Knowing prefixes can help you figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word (do you see the prefix on the word unfamiliar?) in the following ways:

  • Prefixes help you know whether the word is positive or negative.
  • Prefixes help you determine the meaning of a word through context.
  • Prefixes help you figure out the meaning of a word by the meaning of the prefix.

Some Common Prefixes in Words You Probably Already Know

Here are some prefixes you probably use all the time, with examples of how they work.

    anti, ant: opposite, against. Think of antibiotics and antiwar.
    circ, circum: around, on all sides. Think of circumference.
    co, com, con: with, together. Think of cooperate and connect.
    dis: away from, reversal, not. Think of dismiss and disrespect.
    mis: bad, wrong, opposite. Think of misbehave or misspell.
    multi: many, multiple. Think of multimedia and multiplication.
    pre: before. Think of precaution, prevent, and predict.
    re: back, again. Think of replace, recall, and rewind.
    super: above, over. Think of superintendent and superior.

Suffixes

Suffixes may not be as easy to use to figure out the meaning of words. Suffixes most often just change a word's part of speech. For example, the adjective equal becomes a noun, equality, when you add the suffix -ity. The verb depend becomes the adjective dependable when you add the suffix -able. The noun beauty becomes the verb beautify when you add the suffix -ify. Obviously, there are way too many suffixes, and they're too complicated for you to memorize them all. But don't be discouraged. Instead, just be aware of how they work, and look for them when you try to figure out a word's meaning.

Some Common Suffixes in Words You Probably Already Know

    -able, -ible: capable or worthy of. Think of remarkable and incredible.
    -an, -ian: one who is, characteristic of. Think of politician.
    -ish: having the character of. Think of childish and foolish.
    -ive: performing an action. Think of cooperative and defensive.
    -ate: to make or become. Think of irritate or frustrate.
    -ize: to cause to become. Think of colonize and humanize.

Tip

Don't be intimidated (scared or made to feel nervous) by prefixes and suffixes. Recognizing them can often help you figure out the meaning of an unfamiliar word and they build your word power when you use them to expand or modify words you already know.

Practice exercises and answers can be found at:

Common Prefixes and Suffixes Practice Exercises

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