List of prefixes and suffixes with their meanings

a tan and mint green background. one side says "prefix," and the other says "suffix."

Ever wonder what those prefixes and suffixes we link up to words actually mean? Native English speakers use these letters that go before and after words all day long, usually without a thought to their definitions. But we do use them for a reason: they alter the meaning of the word.

For instance, if someone is being careless, a native English speaker would be quick to say, “Hey, stop acting carelessly,” without hesitating to recall that the suffix –ly means “in the matter of.”

But, oh those poor English learners. It takes time to memorize all of our prefixes and suffixes and learn which to attach to what word. (A unicycle is quite different from a tricycle, you know.) It also doesn’t help that English, being that it is the bastard child of multiple European languages, adopted its prefixes and suffixes from Latin, Greek, and Old French.

But, alas, here we are.

To brush up on your skills, below is a collection of prefixes and suffixes and their meanings.

Prefix Meaning Example
a- not atypical
anti- against antifascist
bi- two biannual
counter- against, opposite counterfeit
de- remove, reverse deregulate
dis- opposite, reverse, not disagree
extra- beyond, outside extraterrestrial
fore- before forefather
in- not invisible
inter- between intermingle
mal- bad maltreatment
mis- not, wrong miscomprehend
neo- new neoconservative
non- not nonstarter
over- excessive overspend
post- after postscript
pre- before precolonial
proto- first, primitive prototype
re- repeat reread
sub- under submarine
tele- distant teleport
trans- across transcontinental
tri- three tricycle
un- remove, reverse untie
uni- one unilateral

 

Suffix Meaning Example
-able capable of inflatable
-ant type of person assistant
-athon long-lasting marathon
-cide killing infanticide
-dom state of being freedom
-er doer of an action worker
-ery type of work bakery
-ess female of heiress
-esque reminiscent of picturesque
-ette small version of kitchenette
-fest indulgence in chatfest
-fy to make electrify
-hood state, quality childhood
-ible ability reliable
-ish a little squeamish
-ism condition or doctrine feminism
-ist type of person florist
-less without penniless
-ly in a manner of quickly
-ous full of joyous
-wash changing the appearance of whitewash

 

 

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

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To hyphenate or not to hyphenate

 

Today we’re discussing words with prefixes and whether we should hyphenate them. In general, English is moving away from hyphenation (it’s coworker, not co-worker, for instance), but there are some situations in which using the hyphen is the better course of action.

For this, I turned to the dog-eared, super-highlighted section 7.85 of my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style, which is my go-to resource for style questions. (Word style, not fashion style—I can handle the latter part on my own. Hellooo, silver combat boots!)

Here’s what the book says about prefixes.
A hyphen should appear:
1)   Before a capitalized word or a numeral, such as sub-Saharan, pre-1950
2)   To separate two Is, two As, or two other same vowels, such as anti-intellectual, extra-alkaline
3)   To separate other combinations of letters or syllables that might cause misreading, such as pro-life

(There are a few more rules; however, these are the ones you’ll most often experience, so let’s keep our focus here. And, as always, there are exceptions to the rules above, but we’re discussing what you should generally do.)

So, according to rule 1, it would be prewar, but pre-WWII (because of the capitalization).

According to rule 2, it would be extrasmart, but extra-academic (because of having the two side-by-side letter As).

Rule 3 is where it gets tricky to me. It basically says, if you think not hyphenating a word may cause people to misread it, then use a hyphen. Well, that’s open to interpretation of what one thinks may lead to a misread. The rule, according to The Chicago Manual of Style is: when in doubt, check Merriam-Webster. This means, if a word is not hyphenated in that dictionary, don’t hyphenate it.

In the last book I edited, I had a conundrum with words starting with rein (so the prefix re- and a word that started with the letters I and N.) For example, this morning I looked up the word reinvest, as in “to invest again.” To me, I see this word as two words smushed together: rein and vest. It looks (to me) like a noun that means “a vest you wear with your reins.” Like: “I wore my reinvest so I didn’t fall off my horse.” But, of course, that’s not its meaning. Yet, the lords at Merriam-Webster think people won’t have a problem misreading that word, so it shouldn’t get a hyphen.

I might lose my grammar police badge for this, but in the last book I edited, I used my own judgment (in some cases) regarding hyphenation. I encourage you to do this, too. If you think readers will be confused if you don’t use a hyphen, then use a hyphen. (But don’t tell anyone I told you that.)

Quiz
Decide if each word should be hyphenated. Keep in mind rules 1 and 2 mentioned above. (We’re not even going to get into rule 3 here because, as I mentioned, it’s too open to interpretation.)

1)   hyper active
2)   neo natal
3)   post 1984
4)   hyper sonic
5)   inner Chicago
6)   anti inflammatory
7)   non violent
8)   over zealous
9)   mega ambient
10)  co author

Answers: 1) hyperactive 2) neonatal 3) post-1984 4) hypersonic 5) inner-Chicago 6) anti-inflammatory 7) nonviolent 8) overzealous 9) mega-ambient 10) coauthor

Dis- and mis- prefixes

Lesson: learning more about the prefixes mis- and dis-

mis-: 1. badly, wrongly; unfavorably; in a suspicious manner 2. bad, wrong 3. opposite or lack of 4. not
Merriam-Webster

dis-: 1. do the opposite of; deprive of (a specified quality, rank, or object); exclude or expel from 2. opposite or absence of 3. not 4. completely
Merriam-Webster

Hold on a second. So, both mis- and dis- can mean not and opposite? Yes. Once again, thank you, English, for being so confusing. This means that sometimes words starting with the prefix mis- and dis– mean essentially the same thing—mistrust and distrust, for example, both mean not having trust/lack of trust. But other times, the word must take one or the other. Misbehavior is not interchangeable with disbehavior, for instance; disbehavior is not a correct word.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find any rules or tips for figuring out whether a word takes mis- or dis-. (If any readers know of any tricks that could help, please pass the word along.) My plan of attack for this lesson is to provide an example for each meaning of mis- and dis- and then include a list of mis- and dis- words, so you can at least use this page as a reference to determine the correct prefix.

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mis- meanings
1. badly, wrongly
example words: misjudge, misbutton

unfavorably
example word: misesteem

in a suspicious manner
example words: misdoubt, misassumption

2. bad, wrong
example words: misdeed, misbehavior

3. opposite or lack of
example words: mismanagement, mistrust

4. not
example word: misknow

dis-meanings
1. do the opposite of
example words: disestablish, disarticulate

deprive of
example words: disconnect, disfranchise

exclude or expel from
example word: disbar

2. opposite or absence of
example words: disaffection, dishearten

3. not
example words: disagreeable, dishonest

4. completely
example word: disannul

List of mis- words
These are by no means comprehensive lists. I was aiming to capture the popular mis-/dis-words. If you don’t see your word on the list, consult a dictionary.

misaddress mislearn
misadvise mislocate
misalign mismanage
misapply mismanagement
misassemble mismark
misattribute mismatch
misbehave mismate
miscalculate misorder
miscatalog mispackage
mischaracterize misperceive
misconceive misperception
misconnect misprint
misconstrue misquote
misdate misrecord
misdial misremember
misevaluate misreport
misfile misshapen
misfire missort
misgovern mistime
misgrade mistitle
misidentify mistranslate
misinform mistune
misinformation mistype
mislabel misuse

List of dis- words

disability disimprisonment dissect
disadvantage disimprove disserve
disaffected disinclined disservice
disagreeable disinfect dissimilar
disallow disingenuous dissimilate
disappoint disinterest dissociation
disapprove disjoint dissuade
disband dislike distasteful
disbelieve dislocate disunify
discloak dislodge disuse
disclose disloyal
discolor dismantle
discomfort dismay
disconnect dismember
discontinue dismiss
discourage dismount
discourteous disobey
discourtesy disorder
discredit disown
disembark dispassion
disembowel dispirit
disenchanted displacement
disenfranchise displease
disenjoyment disprivileged
disfavor disproportion
disfigure disquiet
disgrace disregard
disharmonious disrobe
dishonor disrupt
disillusion dissatisfy

Erin Servais is the founder of Dot and Dash, LLC, an author-services company focusing on women writers and offering a range of editing, coaching, and social media packages.

Sign up for the Dot and Dash newsletter to get writing tips and tricks and exclusive deals.  

Follow Dot and Dash on social media.
Twitter: @GrammarParty
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Facebook: facebook.com/dotanddashllc
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Simply dashing part three: the hyphen

Welcome back for our final installment from the horizontal language department. Previously we discussed the em dash and the en dash. Today we will learn about the shortest in the dash-like family, the hyphen.

Hyphen basics
Hyphens link:

  • a prefix or a suffix to a word; and
  • two or more words together

Hyphens linking prefixes and suffixes
One of the most difficult questions when it comes to this topic is whether to hyphenate. In general, there is a movement away from hyphenation when it comes to prefixes and suffixes.

Think about the words bicycle and misinformed. If we added a hyphen before these prefixes, the words would look like this: bi-cycle and mis-informed. However, due to the trend away from hyphenation, these words now look wrong to us with their hyphens.

Still, there are times when we include hyphens with prefixes and suffixes. Today, one of the hyphen’s main purposes is to help with ease of reading. A general rule is to hyphenate when a lack of a hyphen would cause confusion or when it is not a familiar word without the hyphen.

For example, think of the word recreation. Recreation, without the hyphen, means exercise or play. Re-creation, with the hyphen, means to create something again. The words have two different meanings depending on whether you use a hyphen. The same idea goes with recover and re-cover.

For the second part of the rule, let’s consider my obsession with collecting R2D2 figurines. (Stay with me.) If someone broke into my apartment and stole all of my R2D2 toys, I would be R2D2-less. However, I would not be R2D2less because, well, that word just looks strange. Think also about someone who just quit smoking. They would now be tobacco-free. They wouldn’t be tobaccofree. In both these instances, you need the hyphen because these words are not familiar without them.

Unfortunately, there are few definitive rules when it comes to using hyphens with prefixes and suffixes. However, The Chicago Manual of Style’s chapter seven has a handy list of hyphenated and unhyphenated words.

Hyphens linking two or more words together
This use of hyphens thankfully has more definitive rules.

1. Compound modifiers with nouns: Compound modifiers are two or more words that work together to describe a noun. Think about half-full jar (Half-full is the compound modifier.) and closed-lipped smile (Closed-lipped is the compound modifier.). When these come before a noun, they are usually always hyphenated.

Here are more examples:

red-and-white dress
seven-year-old boy
three-time champion
well-read man
thirty-year reign
second-best option

However, if your modifier includes a word ending in –ly, it does not take a hyphen, such as in these examples:

highly paid executive
amazingly hilarious movie
humorously dull person
finally pursued goal

2. Omission of part of a hyphenated expression: This also has to do with compound modifiers. Let’s start with an example. Say you have a five-year plan (Note the hyphen.) and a ten-year plan. (Five-year and ten-year are the compound modifiers.) If you wanted to write about both of these plans at the same time, you could write my five-year plan and my ten-year plan. Or you could combine the two to write my five- and ten-year plans. Here, we took out the first year, but we still need the hyphen.

Here are more examples:

twenty- and thirty-year payment plans
first- and second-year students
Minneapolis- or St. Paul-bound passengers
fur- and gut-covered man

Final note
As you can tell, the rules (and sometimes the lack thereof) for hyphens are complicated. I have touched on basics here, but there are many exceptions depending on the word. I recommend further investigation if you are researching a specific case. Like I mentioned before, chapter seven of The Chicago Manual of Style breaks down case-by-case scenarios in better detail. You can also try that old trick of checking the dictionary.