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Improve Your Vocabulary by Knowing Some Latin Prefixes

May 9, 2010

From Literacy News:

English contains many words adopted from other languages. In fact, experts estimate 80% of English words originated elsewhere. The biggest influence on English vocabulary is Latin. An examination of the 20,000 most used words reveals 5,000 words contain prefixes and over 80% of these use one of only fourteen of the many different prefixes available. By learning these important prefixes, you can improve your mastery of the English language. You will be able to discern at least a partial meaning of words you encounter for the first time by understanding the basic meaning of its prefix.

Listed below are the most used prefixes, their meanings, and example words. To get the most out of seeing these prefixes, copy them into a notebook. Write down the prefix, its definition, and several examples of its use. You can add examples by looking for more in your dictionary. Practice using the words in your writing and speaking. Look for words with these prefixes in newspaper, magazine, or books and underline them. The more you engage the word in some way (writing, speaking, or underlining), the better you will remember it.

Ab- (away from) abhor, abject, abnormal, absolve

Ad- (to, toward) adapt, adept, adhere, adhesion

Be- (on all sides, overly) bedeck, beset, besmear, besprinkle

Com-, con-, co- (with, together) comfort, commence, compel, complain

De- (reversal, undoing, downward) deceit, decipher, default, deliver

Dis- dif- (not, reversal) differ, difficulty, disable, dishonor

Em-, en- (in, into, to cover or contain) embrace, embroider, engage, engrave

Ex- (out of, former) exalt, examine, example, excerpt

In- (into, not) incline, inconsistent, indecisive, induce

Pre- (before) prejudice, prepare, prescribe, preserve, pretend

Pro- (in favor of, before) proclaim, procure, produce, profound

Re- (again, restore) renew, resolve, reveal, revert

Sub- (under, beneath) subcontract, subculture, subject, subordinate

Un- (do the opposite of) unravel, unroll, unseat, unskilled

Although Latin is considered a “dead” language by many, it lives on in the English vocabulary. Not only do many existing words originate from Latin, many new words are constructed from Latin prefixes, suffixes, and roots. New words to describe or name scientific processes or discoveries are often formed from Latin. Think of words like computer, internet, and digital radio. For digital television, you need to be familiar with both Latin and Greek, the other big contributor to the English language. You can learn more about Greek contributions to the English vocabulary in my next article titled “It was Greek to Me: Improving Your English by Knowing Greek Roots”.

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