Prefixes with the meaning not

The most common prefixes used to give a negative meaning to adjectives, and some verbs and nouns, are as follows:






used with many different words

lucky friendly employed

unlucky unfriendly unemployed


used before words beginning with m or p

possible mature

impossible immature


used before some words beginning with l

literate legible

illiterate illegible


used before some words beginning with r

regular responsible

irregular irresponsible


used before a limited number of words

correct visible

incorrect invisible


used before some adjectives and a few verbs

honest like

dishonest dislike

Unfortunately, there is no easy way of knowing which prefix any adjective will use to form its negative. So when you learn a new adjective, note down whether it has an opposite formed with a prefix and, if so, what it is.

■ The prefix in-. This does not always have a negative meaning - often it gives the idea of inside or into,e.g. internal, insert, income.

■ Verb prefixes: un- and dis-. These prefixes have two meanings. They can have a negative meaning ( as above), but they can also mean 'the opposite of an action' or 'to reverse an action'. This meaning is used with certain verbs, e.g. to lock - to unlock, to pack - to unpack, to appear - to disappear, to get dressed - to get undressed.

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