We all know English can be tough. That’s why we write the Easy English blog! If you need to learn English online, this is the perfect place for you. This week, we’re looking at negative prefixes in English.

prefix is a few letters at the beginning of a word. It can change the meaning of the word. Negative prefixes make the meaning of the word negative or have the contrary meaning.

Here are some tips to make words negative in English:

Negative prefixes

Here are all the negative prefixes in English:

a-, dis-, il-, im-, in-, ir-, non-, un-.

Each of these prefixes goes together with certain (special, individual) words. You cannot change which prefix you use with which word.

Normally, you use a prefix with an adjective (descriptive word) to change its meaning. Or you can use the word not before the adjective. It would mean the same thing.

For example:

  • Adjective – cool
  • Negative adjective – uncool
  • Not + adjective – not cool

There is no difference in meaning between ‘uncool’ and ‘not cool.’ However, you will sound more fluent and natural if you use “right word” with a prefix.

Here are how to use the prefixes to make words negative. You should learn these negative words by heart (memorize, learn), because there is not always rhyme or reason (rule, sense, formula) to them!

a- prefix:

words that take a- as a prefix always begin with a consonant.

For example:

  • apolitical (not political)
  • asexual (not sexual)
  • asocial (not social)

dis- prefix

words that use dis- as a prefix can begin with a vowel (the letters a, e, i, o, u) or a consonant (the rest of the letters!).

For example:

  • disagree (to not agree)
  • discomfort (not comfortable)
  • disassemble (not assemble (put together))

il- prefix

words that take il- as a prefix always begin with the letter l.

For example:

  • illegal (not legal)
  • illogical (not logical)
  • illiterate (not literate (not able to read))

im- prefix

Words that use the im- prefix always begin with an b, m, or p.

For example:

  • imbalanced (not balanced)
  • imperfect (not perfect)
  • immortal (not mortal (cannot die))
  • impossible (not possible)

in- prefix

Words that use the in- prefix can begin with a consonant or a vowel (except for i or u)

For example:

  • inaccurate (not accurate (correct))
  • insane (not sane (crazy))
  • indecent (not decent (fine))

ir- prefix

Words that use the ir- prefix always begin with the letter r.

For example:

  • irrational (not rational (logical))
  • irregular (not regular)
  • irresistible (not resist (stop yourself))

non- prefix

Words that begin with non- can begin with a consonant or a vowel, and are sometimes hyphenated.

For example:

  • non-profit (not for profit)
  • non-fiction (not fiction)
  • nonsense (has no sense)

un- prefix

Words that begin with un- can begin with a consonant or a vowel.

For example:

  • unconfirmed (not confirmed (agreed, fixed)
  • uninteresting (not interesting)
  • unhelpful (not helpful)

Pro Tip: Just because a word starts with one of these prefixes doesn’t always make it negative.

If you see a new word with one of these prefixes, it may be the negative prefix of a word, but it may not! Don’t be afraid to ask what it means or look in a dictionary- it may mean something different than you think. That’s ok, though! We’re all here to learn.

Why not try some of these negative prefixes in the comments? We’ll let you know how you did!

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Looking for grammar? Try Tricky Adjectives and Adverbs, when to use Which and ThatOrder of AdjectivesIts vs It’s, and Present Continuous tense!

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and finds these negative prefixes insanely irresistible! 

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