Friday, March 25, 2011

Negative prefixes before adjectives

We can form the opposite of many adjectives or give the negative meaning by adding a negative prefix. (a prefix is a syllable that goes before a word) There is no fixed rule for adding one prefix or another, so students have to get familiar with these words in order to use them correctly.
Happy and unhappy faces
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There are many negative prefixes, most of which come from the classical languages Latin and Greek. The only one that is originally English is un-. Things would be easier if words of English origin took the prefix un- and those of Latin origin took other prefixes, but unfortunately this is not so. Have a look at these examples:
  • Happy ---> unhappy
  • Fair---> unfair
  • Friendly ---> unfriendly
All these words come from Old English, but what about these...
  • Important ---> unimportant
  • Pleasant ---> unpleasant
  • Popular ---> unpopular
  • Prepared---> unprepared
These words come from Latin, and yet they take un-, and there are so many words like these that you cannot say that they are the exception to the rule. In fact, they prove that there is no such rule!
So, as I said at the beginning, the only thing a student can do is to get familiar with them and check a dictionary when in doubt, and if it is any consolation to you, even English speakers get them wrong sometimes!

These are the most common negative prefixes used with adjectives:
dis- il- im- in- ir- un-
disrespectful illegitimate impossible indecent irrelevant unreasonable
dissatisfied illogical immature incapable irregular unfortunate

Other negative prefixes are:
      a- anti- countrer- mal- non-
amoral antisocial counterproductive malcontent non-violent
asexual anti-aircraft counterfeit malnourished non-profit

The prefixes im- il- and ir- are in fact a variety of in-:
  • im- is used before words beginning with m or p: impersonal, immortal.
  • il- is used before words beginning with l: illegal.
  • ir- is used with words beginning with r: irregular.
Most compounds with non- are written with a hyphen in British English, but not in American English: non-alcoholic , nonalcoholic .


  1. This was extremely helpful, thanks, greets from Poland!

  2. I'm so glad you found it useful! Greetings from Spain!

  3. It was helpful for me! Greeting from Russia!

  4. Thank you very much for your comment. Greetings from Spain!

  5. You very help me, thanks, greeting from Lithuania!

  6. it helped me a lot,tnx , greets from Serbia!!!!

  7. I'm so glad it was of use! Thank you for your comment. Cheers!

  8. Congratulations, excellent blog and really useful.


    Kids songs and stories

  9. Thank you very much, Marisa! I hope you come back soon. Cheers!

  10. it is so helpful
    thank you

    1. I'm really happy that it was useful. Cheers!

  11. And if you ever get stuck, drop the prefix and just go for "not". For example: "It's not possible"; "She's not capable"; "My dog was not satisfied with his dinner"; "I heard he's not legitimate".

    This doesn't apply for the pink box, which aren't direct negatives, but modifiers.

  12. thanxx i will have good markes....roro

  13. teacher told me there is no rule for prefix just need to learn them..

  14. Just found your webpage and immediately book marked it! Had negative prefixes explained expertly for my rowdy elementary class. Will now join or whatever to keep posted on your great work. thank you for making today's class that bit of easier. Jacqui - South Africa

    1. Thank you very much for your comment, Jacqui, and thank you for following my blog. Good luck with your students! Cheers from Spain!

  15. I was looking for a nice explanation for my own students and I found yours! I loved it. I hope you don't mind I copied it and pasted it on my blog. I wrote the link to your blog so that they knew it was from another teacher.
    Thanks a million.

  16. It's OK Sonia. As long as it helps students, I'll be happy. Cheers!

  17. It's really great that people do this kind of work, it's helpful, and adequate for most of the people that learn, greetings from Portugal!

    1. Thank you for your kind comment! Greetings from neighbouring Spain!

  18. thanks.. it helps me a lot :)


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