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|
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:
Other negative prefixes are:
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 .