English Vocabulary With Affixes: Using Prefixes to Make New Verbs

In English, as in many other languages, it’s possible to create new words out of a basic root word (kind) by adding affixes. Most of the time in English, you’ll see prefixes (unkind) and suffixes (kindness). We also have a handful of simulfixes, but those might better thought of as spelling rules (man -> men) rather than as affixes. You can read more about the classification of affixes here, along with examples from different languages.

With any new student at the intermediate level, especially if they’re using English to further their studies, I talk about English affixes right away. When you have an English test in front of you, you probably don’t have time to look up every new word—in fact, you might not be allowed to look up any words at all. Being able to recognize affixes and connect them to meaning and function can be the difference between a confident, educated guess on a question and a coin toss. I’ve found that even students at a fairly high level might not have had a solid, sit-down lesson on these little word bits. So they learn happy and sad, and maybe learn unhappy as a synonym for sad, and they might notice the pattern of unhappy, unbelievable, untrue, and unseen as they learn new words and progress in their studies…or they might not.

Root words and affixes are the building blocks of English vocabulary.

Over at UEFAP, Andy Elliott has done an incredible job of organizing English affixes by transformative ability. This is great information to add to your study routine (maybe by making a specific Anki deck?).

But remember to also study any possible false friends or points of confusion as well. While undersell and undervalue sound exactly how they mean, we know that understand doesn’t mean that you’re not on your feet enough! 😉 And remember that we have both warmness and warmth, but only coldness (no coldth).

I’ve taken the liberty of translating the affixes over at UEFAP into their Swedish equivalents. They’re similar, but it’s not always a one-to-one translation. It’s also quite a thorough list, so I’ll be sharing and translating in parts. This first piece concerns prefixes that alter verb meanings. Note that sometimes these verbs with the prefix are standalone verbs, and that the original root verb no longer sees usage, or has a meaning slightly different from the prefix + root word version.

Prefix English meaning Swedish equivalent
dis- negation or opposite (disappear, disappoint) o- (ogilla), av- (avskida)
re- again (redo, reapply) för- (förnya), åter- (återskapa)
over- too much (overwork, overcharge) över (överanstränga)
mis- incorrectly or wrongly (misuse, miscalculate) mis- (misräkna), fel- (felbedömma)
out- greater or more than (outnumber, outmaneuver) ut- (utmanövrera), över- (övertraffa)
co- together (cooperate, coexist) sam- (samarbeta)
inter- between (interconnect, interact) inter- (intervjua)
tran- across, over (translate, transfer) över- (översätta)
under- too little (undersell, underperform) under- (undersälja)

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