English is a very flexible language and you can build on your vocabulary and learn how to make new words.
One way of doing this is to add prefixes (such as dis, pre or co) before the word.
Here’s a list of common prefixes with their meanings and some examples.
anti (= against)
autonomous, autobiography, automobile
bi (= two)
co (= with)
contra (= against)
de (= remove)
dis (= not)
il (= not)
im (= not)
inter (= between)
misinform, misbehave, misunderstand
multi (= many)
non (= opposite)
out (= more than)
over (= too much)
post (= after)
pre (= before)
re (= again)
sub (= under)
super (= higher/improved)
trans (= across)
uni (= one)
under (= not enough)
You can also make new words from the words you already know by using different endings. For example, “The person who employs me has a fast car”. You can make this sentence simpler, by replacing “the person who employs me” with “my employer”. This gives you “My employer has a fast car.”
In English you can make nouns from verbs (to employ gives employer and employee). You can also make verbs from nouns or adjectives: government gives to govern, modern gives to modernise and so on. Learning what endings you can put on words means you can expand your vocabulary and say what you mean more easily.
Here are some common word endings:
–er /- or: a person who does something
adviser / advisor, teacher, learner
–ment: result of action
–ism: name of system or belief
–ist: the person who believes in the system
–ence / ance
–able / ible
–proof / resistant
waterproof, childproof, fireproof
alcohol free beer, nuclear free zone
When you learn English prefixes and suffixes, you’ll be able to make new words easily and quickly. It’s also a useful skill for the FCE, CAE and IELTS exams!
Check out the prefixes and suffixes exercise below to increase your English vocabulary.
Level: Intermediate and above
- ''International'' = to do with many countries: ''multinational'' = a company with a presence in many different countries.
- ''Antenatal'' and ''prenatal'' = something happening before a birth (antenatal classes, prenatal appointment); ''postnatal'' = something happening after a birth (postnatal depression).
- We say ''submarine'' (a naval ship that goes under the sea) or ''substandard'' (something that is not good enough).
- ''Self-centred'' = when you only think about yourself; ''self-confident'' = when you're confident and comfortable with yourself; ''self-conscious'' = when you feel uncomfortable about your body or another aspect of yourself.
- ''Monochrome'' = just one colour; ''monolingual'' = when you can only speak one language; ''monorail'' = a type of train that goes on one rail. We can have a multiscreen cinema, but not a monoscreen cinema!
- ''Workable'' = something that could work; ''workaholic'' = someone who is obsessed by work; ''workless'' = unemployed. (You can say ''overwork'' but not ''workover''.)
- ''Sugar-free'' = when a product doesn't contain sugar; ''tax-free'' = when you can earn a certain amount of money without paying tax: ''trouble-free'' = when you don't experience any problems.
- ''Helpless'' = when you can't do anything to help yourself; ''homeless'' = when you don't have anywhere to live; ''fearless'' = when you have no fear of anything. We say ''alcohol-free'' to mean there's no alcohol in something (not ''alcohol-less''.)
- ''Citizenship'' = the state of being a citizen; ''friendship'' = the state of being friends; ''relationship'' = the state of relations between two people. (The state of being married is ''marriage''.)
- ''Bulletproof'' = bullets can't penetrate it; ''childproof'' = children can't open or damage it; ''waterproof'' = water can't penetrate it.
There’s also a 20-question exercise here.