Most words only add one prefix to their roots, or at the most two.  Here is a good example of how prefixes can alter the meanings of those words:

venue: a place where an event is held.  Note that there are no prefixes that comprise this word.  Here is a podcast on the root word ven: “come”.

convene: to come “together” somewhere, often at a venue.  Note that adding one prefix to a root is the most common practice.  Podcast: prefix con-: “with, together”

reconvene: to come “together” “again.”  It is also fairly common to add two prefixes to the root of a word.  Podcast: prefix re-: “back, again”

The addition of prefixes onto a root word usually ends with one, or at the most two.  There are some words, however, that add on more than two prefixes.  If you know the meanings of the prefixes, it is not particularly daunting to figure out the meaning of the word.  Let’s consider two examples of such prefix agglutination (from the Latin “to glue together”):

ultimate: the last of something.

penultimate: the “nearly” last of something, or second to last

antepenultimate: “before” the “nearly” last of something, i.e. third to last  Podcast: the prefix ante-: “before”

preantepenultimate: “before” the “before” the “nearly” last of something, that is, fourth to last  Podcast: the prefix pre-: “before”

 

quaver: eighth note

semiquaver: one-half of an eighth note, or a sixteenth note

demisemiquaver: one-half of one-half of an eighth note, or a thirty-second note

hemidemisemiquaver: one-half of one-half of one-half of an eighth, or a sixty-fourth note

Wasn’t that fun?

Many words with more than one prefix have added on a negative prefix, such as “in-” or “non-” or “un-” to make the opposite of a word:

conceivable–inconceivable  Podcast: the prefix in-: “not”

reversible–irreversible  Podcast: prefix assimilation of the prefix in-: “not”

coherent–incoherent

conformist-nonconformist  Podcast: the prefix non-: “not”

prepossessing-unprepossessing

If you know your prefixes, words become much easier to divine the meaning of, so don’t be put off by the length of a word.   Membean’s podcasts of root words and prefixes are very helpful in picking apart words–there is a new one each month.

Here are some fun words that have some pretty major prefix agglutination going on:

pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis

antidisestablishmentarianism

hippopotomonstrosesquipedalianism

floccinaucinihilipilification

Can you pick out the prefixes in the above words?

Stay tuned for our next blog post which will discuss the bifunctional nature of suffixes.

 

 

 

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When Prefixes Add Emphasis

by Brett on February 1, 2015

Etymology is a huge help when it comes to figuring out the core meaning of a word.  This post will focus on how prefixes work, one of the primary morphemes that build English vocabulary words.  Prefixes are those parts of words that come before the root, altering or emphasizing a particular word’s meaning.  For instance:

venue: simply a place to which people “come” for an event (via the Latin root ven: “come”).

revenue: “revenue,” on the other hand, is the money that “comes back” to a business after selling its products.  This is a much different word than “venue,” being significantly changed in meaning by adding the prefix re-, “back, again,” although it still has something to do with “coming,” its core meaning.

Sometimes, however, prefixes are used to put special emphasis on a root, thereby not significantly changing the meaning of the word itself, but rather intensifying or emphasizing the meaning of the root word, and subsequently the word itself.  When this happens, a prefix is acting as an intensive.  Let’s look at some examples:

pellucid:  whereas the word “lucid” means “clear,” the word “pellucid” means “very clear.”  The prefix “pel-” is a variant of the base prefix “per-“, which can mean “through” (normal meaning) or “thoroughly” (intensive use).

convince: the Latin root “vinc” means to “win,” so when you “convince” someone of something, you “thoroughly win” that person over to your point of view.  Note that the English prefix “con-” means “with” or “together” when not being used as an intensive.

conclude:  when you “conclude” something, you “thoroughly close” it to further discussion or thought so that no doubt remains, hence the prefix “con-” is once again acting as an intensive.  Note that the Latin root word “clud” means “close, shut, block.”

reticent: since the Latin root word “tic” means “be silent,” here the prefix re- acts as an intensive, for when one is being “reticent” one is being “thoroughly silent” (it wouldn’t make much sense to think of this word as meaning “silent back” or “silent again,” the two primary meanings of the prefix re-).

If it doesn’t make sense for a prefix to change the meaning of a word, it is probably being used as an intensive.  Let’s take a look at a couple more examples of this:

desiccate: this word’s definition means “to dry out.”  The Latin root “sicc” means “dry,” and the prefix “de-” can mean “off, from, or thoroughly.”  It wouldn’t really make sense for the prefix “de-” in this case to change the core meaning of “desiccate” to being “off of or from dryness,” so the de-” here means “thoroughly.”  Hence, when land is “desiccated,” it is “thoroughly dry” or “very dry.”

persuade: The Latin root word “suad” means “to make sweet.”  The prefix “per-” can mean “through,” or it can act as an intensive and mean “thoroughly.”  Would it make more sense for the word “persuade” to somehow be going “through sweetness,” or would it make more sense for it to mean to “make thoroughly sweet” to someone?  Yes, when you are attempting to “persuade” someone to do something, you are making it “thoroughly sweet” for that person so she or he will want to do it.

Here are a couple of podcasts that discuss prefixes that can have intensive force:

The intensive prefixes re- and de-

The intensive prefixes e- and ex-

The key lesson to take away from this is that if the primary meaning of a prefix is not helpful in figuring out the meaning of a word, the prefix may very well be acting as an intensive.

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Membean Now Schedules Your Assessments

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Scheduling assessments to recur on a regular basis is now a breeze to set up. You can choose a recurrence period that fits right in with your schedule, and we’ll autogenerate assessments for you throughout the year, or however long you want. It even has some smarts for common holidays, but be sure to delete […]

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Membean was temporarily unavailable

November 4, 2014 Roots

Nov 4, 2014 19:09 PM PT: Our apologies. We detected some malicious behavior toward our servers in an attempt to overwhelm them, and they have been temporarily brought down by us for investigation. We are in communication with our data center to bring the machines back online. UPDATE Nov 4, 2014 20:05 PM PT: We’ve […]

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