Using Prefixes for Nouns, Adjectives & Verbs

A prefix is a letter or group of letters placed before a word to form a new word. The new word is often the opposite in meaning to the original word. Mistakes occur when the incorrect prefix is used. Common prefixes are un, in, ex, re, dis & mis.

Examples of Correct Usage
un: able & unable
dis: able & disable
il: legal & illegal
pre: natal & prenatal
de: rail & derail
non: sense & nonsense
im: polite & impolite
be: friend & befriend
ig: noble & ignoble
in: definite & indefinite
re: turn & return
mis: use & misuse
extra: ordinary & extraordinary
a: typical & atypical
ab: normal & abnormal
ir: regular & irregular
en: rich & enrich
hyper: active & hyperactive
ex: port & export


Different prefixes can be attached to the same root word. Some present with little or no difficulty, as in express, impress, depress, suppress & repress, while others need careful thought before using, such as unorganised (not organised at all) & disorganised (not organised properly).

Problems arise when the incorrect prefix is placed before the root word. Prefixes for word families often get mixed up. A typical ( not atypical) example involves the words fortune (a noun) and fortunate (an adjective).

The prefix for fortune is mis, while un precedes fortunate. However, the mistake occurs when mis is incorrectly placed before fortunate, as in misfortunate, instead of the correct prefix un, as in unfortunate.

The word balance is another word that needs attention with regard to the correct prefix / context. Unbalance & imbalance are both correct – use unbalance as a verb and imbalance as a noun. Unbalanced, on the other hand, is an adjective.


misfortune (NOUN), unfortunate (ADJECTIVE & NOUN) & unfortunately (ADVERB)