Prefixes (Tiền tố / Tiếp đầu ngữ)

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1. With the meaning 'not'

  • un- is the most common

unfriendly không thân thiện

unusual bất thường

unnecessary không cần thiết

unemployed không có việc làm (thất nghiệp)


untidy bừa bộn (also "in a mess")

unkind xấu bụng

unpleasant khó ưa

unhappy bất hạnh

  • in- is often used before words with a Latin origin,

invisible cannot be seen (vô hình)

informal không chính thức. Informal clothes are clothes like jeans and trainers. Formal clothes are things like a suit.

inadequate (= not good enough), e.g. The car park is inadequate for a big supermarket like that.

  • im- is used before some words beginning with m or p

​impolite bất lịch sự

impossible bất khả thi. If something is impossible, you can’t do it. It’s impossible to read with your eyes closed.

impatient someone who is ‘impatient’ wants things to happen now; they cannot wait for things (thiếu kiên nhẫn)

immoral phi đạo đức

  • il- can be used before l

​illegible impossible to read because the writing is bad

  • ir- is only used before a few words beginning with r,

e.g. irresponsible.

  • dis- is used:

before some adjectives, e.g. dishonest (a ‘dishonest’ person is someone you cannot trust, and often does not tell the truth), and a few verbs, e.g. dislike, disagree.

  • non (+ adjective or noun)

non-smoking You must not smoke in a non-smoking restaurant.

  • Verb prefixes: un- and dis-

With some verbs, these prefixes can also mean ‘the opposite of an action’.

The plane appeared in the sky, and then suddenly disappeared behind a cloud.

I locked the door when I left, but then I lost the key and couldn’t unlock it when I got back.

I got dressed (= put on my clothes) and had my breakfast.

I got undressed (= took off my clothes) and got into bed.

I had to pack my suitcase/do my packing (= put everything in it) very quickly, so when I unpacked (= took things out) at the hotel, most of my clothes looked terrible.

2. Other meanings

Prefix   Meaning   Examples
ex (+ noun)   was but now isn't   ex-wife, ex-president

An ex-wife is a wife who is now porced.

President Bush is an ex-president of the USA

half (+ noun or adjective)   50% of something   half-price, half-hour

Something that cost $10 yesterday and costs 5$ today is half-price.

A half-hour journey is a journey of 30 minutes.

semi   half   semicolon (dấu chấm phảy), semicircular (hình bán nguyệt)
pre (+ noun, adjective, verb)   before   pre-school, pre-heat

Pre-school children are too young to go to school.

You nearly always need to pre-heat the oven before you cook something.

post   after   postgraduate
re (+ verb)   again   redo, rewrite

To redo something is to do it a second time, and to rewrite something is to write it a second time.

over (+ noun, verb, adjective)   too much   My boss is overdoing it at the moment. (= He's working too hard.)

I went to bed very late and I overslept (= slept too long) this morning. 

The shop assistant overcharged me. (= She asked me for too much money.)

under   not enough   undercooked, underworked
mis (+ verb)   badly or incorrectly   I'm afraid I misunderstood what he said.

Two of the students misread the first question.

anti   against   antibiotic (kháng sinh), antiwar (phản chiến)
auto   of or by oneself   autopilot (tự lái), autobiography (tự truyện)
bi   two, twice   bicycle (xe đạp hai bánh), bilateral (song phương), biannual (hai lần một năm), bilingual (song ngữ)
micro   small   microwave (lò vi sóng), microbiology (vi sinh)
mono   one, single   monologue (độc thoại), monotonous (đơn điệu)
multi   many   multimedia (đa phương tiện), multinational (đa quốc gia)

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