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Prefix is a group of letters (affixes) added in front of a word or a root of the word to change its meaning. A negative prefix is a prefix which carries a negative meaning 'not' , 'opposite of'.

Common negative prefixes in English are un-, im-, in-, il-, and ir-, and dis-. Some of these prefixes are only attached to a noun or an adjective while some are only attached to a verb. It is not possible to predict whether the negative prefix un-, in-, or dis- is used with a particular word. The correct form must be learned.

 1. The negative prefix un-

This prefix is normally attached to an adjective or a noun to form an adjective or a noun.



Unauthorized (Adj.)

For which official permission has not been given

Unbelievable (Adj.)

Too difficult to believe

Uncountable (Adj.)

Too many to be counted

Undamaged (Adj.)

Not damaged or not spoiled

Undesirable (Adj.)

Not wanted

Unemployment (N.)

No work, job

Unforgetable (Adj.)

That will stay forever in memory

Unkind (Adj.)

Not friendly

Unlucky (Adj.)

Not lucky

Unpopular (Adj.)

Not popular

Unrelated (Adj.)

Not related or not connected

Unreliable (Adj.)

Not reliable

Unsatisfied (Adj.)

Not satisfied

It is important to distinguish the negative prefix un- 'not' from the prefix un- 'do the reverse of' which is normally attached to a verb. The resulting word remains a verb.



Undo (V.)

To cancel the effect of something

Undress (V.)

To remove one's clothes

Unroll (V.)

To open something that is rolled up

Untie (V.)

To remove somebody or something that is tied

Unwrap (V.)

To undo the covering that wraps something


2. The negative prefixes in-, im-, il-, ir-

This prefix is normally attached to an adjective. The resulting word remains an adjective.

Prefiixes + initial consonant of the attached root



il + l

illegal (Adj.)

Against the law, not legal

il + l

illiterate (Adj.)

Not able to read or write

im + b

imbalanced (N.)

Not balance

im + p

impossible (Adj.)

Not possible

im + m

immeasurable (Adj.)

No able to be measured

ir + r

irregular (Adj.)

Not regular

ir + r

irresponsible (Adj.)

Not responsible

in + other consonants

incomplete (Adj.)

Not complete

in + other consonants

intolerable (Adj.)

Not tolerable

in + other consonants

incorrect (Adj.)

Not correct

It is also important to distinguish the meaning of the prefix im- or in- 'not' from those carrying the meaning 'in, into' which forms a verb.

Prefiixes + initial consonant of the attached root



im + p

import (V.)

To bring goods from a foreign country

in + other consonants

inflame (V.)

To cause strong feelings, especially among a lot of people

in + other consonants

incorporate (V)

To make something part of the whole

in + other consonants

inject (V.)

To put in at speed a drug or other substance into somebody or something

in + other consonants

inhale (V.)

To breathe in

in + other consonants

intend (V.)

To have a particular plan in mind



3. The negative prefix dis- 'not, opposite of, away'

This prefix is normally attached to a verb, an adjective or a noun. The resulting words can be a verb, an adjective or a noun.



disappear (V.)

become no longer visible


take weapons away from someone


Refuse to believe


Reveal, make something known

discontinue (V.)

To stop doing something

discover (V.)

To find or learn about a place or an object for the first time

discredit (V.)

Damage the good reputation

discredit (N.)

Loss of reputation or respect


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