Latin Prefixes: a comprehensive guide

Below is a list of around 50 of the most common Latin prefixes which appear in English words.

List of Latin prefixes

omni-

omni- : this prefix originates from the Latin word “omnis” meaning “all” or “each/every one of a whole”. It is used in the formation of numerous English words such as: omniscient, omnipresent and omnivore. Interestingly, the suffixes in those examples are all derived from Latin as well, -scio “to know”, -praesum “to be present” and -voro “to devour”.

socio-

socio- is an essential prefix in English, coming from the Latin verb socio, which means “to unite/combine/associate.” Socii (a plural noun) was a common term the Romans used to refer to their allies, which is why the famously brutal war fought between the Romans and their own allies is known as the Social War (a.k.a. the War of the Allies). This prefix is used in many English words such as: sociology, socioeconomics, and sociopath, not to mention society itself.

sono-

sono- is an English prefix whose origin comes from the Latin noun, sonus, meaning “sound”. Sonority and sonogram are examples of English words containing this prefix.

ultra-

ultra- is a prefix which in Latin forms adverbs and adjectives like ultimum meaning “beyond,” “extremely,” “greatest” or “farthest.” In English it retains the meaning, with some examples of words formed with this prefix being ultrasound, ultraviolet, and ultramarathon.

uni-

uni- : derived from the Latin numeral word “unus” meaning “one”, this prefix can mean either “one” or “single”. This Latin word is part of the historical motto of the United States, E pluribus unum, “Out of many, one”, symbolizing the union of the thirteen colonies into one nation. Uniform and universal are just some of the many examples of words in the English vocabulary formed using this prefix.

ambi-

ambi- is an English prefix meaning “both” or “on both sides”, and it is derived from the Latin verb ambio, which means “to go round” and from the Latin numeral word ambo, meaning “both” and “two of a pair”. Together these two words form the Latin prefixes ambi/amb/am/an which all denote a meaning of something being “on both sides” or “around” something.

A great example in the English language of this prefix is the word ambidextrous, referring to “dexterity in both hands” and ambiguous (in Latin ambiguus), “something of a doubtful nature” (something that “goes around” in an indirect way).

The Latin adjective ambitiosus, which referred to someone who was “eager for political office” was a derivation of the term ambitus which was an adjective used for canvassing politicians because they would “go around” from place to place delivering speeches and bribes. In this “round-about” way, no pun intended, we now have the English word ambitious!

circum-

circum- is a Latin prefix which means “around” or “surrounding.” From the same root is the Latin noun circus, which means “circle”, and gave the name to the large chariot racing stadium in ancient Rome, the Circus Maximus (“the greatest circle”), which is why we still talk about going to the circus today. Circumvent and circumference are examples of this Latin prefix finding its way into the English vocabulary.

co-

co- (sometimes con-) is a very common Latin prefix meaning “together”, “jointly” or “connected”. The highest elected office in the Roman Republic was the position of consul, which when translated literally means “co-ruler” or “he who rules together”. That makes a lot of sense as the number of consuls was always two, constraining the power of this ultimate office so as to avoid the return of monarchy.

Many words formed with this prefix are found in the English language, some examples being coherent, cooperate and cognition.

de-

de- is a prefix which in Latin means “to remove” or “to take away from”. Obvious examples of English words formed with this prefix are decompose and depreciate. Less obvious is a word like debt, which comes from the Latin verb debeo (“to owe”), as a contraction of dehabeo (de and habeo), literally translated as “to have [something] from a person”.

ego-

ego- is a prefix which in English means “self”. It comes from the Latin personal pronoun ego which means “I”. Some examples of English words formed with this prefix are egoism, egotistical, and egocentric.

equ-

equ- is a common English prefix, deriving from the Latin prefix aequ- which means “equal”, “even”, or expresses a sense of “uniformity”. Some examples of words in English formed using this prefix are equivalent, equilibrium, and equality.

pluvio-

pluvio- : from the Latin word pluvius which relates to “rain” or that which is “rainy”. This prefix can be found in English words such as pluviometer (a rain gauge) and the curious term pluviophile (someone who loves rain).

ex-

ex- in Latin is used both as a preposition and a prefix and means that something is “out of” or “from” something. Examples of English words formed with this prefix are exclude, expel, and explore. Interestingly Latin has the direct equivalent verbs of excludo, expello, and exploro.

infra-

infra- is a Latin adverb which means “below” or “underneath”, curiously resulting in the quite literal Latin name for the underworld, infernus “the lower world”, which only far later became related to the concept of fire (e. Inferno) due to the Christian conception of a fiery hell. English words formed with this prefix are for example infrastructure and infrared.

inter-

inter- is a useful Latin prefix and preposition which means “between” or “among”. It is used to form words in English such as international, interaction, and intermediate.

dis-

dis- is a Latin prefix that conveys a meaning of something being “separate”, “apart”, or “in different directions”. The Latin noun discrimen, meaning “that which divides” has a direct parallel in the English word discrimination. Many other examples of this prefix in the English language exist, such as disorder, disambiguation, and disconnect.

ir-

ir- is a very common prefix in English meaning “not”. The prefix exists in classical Latin as in- but a tendency over time became to assimilate the following consonant forming the various negation prefixes of ir-, im-, and il-. There are plentiful examples of English words formed with this prefix, for instance irrational, irregular, and irresponsible.

male-

male- is a Latin prefix which means “bad” or “evil”, stemming from the Latin adjective malus. This prefix is used to form words in English such as: malfunction, malicious, and malfeasance.

multi-

multi- is a well-known Latin prefix which means “more than one”. This prefix is used to form words such as: multipurpose, multinational, multimedia, and multilingual.

post-

post- is an important Latin prefix which means “after” or “behind”. This prefix is used in the formation of numerous English words such as: postponed, postgraduate, and postmodern.

pre-

pre- is a prefix which derives from the Latin prefix prae- meaning “before” or “in front”. This prefix is used in the formation of English vocabulary words such as: preconception, presume, and premature.

re-

re- is a prefix which means “again” or the motion of going “back”. It is used in the formation of many words in the English vocabulary like rebuild, rewrite, and recycle.

recti-

recti- is a prefix used in English which means “straight”. It comes from the Latin word rectus, a participle of the verb rego “to lead”, meaning “leading” or “ruling” and can be understood by inference to mean leading forward/onwards/straight ahead. This prefix is used in the formation of words such as: rectify and rectitude.

semi-

semi- is a prefix which in Latin as well as English means “half” or “partial”. It is used in English words such as semifinal and semiconductor.

sub-

sub- is a prefix analogous to the previously mentioned infra- and also means “below” or “under”. This prefix is used in the formation of many English words such as submarine, suboptimal, and subordinate.

super-

super- is a very useful and common Latin prefix which means “over” or “above”. As with the prefix infra­- the meaning was originally quite literal in a spatial sense. It also took the sense, however, of “superiority” (or “inferiority” with infra-) in a more abstract sense which remains in English to this day as well. Examples include supersonic, superficial, and superimposed.

intro-

intro- (also intra-) is a Latin prefix which means “inwards” or “within”. This commonly used prefix in English features examples such as: introduction, introspection, and introvert.

trans-

trans- is a Latin prefix which means “across” or “on the other side of”. Its antonym, cis-, means “on this side of”. That gave rise to the Roman geographical titles over the lands to the south and north of the Alps, Cisalpine and Transalpine Gaul, literally “Gaul on our side and the other side of the Alps”. This Latin prefix appears in English words like translation, transmission, and transparency.

centi-

centi- is a numeral prefix, coming from the Latin word centum which means “one hundred”. Some examples of English words formed with this prefix are centimeter (literally “one hundred in a measurement”) and centipede (“one hundred legs”).

bi-

bi- is derived from the Latin word “bis” meaning “twice” or “in two ways”, and was as popular and important in Latin as it is in English today, where it forms the prefix to words like bicycle, bimonthly, and bilingual.

avi-

avi- comes from the Latin word avis which means “bird” and confusingly can also refer to “omen”, because the Romans liked to perform their divination with birds. This prefix can have a more general meaning in English as it can also relate to act of “flight” with examples like aviation and aviculture.

aqua-

aqua- is a prefix and word which means “water” which incidentally also became the name for alcohol or distilled spirits in the phrase aqua vitae (“the water of life”). The words aquarium and aquatic contain this Latin prefix.

retro-

retro- is a Latin prefix identical to the re- prefix and means “backward”, but the -tro suffix adds an extra emphasis. Examples in English include retrospect and retroactive.

ante-

ante- is a common Latin prefix which means “prior” or “before.” While prae- (in English pre-) has the same meaning, but in a spatial sense, this prefix tends to carry a more temporal sense. Examples of words in modern-day English containing this prefix are antecedent, anticipate, and antechamber.

per-

per- is a prefix which can have several possible meanings including “through” or “along”. Some examples of English words formed with this prefix are pervasive, perspective, and perimeter.

extra-

extra- is a Latin prefix which in a literal spatial sense can mean “outside” or in a more abstract sense refers to something “outside of” or “beyond” some boundary. The latter sense was inherited in English with examples like extraordinary, extracurricular, extravagant and extravert.

contra-

contra- is a prefix which means “opposite” or “against”. In English the meaning has sometimes morphed though the words look about the same, such as contradiction, in Latin contradicere, meaning “to speak against something”, and contrast, from the Vulgar Latin word contrastare, which means “to stand opposed to something”.

ab-

ab- is a very important Latin prefix which conveys several possible contextual meanings of “from” or “away from”, indicating motion and distance away or origin from. Examples containing this prefix in English include abnormal, absent, and abstract.

ob-

ob- is an interesting prefix which in Latin can mean “in front of” or “before”. In English however it conveys a sense of something being “against” forming words such as obfuscate, obtuse and obstruct.

pro-

pro- is one of the Latin language’s most common prefixes and can have multiple meanings including “before”, “on behalf of”, or “in proportion to”. Some examples of English words formed with this prefix are pronoun, progress, and proactive.

in-

in- is a prefix which in Latin sometimes means “towards” or simply “into” as in English. Most often though it means the negation “not” (see the prefix -ir above). Examples of English words formed with this prefix are: inactive, independence, involuntary, inhabitant.

se-

se- as a prefix conveys a sense of “separation,” “cutting” or “apart.” Some examples of English words containing this prefix are security (in Latin securitas, literally “separation from/freedom from care”), and secede (in Latin secedo, “to go apart”).

magni-

magni- is a prefix stemming from the Latin adjective magnus, meaning “large” or “great”. It became a popular cognomen throughout history, with figures like Pompeius Magnus (Pompey the Great) and Charlemagne (Charles the Great). In English it means exactly the same thing and forms words like magnificent, magnify and magnitude.

duo-

duo- is a Latin numeral and prefix which means “two”. Examples of English words which utilize this useful prefix are duplex, duality, and duplicity.

deci-

deci- is a well-known Latin prefix from the numeral decem, which means “ten”. Examples of the prefix in the English language tend to be measurement units like decimeter, deciliter, and decibel or of course December (“the tenth month” of the Roman calendar, measured from March to December).

ad-

ad- is a common Latin prefix which can mean a direction “towards”, of time “until” or presence “at” a location. Examples of English words which have this Latin prefix include adapt, admit, and adopt.

arch-

arch- is a prefix which in Latin means “the first or foremost”, “principal” or “original”. It came to the Romans originally from the ancient Greek verb arkhe meaning “beginning” or “origin” which became a title for the leaders of Athens, the arkhons (or archons), the “first” or “foremost” ones. From this stems the meaning in English of something being the “original”, “utmost” or “ultimate” something, with examples such as archetype, architecture, and arch-rival.

cor-

cor- is a Latin prefix which strangely enough derives from the preposition cum, which means “together with” or just “with”. Examples of English words which contain this prefix include correspondence, correction, and corroborate.

ludo-

ludo- is an interesting Latin prefix which means “relating to games or sports”. It comes from the Latin word ludus, originally meaning “game” and later also “school” because of the term being applied to the place in where gladiators would train before the games, the ludii.

Not many examples exist in English using this prefix, though there are a few like ludicrous (something being “amusing as a game”, later “ridiculous”), ludology (“the study of games”) and the classic board game Ludo.

Beyond Latin prefixes

For more prefixes which appear in English vocabulary words, see this list of Greek prefixes.

See here for a list of English vocabulary words which come from Latin.

Another interesting resource is this list of the 1000 most common Latin words.