Chapter 21: Greek Prefixes

§131. An Approach to Greek Prefixes

In the last two chapters you have met Greek-derived forms that we might consider prefixes in English—neo-, poly-, mono-, penta-, and kilo-, for example. There is nothing wrong with calling them prefixes, in the general sense of that term. Strictly speaking, however, they are better described as combining forms or adaptations of Greek adjectives and numerals. Now, in Chapter 21, you will meet a full repertory[1] of Greek prefixes.

As usual, the best preparation for a new Greek topic will be to review its parallel in Latin—in this case, Part I, Chapter 8 (especially the summary in §59). As each new Greek prefix is introduced in the coming pages, ask yourself whether it has a Latin counterpart that may play a similar semantic role in English word formation. You will see, in fact, that a column of suggested Latin “equivalents” is provided. Be forewarned, however, that these are not always exact counterparts. Because Latin and Greek are closely cognate, some verbal elements match almost perfectly; but the two languages did, after all, belong to different branches of the Indo-European family.

Let us approach the problem gently by examining five Greek prefixes that are fairly straightforward: a(n)-, anti-, eu-, dys-, and syn-.

  1. a- (ἀ-), sometimes known as ALPHA PRIVATIVE, is the prefix that corresponds to English un- or Latin in-, meaning “not” or “without.” Before a base beginning with a vowel it changes to an- (ἀν-). Examples in English include atheist, atheism, atom, amorphous, achromatic, amnesia[2], amnesty, aphasia, apathy, asbestos; and (with an-) anarchy, analgesic, anaesthetic, anonymous, anomaly, anaemia, and anorexia .
  2. ant(i)- (ἀντι-) is a prefix that we can easily recognize as meaning “against” or “opposite.” However we must be careful not to confuse it in English with the very different Latin prefix ante- (“before”). Examples: antonym, antagonist, antarctic, antidote, antipathy, antiphony, antipodes, antiseptic.
  3. eu- (ἐυ-), an adverb meaning “well,” was also used as a prefix; cf. Latin bene-. Examples: euphony, eugenic, euthanasia, eurhythmic, euphoria, euphemism.
  4. dys- (δυσ-), provides the opposite to eu-, since it means “badly” or “hard”; it is something like Latin male-. Examples: (dyslexia, dysphasia, dysentery, dysgenesis, dysphoria) (euphoria, dysphemism) (euphemism, dystopia) (utopia (<οὐτοπια, “no place”).
  5. syn- (συν-) is very much like Latin con-, meaning “with,” “together.” Like con-, it may also show ASSIMILATION. Examples: synonym, synagogue, synchronism, syndrome, syncopate, symbiosis, symmetry, symphony, symposium, symptom, syllable.

  1. A repertory is a collection or storehouse (L repertorium, “a place where things are found”). The doublet repertoire is usually preferred to identify the body of works that a creative artist is able to perform.
  2. The root in amnesia (a-mnēsia, “no memory”) is μνη- (“memory”) that we met in Mnemosyne (§104). An amnesty (a-mnēstia) is another form of not remembering.


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Greek and Latin Roots: Part II - Greek Copyright © 2016 by Peter Smith (Estate) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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