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date: 15 May 2021


The Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins


Many of the words in this book, particularly those from Greek and Latin, are made up of elements, known as combining forms or prefixes and suffixes, that alter the basic sense of the root word. Some of the more common are listed below with their usual meanings.


1. With Greek roots (an‐ in front of a vowel) from Greek for ‘not’ means: not (atheist); without (anaemic) 2. With Old English roots means: to(wards) (aback); in a state of (aflutter); on (afoot); in (nowadays)

ab‐ From Latin for ‘from, by, with’ means: from (abduct)

ad‐ In Latin means ‘to’, used for motion (advance); change (adulterate); addition (adjunct)

be‐ In words from Old English, from ‘by’, means: all over (bespatter); thoroughly (bewilder); covered with (bejewelled); turns adjectives and nouns into verbs (befriend)

com‐ From Latin cum, ‘with’, sometimes appears as co‐, col, cor or con depending on the sound following it, means: with (combine); together (compact); altogether (commemorate)


1. From Latin for ‘off, from’, used for: down, away (descend); completely (denude) 2. From Latin dis‐ used for ‘not, un‐, apart’, changed to de‐ in French, used for: removal (de‐ice); undoing the action of something (deactivate)


1. From Greek dis ‘twice’ means: twice, two, double mainly in technical words (dichromatic); in chemistry etc. with two atoms (dioxide) 2. From Latin: an alternative to dis‐ (see below)

dia‐ From the Greek for ‘through’, means: through (diaphanous); across (diameter); apart (dialysis)

dis‐ From Latin dis‐ used for ‘not, un‐, apart’ means: not, un‐ (disadvantaged); used to reverse an action (disown); to remove or deprive of something (dismember); to separate or expel (disbar)

dys‐ Greek equivalent of dis‐, means: bad (dysentery); difficult (dyspepia)

en‐, em‐

1. French form of Latin in‐, means: put into (embed); in, into (ensnare); make, bring into a state (encrust); make more so (enliven) 2. From Greek equivalent of Latin in‐ means: within (empathy)

‐en Old English, makes nouns and adjectives into verbs (deepen); makes adjectives from nouns (woollen)


1. From Latin ex ‘out of’, means: out (exclude); thoroughly (exterminate); cause to be in a state (exasperate); indicates a former state (ex‐husband); removes from a state (excommunicate) 2. The Greek equivalent of the Latin, means: out (exodus)

for‐ From Old English, used to modify the sense of a word in the following ways: to make it more intense (forlorn); to prohibit (forbid); to show neglect (forget); to show renunciation or abstention (forgo, forgive)

fore‐ From Old English, means: in front of (foreshorten); before in time (forebode, forefathers); in front (forecourt, forebrain)

hyper‐ From Greek huper ‘over, beyond’ means: over, above, beyond (hypersonic); exceedingly, more than normal (hypersensitive); in electronic media used for complex structure as in hypertext


1. From Latin in ‘in’, or English in, can also appear as il‐ im‐ ir‐ depending on sound following, used for: in, towards, within (inborn, influx) 2. From Latin in ‘not’, can also appear as il‐ im‐ ir‐ depending on sound following, used for: not (infertile), without (inequality)

non‐ From Latin non ‘not’, means: not involved in (non‐aggression); not of the kind or way described (non‐conformist); not of the importance implied (non‐issue); not needing or causing (non‐iron, non‐skid); not having or being (non‐human)


1. From Greek para ‘beside, alteration from’ meaning: beside, alongside (parallel); beyond, different but with similarities (paramilitary) 2. From French and Italian, meaning: protecting (against) (parachute, parasol)

pen‐ From Latin paene ‘almost’ used in this sense (peninsula, penultimate)

per‐ From Latin per‐ ‘through, by means of’, means: through, all over (perforate); completely (perfect)

poly‐ From Greek polus ‘much, many’, means: much, many (polygon, polychrome)


1. From Latin pro ‘in front of, on behalf of, for, instead of, because of’, means: supporting (pro‐choice); moving to, out or away (proceed) 2. From Greek pro ‘before’, meaning: before in time or place (proactive)

re‐ From Latin re‐ ‘back, again’, means: again, once more (reactivate); in response (react); against (resist); behind, after (remain); back, away, down (recede); more, again (refine)

semi‐ From Latin semi‐ ‘half’ meaning: half (semi‐circular); almost (semi‐darkness); partly (semi‐detached)

sub‐ From Latin sub ‘under, close to’, changing to suc‐, suf‐, sug‐, sup‐, or sus‐ when influenced by a following sound, means: at a lower level (subalpine); lower or smaller (subordinate, subaltern); secondary (sublet, subdivision)

trans‐ From Latin trans ‘across’, means: across, to the other side of (transatlantic); through (transparent); to another state (transform)


1. Old English, meaning: not (unrepeatable); the reverse of (unhappy); a lack of (unrest) 2. Old English, having much the same sense as 1. but from a different source, meaning: reversal (untie); separation, reduction (unmask, unman); release (unhand).