Italian For Beginners: How To Use Prefixes

Prefixes are one of my favorite parts of grammar, because understanding them helps in building the web of knowledge that makes learning a language easy and interesting. I've already talked about the super-logical system of Russian prefixes and those super-simple Esperanto prefixes. Now it's time to find out how much we can learn from Italian prefixes.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but it's certainly a good start. Any time we can look at how a language works, it helps to build that system of crutches which support our learning.

Common Prefixes

a-/ab-

: from/out of.
abrogazione (abrogation)

ante-/anti-

: before.
ante- + nascere (to be born) = antenato — ancestor
anti- + pasto (meal) = antipasti — appetizers

bi-/bis-

: twice.
bisnonno (great-grandfather)

con-

: with.
con- (with) + dividere (to divide) = condividere — to share

contra-

: against.
contra- (against) + attaccare (to attack) = contrattacco — counterattack

de-/di-

: from.
de- + viaggare (to go) = deviare — to deviate

e-/ex-

: out.
ex- (out) + = eccetto — except

in-

: as a negative.
in- + esperto (expert) = inesperto — non-expert

in-

: in, into.
in- (into) + fiammare (to burn) = infiammare — to inflame

inter-

: between.
interporre (to interpose)

per-

: through/for/because of.
per- (through) + notte (night) = pernottare — to stay overnight

pos-

: after
posdomani (the day after tomorrow)

pre-

: before.
pre- + avviso (to advice) = preavviso — forewarning

pro-

: forward.
pro- (forward) + porre (to put) = proporre — to suggest

re-/re-

: again.
reazione (reaction)

semi-

: half.
semi- (half) + cerchio (circle) = semicerchio — semicircle

trans-/tras-

: across.
trans- (across) + Transatlantico — transatlantic

Summary

While Italian words are not built on the regularity and logical basis of slavic languages (like Russian) or constructed languages (like Esperanto), they're still built on a sturdy Latin foundation and the understanding of basic prefixes and roots will still go a long way toward helping you to learn, understand, and remember vocabulary.


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  • I'm surprised that s- doesn't appear in your list. It has always struck me as quite common. Two examples:
    s+ corretto = scorretto (incorrect)
    s + comodo = scomodo ( uncomfortable, inconvenient)

  • Quite right! I actually had intentionally left the s- out of this list because it seems to be an interesting feature on its own, and I'm actually planning to devote an entire post to it soon! :-)

  • Ho letto i tuoi insulti a Steve Kaufmann su Twitter. Vuoi sapere qualche bel prefisso italiano?
    tu sei un DE-FICIENTE IN-ETTO
    Ti suggerisco di imparare bene questi termini.
    Sinceri saluti

  • Oh, it's so cute! And posted anonymously, too. Is this you, Steve?

  • Unfortunately, a flame war in multiple languages isn't any more cultured than a flame war in just one language.
    Sono sorpreso dalla quantita' di odio che e' scatenato tra i membri della communita' poligliotta, soprattuto siccome l'ultimo obiettivo e' aumentare communicazione tra le diverse culture.
    Sorry to use your comment section as a soapbox, it just happens to be the last one I am at right now.

  • That young boy (64yrs old) Steve is really SICK. Makes me wanna puke!

  • Yes, he certainly does act rather like a child, but I think it might be a bit much to say he makes you want to puke.
    It's worth noting that he does have his followers. We can learn from that. The lesson that I learn from it is that there are people who want someone to agree with them that it's impossible to learn a new language quickly, and to make them feel okay about being afraid to speak.
    I disagree with him and them, but it's important to recognize that they exist. Especially if I want to draw some of them to my blog and help them to stop being so afraid!

  • Flame wars are as lame as soap boxes. The internet has been mainstream for almost 20 years now, and ubiquitous for at least 10. Perhaps we can all get over our desire to change the world through soapbox diatribes and start participating more in the exchange of ideas that motivates me to write every day for this web site. :)

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