There’s no better way to learn negative prefixes than
to practice choosing and using them. That is certainly the best way to discover
the distinctions between some that seem similar.
The words used on this page are almost all from the Academic Word List
(AWL)—very important for college or professional reading. I was impressed by how many words in the AWL can take a negative prefix.
We make most of
the words (even many with Latin roots) negative by adding ‘un-,‘ but the Latin
prefix ‘in’ (and its variations il-, im-, and ir-) is also common. The negative forms of a few words begin with
‘de,’ ‘dis,’ or ‘mis.’
Negative prefixes change the meaning of a word into its
opposite, so it’s important to recognize them. This page should help. It’s also
a good way to review almost 60 words from the AWL—and enjoy the process!
Most of the negative words on this page-- and all of the words on the quiz-- are adjectives. However, many are closely related to nouns and verbs. If you know the adjectives and understand how verbs can change to adjectives or nouns (and back), you should also recognize almost all of the nouns, verbs, and adverbs made from the same roots.
For example, person can deactivate (verb) a bomb. It will then be deactivated (the adjective.) The process is called 'deactivation' (a noun.) See Suffix List as well as Word Families for more explanation of the ways one part of speech can change into another like that,
Many of these words lend themselves to word play.
Shakespeare was a master at that. The word play below is not brilliant like his,
but it does point out some useful connections and differences. Have fun with
it, and with the practice questions that follow!
Some Adjectives with Negative Prefixes
A person can be irresolute (unsure) about what to do for an
It’s irresponsible to leave an unresponsive (unconscious)
Here’s a silly paragraph that demonstrates a lot of negative prefixes at once:
“The expert raced to disarm the bomb before it exploded, disintegrating the fragile document he had been called to save. He shivered involuntarily. He was well aware that if he failed to
disassemble it, the damage to his mission (and his face!) would be
Negative Prefix and Collocation Practice
Collocations are words that are frequently used together.
Many combinations are so common that people expectto hear them together, so a different word would sound strange.
Speaking is a little easier if you can recognize and use these phrases to
express common ideas.
The first three sets of questions (12 total) involve
collocations. Each of four questions has a noun that matches with one of four negative-prefix
adjectives. Each adjective only fits well with one of the nouns. Choose the
Question 13 asks you to find the one word among many
negative adjectives which can NOT be used to talk about behavior. Questions
14-24 ask you to choose the best explanation or meaning for a word.
1. Which of these adjectives would most likely be used to describe comments that were not understood in the way the speaker meant them?
2. Which of these words might describe assumptions?
3. Which of these words might describe machinery?
4. Which of these words might describe rumors?
5. Which of these adjectives might describe thoughts?
6. Which of these words might describe a period of time?
7. Which of these words might describe poor preparation for a project or trip?
8. Which of these words might describe the outcome of an action or decision?
9. Which of these words might describe access to information or entry into a building?
10. Which of these words might describe goals?
11. Which of these words might describe news reporting?
12. Which of these words might describe resource use?
13. All but one of these 12 words can be used to describe undesirable behavior. (This is a handy list if you need to write a negative evaluation for an employee or to criticize someone!) Which of these adjectives does NOT describe behavior?
14. If a plan has not been put into practice, it is
15. Inaccessible means
only available to insiders
16. Insignificant means
17. inconceivable means
18. indiscreet means
unkind or unsympathetic
imprudent or unwise
19. unethical means basically
20. A new business requires a lot of work—in fact, almost __________ effort, to succeed.
21. When there are no laws limiting an activity (such as making or selling a certain type of product), it is
. Unaccompanied children are children who:
do not have an adult with them.
cannot play a musical instrument to accompany singing.
do not have a pet to be a companion to them.
do not have a part in a theater company.
23. Inattentive, unaided, unassisted, unattended,—two of these adjectives are close synonyms. Which two?
24. “Biodegradable products are better for the earth because after they are used, their wastes do not last hundreds of years, but disintegrate to become soil.” If to disintegrate means to break apart or break down into separate elements, integrate means
to take apart or separate
to create new elements
to bring together into one
to learn how to use different elements in new ways
How did you do? If these were hard for you, try some of the
vocabulary demonstration pages in the Academic Vocabulary section of Learn English Vocabulary.
If you would like to know more about collocations, English
Club has an excellent explanation of their importance and some pages of the
most important ones to learn, as well as quizzes to check yourself. If you
don’t already know them, be sure to learn the different collocations for ‘make’
and ‘do.’ English speakers do NOT use them interchangeably.
For example, we make
appointments, phone calls, and mistakes. We also ‘make money’ (= earn money) and ‘make
trouble’ (= cause problems).
However, we do (never make) exercises, homework, or the
dishes. There are many other useful
examples on the English Club pages above.
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