Practice and Play with Negative Prefixes

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.

Picture of a worried detective imagining an explosion, with a short story using negative prefixes. He decoded a message that a bomb will explode unless he can deactivate it immediately.

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!

7 examples of negative prefixes, most from the Academic Word List: inaccurate, unachievable, deactivated, inadequate, disaffected, unaffected, misaligned.Some Adjectives with Negative Prefixes

Word Play

A person can be irresolute (unsure) about what to do for an unresolved problem.

It’s irresponsible to leave an unresponsive (unconscious) person unattended.

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 irreversible.”

Negative Prefix and Collocation Practice

Collocations are words that are frequently used together. Many combinations are so common that people expect to 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 best fit.

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.



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.

There’s more about these prefixes and others at Negative Prefix List. You might also be interested in Adjective Matching Games (also using vocabulary from the Academic Word List) or other TOEFL & IELTS Vocabulary (below). Or try some other ESL quizzes or tests.

Home> TOEFL & IELTS Vocabulary > Practice Negative Prefixes.

Didn't find what you needed? Explain what you want in the search box below. (For example, cognates, past tense practice, or 'get along with.') Click to see the related pages on EnglishHints.

site search by freefind advanced

New! Comments

What do you think about what you just read? Leave me a comment in the box below.
Enjoy this page? Please share it (link to it.) Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.