Negative prefixes

Negative statements are the opposite of affirmative statements. In English, one way to make negative statements is by adding negative prefixes to nouns, adjectives, and verbs. Here are some English negative prefixes: a-, dis-, il-, im-, in-, ir-, non-, un-.

Read lesson
 * en español
 * en français

For example, the prefix un- can be attached to the adjective happy to create the negative adjective unhappy. Or you can use the negative adverb not. Note that there is no difference in meaning between these two forms.

affirmative   negative
negative prefix   not
Tom is happy. Tom is unhappy. Tom is not happy.

Words that take a- as a negative prefix always begin with a consonant.

affirmative   negative
political apolitical
sexual asexual
theist atheist

Words that take dis- as a negative prefix may begin with a vowel or a consonant.

affirmative   negative
agree disagree
comfort discomfort
mount dismount
orient disorient

Words that take il- as a negative prefix always begin with the letter l.

affirmative   negative
legal illegal
legible illegible
literate illiterate
logical illogical

Words that take im- as a negative prefix always begin with the letter m or p.

affirmative   negative
mobile immobile
moral immoral
perfect imperfect
possible impossible

Words that take in- as a negative prefix can begin with a vowel (except i or u) or a consonant.

affirmative   negative
accurate inaccurate
eligible ineligible
organic inorganic
decent indecent
sane insane

Note: There are many words that begin with in- that are not words with a negative prefix. For example:

word   does not mean
incline not cline
indulge not dulge
insist not sist
invoke not voke

Words that take ir- as a negative prefix always begin with the letter r.

affirmative   negative
rational irrational
reconcilable irreconcilable
regular irregular
resistible irresistible

Words that take non- as a negative prefix may begin with a vowel or a consonant.

affirmative   negative
conformist nonconformist
essential nonessential
fiction nonfiction
sense nonsense

Words that take un- as a negative prefix may begin with a vowel or consonant.

affirmative   negative
able unable
interesting uninteresting
usual unusual
comfortable uncomfortable
helpful unhelpful
prepared unprepared

Remember, not all words that appear to have a negative prefix are negative.

word   does not mean
alike not like
discuss not cuss
universe not iverse
illuminate not luminate
important not portant
involve not volve
irrigate not rigate

Related Lessons:

Read lesson
 * en español
 * en français

More English Lessons
Subscribe to the free weekly newsletter
Abónese al boletín informativo semanal gratuito
Abonnez-vous au bulletin hebdomadaire gratuit