We keep on our series on expanding your Spanish vocabulary. Up to now, we have covered Spanish words which are similar to English words and English-Spanish false cognates.
In this lesson and the next one, we will cover frequently used prefixes and suffixes. The advantage of concentrating on them is twofold. First of all, learning these structures can help you improve your vocabulary quickly. Because, once you understand how one suffix or prefix works, you will be able to deduce the meaning of other words including the same suffix or prefix. Second, they are used by native speakers very frequently to make up new words to lead more creative conversations. You will not be able to find these words in dictionaries, but because you know how that suffix or prefix functions, you will understand what is meant. Moreover, in time, you can start to make up your own words.
A prefix is a word beginning. When it is attached to a word, the prefix adds to it a certain meaning. For example, as in English, prefix “pre” means “before” like in prehistory. There is a counterpart of this word in Spanish and it is “prehistoria”. Like this one, there are many other mutual prefixes in Spanish and English.
Let us review the most common ones with some examples.
In Spanish, there is an adjective called “mal”. And it means “bad”. The prefix “mal-“ has basically the same meaning as the adjective. It can be attached to verbs and participles.
- vender is “to sell” and malvender is “to sell at a loss”
- tratar is “to treat” and “maltratar” is “to mistreat”
- vivir is “to live” and “malvivir” is “to live badly/poorly
- avenido/-a is used to express how people get on. It’s always used with adverbs like “bien” or “mal”. It is possible to say
están mal avenidos they get on badly,
as well as write the two words together
están malavenidos they get on badly,
- pensado/-a is an adjective which is used to say how well or bad something is thought. Hence, malpensado means badly-thought.
It can mean over or very. Sobre can be attached to a noun as well as a verb.
- cargar is “to load” and sobrecargar is “to overload”
- abundar is “to be plenty” and sobreabundar is “to be very abundant”
- vivir is “to live” and “sobrevivir is “to survive”.
- (la) dosis “dose” and (la) sobredosis is “overdose”
- (el) peso is “weight” and (el) sobrepeso is “overweight”
- humano/-a is “human” and “sobrehumano/-a” “superhuman”
In Spanish, the preposition “con” means “with” or “together”. The prefix “con-“ has the same meaning.
- ciudadano/-a is “citizen” and conciudadano/-a is fellow citizen.
- acompañar is “to accompany”, compañía is “company”.
If “con-“comes before the letter b or p, it becomes “com-”. For example; composición (composititon).
In some cases, it the “n” is dropped. For example, “cooperar” (to cooperate).
This prefix can indicate excessiveness, negation or outside of something or to unfold.
- deslenguado/-a is “foul-mouthed”.
- a deshora is a fixed phrase which means “at an inconvenient time”.
- deshonesto/-a is “dishonest”.
- desplegar is to “dismiss”.
In Spanish there is a preposition which is called “ante”. It means before. The prefix ante- has a similar meaning.
It is important to notice that “ante-“ can mean before in time and as well as in space.
- anteayer: the day before yesterday
- antemano: beforehand
- anteponer: to place in front of
- (el) antebrazo: forearm
- (la) antecámara: waiting room
Other common prefixes
There are many other Spanish prefixes. Their meanings can be deduced from English language knowledge, because they are used in the same way.
For example; “bi”- is two, “anti-” is against, “contra-” is “counter, against”, “auto-“ is self, “homo-“ is same, “mono-“is one”, ex- is “former, ex”, poli- is “many”, pre is “before”, semi is “half”, seudo is “pseudo”, sub is “under”, uni is “one”, re is “again”.
Likewise super-, vice-, post-, a-, anfi-, anti-,dis-, hemi-, hiper-, hipo-, inter- are used as the way they are used in English.
You may find example words of these prefixes in the vocabulary section.
Learn some words made up of the prefixes covered in this lesson
reaccionar to react
(el) anfiteatro amphitheater
(el/la) vicepresidente/-a vicepresident
(el/la) postgraduado/-a postgraduate