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5.6: The Prefixes Spelled < un >

Difficulty Level: At Grade Created by: CK-12

1. A part of a written word that adds meaning to the word is called an element.

2. An element that cannot stand free as a word and that goes at the front of words is called a prefix.

3. A stem that can stand free as a word is called a free stem .

4. All of these words contain the same prefix:


What is the prefix in these words? un-.

5. Divide each of these six words into its prefix and free stem:

Word = Prefix + Free Stem
unable = un + able
unfinished = un + finished
unclear = un + clear
unworried = un + worried
unfriendly = un + friendly
untruth = un + truth
unoriginal = un + original
undecided = un + decided

6. Think about what the word unable means. Then think about what the word able means. What meaning do you think the prefix un- must mean in unable: “not,” “again,” “yesterday,” “more than one”? “not” Does un- seem to mean this same thing in the other five words? Yes.

7. Now look at these seven words:


What is the prefix in these words? un- Does the prefix have the same meaning in these words that it has words like unreal? No What does it seem to mean in these seven words: “again,” “more than one,” “yesterday,” or reverse?” reverse There are actually two different prefixes spelled <un>. The first un- means “not, oppositie”; the second means “reverse, remove.”

8. Divide each of these words into prefix, free stem, and suffix. Show any twinning or final <e> deletion:

Word = Prefix + Free Stem + Suffix
unannounced = un + announce + ed
undecided = un + decide + ed
unlocking = un + lock + ing
unlined = un + line + ed
uncolored = un + color + ed
undoing = un + do + ing
unmixed = un + mix + ed
unbuttoned = un + button + ed
untouched = un + touch + ed
unwrapping = un + wrap + p + ing
unbarred = un + bar + r + ed
unfolding = un + fold + ing

8. The prefixes spelled <un> mean two differenthings: “Not” and “Reverse”.

Word Find. The ‘UN’-shaped Find below contains the following thirty-two words, all of which begin with a prefix un-:

unable unannouncedunarmedunaskedunbaruncagedunclearuncoloreduncookeduncutundecidedundigestedundoundoneunexceptionalunfinishedunfitunfoldunfriendlyunlinedunlockunmixedunnamedunnoticedunoriginalunsettlinguntappeduntieuntoucheduntruthfulunworriedunwrap

Teaching Notes.

Items 3 and 7. It can be useful to ask the students how they figured out what the prefixes were in these words.

Item 7. Dictionaries distinguish between un1 “not” and un2 “reverse” primarily because they have different origins. Un1 “not” comes from the assumed Indo- European root *ne-, meaning “naught, never, no, none, nor” etc. Un2 “reverse” comes from the assumed root *ant- , from which also come the modern prefixes anti- and ante-, and the words antique and until. (For a good, very short introduction to the Indo- European sources of Modern English, see Calvert Watkins, “Indo-European and the Indo-Europeans,” The American Heritage College Dictionary , 1st,3rd and 4th eds. [Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1993]. As part of the etymological apparatus of the dictionary, Watkins presents an appendix listing assumed Indo-European roots, together with Modern English words that descend from each. The listing is very useful in tracking down relationships among modern words.) In Old English our un2 was spelled <on> but over the centuries its spelling changed, due to the influence of un1. The two prefixes are growing into one, due to the closeness of their form and meanings. Notice, for instance, that in the past tense verb unlocked un- means “reverse” (She unlocked the suitcase), but in the past participle unlocked it means “not” (The unlocked door swung open).

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Date Created:

Feb 23, 2012

Last Modified:

Jul 07, 2015
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