Spanish Prefixes: A Quick Guide


February 12, 2020

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Are you ready to get to know some prefixes? You’ll find them in so many Spanish words, and they’re really useful to know.

spanish prefixes

So, what is a prefix?

A prefix is a group of letters at the start of a word. In English, we have prefixes such as ‘un-’, ‘pro-’, and ‘anti-’. Sometimes they’re simply attached to the front of a word that already exists. Other times they’re combined with a part-word to make a whole word. 

Prefixes are basically the opposite of suffixes: they’re at the start of the word instead of the end.

If you take a basic Spanish word, such as decir (‘to say’), you can completely change its meaning by adding different Spanish prefixes.

See also: Spanish Suffixes: Diminutive, Augmentative, Pejorative and More!

decirto say
bendecirto wish well, to bless
maldecirto insult, to curse
predecirto predict

How are Spanish Prefixes Useful?

Knowing the main Spanish prefixes can help you in your learning.

  • If you know the prefixes, then you can easily work out words that you haven’t seen before. For example, if you know that pre- means ‘before,’ and decir means ‘to say,’ then you can figure out that predecir means something along the lines of ‘to say in advance,’ i.e. ‘to predict.’
  • Many have roots in Greek and Latin (which have influenced many modern languages around the globe). This means they can even help you to figure out the meaning of unknown words that you come across in other languages (including English sometimes)!
  • The great thing about prefixes is that they come at the beginning of the word, which means you don’t usually have to worry about them affecting the word endings (i.e. agreements, and verb endings for regular verbs). For instance, estimar and subestimar are conjugated with exactly the same verb endings. But with irregular verbs, you do have to be careful, as there might be some differences (what would Spanish be without irregular verbs?!).

The Main Prefixes in Spanish

This table summarises most of the Spanish prefixes you’ll ever need to know! Some of them you might recognize from English, or other languages that you know.

sobre-/super-over/superior, ‘over-’
hiper-over, superior, ‘hyper-’
sub-under, ‘sub-’
hipo-under, inferior, ‘hypo-’
pre-/ante-before, ‘pre-’
pos-/post-after, ‘post-’
pos-/post-after, ‘post-’
pro-for/in favor of, ‘pro-’
contra-against, ‘anti-’
anti-/a-/im-/in-/dis-/des-opposite, ‘anti-’ ‘a-,’ ‘im-,’ ‘in-,’ ‘dis-,’ ‘un-’
ex-outside, former, ‘ex-’
homo-same, ‘homo-’
con-/com-/co-with/together, ‘co-’
inter-between, ‘inter-’
entre-between, among
re-again, ‘re-’
seudo-false/not genuine, ‘pseudo-’
auto-self, ‘self-’
semi-half, ‘semi-’
uni-/mono-one, ‘uni-,’ ‘mono-’
bi-two, ‘bi-’
cent-hundred, ‘cent-’
poli-many, ‘poly-’
equi-equal, ‘equi-’

ben- (good)

beneficiarto benefit
Emilio es el benefactor más generoso.Emilio is the most generous benefactor.

mal- (bad)

malevolentemalevolent (kind of evil)
la malnutriciónmalnutrition
Espero que el tumor no sea malignoI hope the tumor is not malignant.
Good Bad

Image via Pixabay

sobre- (over)

la sobredosisoverdose
sobresalienteoutstanding (over and above expectations)
El camión se averió por el sobrepeso.The truck broke down because of the extra weight.

super- (over)

superarto surpass, overcome
el supermercadosupermarket
El profesor supervisó el examen.The teacher supervised (watched over) the exam.

hiper- (over)

el hipermercadohypermarket
Tomo pastillas porque sufro de hipertensión.I take tablets because I suffer from hypertension (high blood pressure).

sub- (under)

subterráneosubterrain (underground)
subrayarto underline
El tesoro subyace bajo la casa.The treasure lies underneath the house.

hipo- (under)

hipodérmicohypodermic (under the skin)
la hipotermiahypothermia (body temperature under normal safe levels)
La hipotensión puede causar desmayos.Hypotension (low blood pressure) can cause fainting.

pre- (before)

la prehistoriaprehistory (before records began)
el prefijoprefix (goes before the rest of the word!)
La pitonisa predijo mi divorcio.The fortune teller predicted my divorce.

ante- (before)

de antemanobeforehand
Tío, me he enamorado de una chica pero acabo de descubrir que tiene antecedentes penales. ¿Debería quedarme con ella?Dude, I’ve fallen for a girl but I’ve just found out she has a criminal record. Should I stay with her?

pos- (after)

posponerto postpone (change the date to later)
pospartopostnatal (after birth)
Me encanta el arte posmoderno.I love postmodern art.

post- (after)

la postproducciónpostproduction (part of filmmaking that happens after the recording)
Hablaremos de los problemas en una etapa posterior.We’ll discuss the problems at a later stage.

pro- (for)

Soy pro-equidad de género.I’m in favor of gender equality.

contra- (against)

la contrarrelojrace against the clock
contraatacarto counterattack
Soy contrario al abuso de los animales.I am opposed to/against/anti-animal cruelty.

anti- (opposite)

los anticuerposantibodies
antibacterianoantibacterial (kills bacteria)
Lee este artículo. Se trata de las nuevas leyes anticorrupción.Read this article. It’s about the new anti-corruption laws.

a- (opposite, not, absence)

apolíticoapolitical (no political stance)
Me gusta la asimetría de la parte de arriba del vestido.I like the asymmetry of the top part of the dress.

im- (opposite, not)

El vestido es bonito pero es muy impráctico.The dress is pretty but very impractical.

in- (opposite, not)

Voy a pasear al perro porque se está poniendo inquieto.I’m going to walk the dog because he’s getting restless.

dis- (opposite, not)

dislocarto dislocate
Intentaré disuadir a Juana de rendirse.I’ll try to dissuade Juana from giving up.

des- (undo)

desatarto untie
Me despidieron.I got sacked.

en- (in)

entregarto hand in
envolverto wrap
¿Cómo vamos a entrar en el edificio sin las llaves?How are we going to get into the building without the keys?

ex- (outside, former)

exportarto export (send out of the country)
el exmaridoex-husband (former husband)
—Sigo enamorada de mi ex.
—¿De cuál hablas?

I’m still in love with my ex.
Which one?

homo- (same)

el homófonohomophone (words that sound the same)
No bebo leche homogeneizada.I don’t drink homogenized milk.

con- (with, together)

convivirto live together
contenerto contain
En caso de incendio, nos concentraremos aquí.In case of fire, we’ll gather here.

com- (with, together)

combinarto combine
compartirto share
Mi madre siempre me compara con mis primos.My mother always compares me with my cousins.

co- (with, together)

cooperarto cooperate
colaborarto collaborate
Discutí con mi colega hoy.I argued with my coworker today.

inter- (between)

internacionalinternational (between nations)
intervenirto intervene (get involved, e.g. between two arguing friends)
Es muy útil la pizarra interactiva.The interactive whiteboard is very useful.

Image via Pixabay

entre- (between, among)

entremeterto meddle (e.g. between two arguing friends)
el entreactointermission (between parts of a stage show)
Tuve una entrevista en un restaurante.I had an interview at a restaurant.

re- (again)

recalentarto reheat
repetirto repeat
Inspector, rebobine la grabación. Oí algo.Inspector, rewind the recording. I heard something.

seudo- (false, not genuine)

el seudónimopseudonym (fake name, e.g. authors sometimes use pen names)
la seudocienciapseudoscience (looks like science but isn’t)
Hablas de algo que nunca pasó. Es un ejemplo de la seudohistoria.You’re talking about something that never happened. It’s an example of pseusdohistory.

auto- (self)

la autoestimaself-esteem
la autodisciplinaself-discipline
España tiene varias comunidades autónomas.Spain has various autonomous communities.

semi- (half)

semidesnudohalf naked
el semicírculosemicircle
Es un semidiós.He’s a demigod.

uni- (one)

el uniciclounicycle (one wheel)
Llevamos un uniforme para que se nos vea bien unidos.We wear a uniform so that we look united.

mono- (one)

monótonomonotonous (one tone)
el monopoliomonopoly
Me interesan los monocarriles y otros sistemas de trenes.I’m interested in monorails and other rail systems.

bi- (two)

la bicicletabicycle (two wheels)
El sistema binario utiliza el número 0 y el número 1.The binary system uses the number 0 and the number 1.

cent- (hundred)

el centenariocentenary
el centímetrocentimeter (a hundredth of a meter)
Tengo centenares de problemas que afrontar. Mejor me echo una siestecita.I have hundreds (figuratively zillions) of problems to deal with. I’mma take a nap.

poli- (many)

la poligamiapolygamy (having more than one spouse)
polideportivosports center (many sports in one place)
La fiesta es en la sala polivalente.The party is in the multipurpose hall.

equi- (equal)

Hoy se registra el equinoccio de primavera. El día y la noche duran lo mismo.Today is the spring equinox. The day and the night are the same length.


Quiz Q&A

Image via Pixabay

In each case below, we’ve given you a Spanish word with its English meaning. Then we’ve given you a related Spanish word, and we want you to figure out what it means!

    1. cubrir = to cover — descubrir = ??

       a. to recover

       b. to discover

       c. to go undercover

Click to reveal the correct answer:

    2. fino = fine (thin) — extrafino = ??

       a. superfine

       b. fine

       c. not fine

Click to reveal the correct answer:

    3. finalista = finalist — semifinalista = ??

       a. two finalists

       b. quarterfinalist

       c. semifinalist

Click to reveal the correct answer:

    4. nacer = to be born — renacer = ??

       a. to give birth again

       b. to be reborn

       c. to be born

Click to reveal the correct answer:

    5. cargar = to load — sobrecargar = ??

       a. to overload

       b. to underload

       c. to reload

Click to reveal the correct answer:

    6. importar = to import — exportar = ??

       a. to export

       b. to support

       c. a former importer

Click to reveal the correct answer:

    7. brazo = arm — antebrazo = ??

       a. anti-arm

       b. before the arm

       c. forearm

Click to reveal the correct answer:

¡Muy bien!

In this lesson, we’ve covered the meanings of many of the most common Spanish prefixes, and how to use them. Hopefully the examples have illustrated how they can often be super similar to the English ones, which makes life a lot easier!

¡Hasta pronto!

About the author 

Annabel is a language-enthusiast from the UK. She studied Spanish and French at the University of Southampton (with an Erasmus study year in Madrid!) and recently graduated. She has interests across the Spanish-speaking world, and is a fan of language in general.

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