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Learn French Vocabulary: Understanding Prefixes & Suffixes

November 12, 2021

Learn French Vocabulary: Understanding Prefixes & Suffixes

Student Writing (French Vocabulary)

If you’ve been trying to learn French vocabulary, you may have noticed repeated beginnings or endings in French words? These are French prefixes and suffixes, and in today’s article French tutor Tyler S. breaks down everything you need to know so you can become a master French speaker…

Whether you are just starting out on your French language journey or you’re looking to expand your current knowledge of this romantic language, it’s important to understand French suffixes and prefixes.

But, what exactly are suffixes and prefixes? Why must we use them? And most importantly, how do we properly use them in a sentence? Read on to learn more. And, don’t miss our handy lists of French prefixes, suffixes, and common vocabulary words to help you master this beautiful language.

Why is it Important to Learn French Prefixes and Suffixes?

Prefixes and suffixes save us time and energy when learning French vocabulary and using the language. Instead of using multi-word phrases, prefixes and suffixes help us be informative and concise in language. This is helpful both in spoken and written communication because you can use fewer words to make your point. In this case, less is more. 

For example, it’s much easier to attach the prefix “a-“ to the beginning of “typical” to form the word “atypical” than it does to express the equivalent meaning in the multi-word phrase “the opposite of typical”. You’ll find plenty of examples of these French opposite adjectives as you dive into this language. After all, why use more words when simply adding an extra letter or two will do the trick?

French is a great example of a language that’s rich with prefixes and suffixes that are derived primarily from Latin and Greek.  If you are at all familiar with these ancient languages, you will begin to recognize French words with Latin roots and Greek ones, too.

If you want to clearly understand French vocabulary and learn how to speak French with precision, learning to use prefixes and suffixes is a must! This article will provide you with a quick reference for the most commonly used French prefixes and suffixes so that you can continue to master French à l’aise (with ease). 

Once you get comfortable with these elements of French vocabulary, you’ll be unstoppable when it comes to speaking and writing the language.

The Basic Rule: Categorize Nouns, Adjectives, and Verbs

French prefixes have a specific category (nouns, adjectives, and verbs) of words they can go with which you’ll see in the charts below. In every language around the world, words are composed of individual “building blocks” that combine to modify and create meaningful expressions. The first step is to be able to identify if a given French word falls into the noun category, the adjective category, or the verb category. 

This is vital to learn because, in French vocabulary, words have rules for which suffixes or prefixes can combine with each of the three categories. If one aspect is missing, or if you use one incorrectly, it won’t equate to the correct meaning. 

For example, the suffix -able in English may only attach to some verbs such as the verb “do”. We combine the two to get do + able = doable. You cannot merely attach -able to any word in English, and the same rule applies in French. In many ways, English and French are close relatives because their usage of prefixes and suffixes are historically linked. Because of this, you may have an easier time understanding French suffixes and prefixes if you are already fluent in English. 

You might also be interested in: 25 Conversational French Phrases Every Beginner Should Know [Audio]

French Prefixes

Let’s take a look at a list of French prefixes that are the most common, the category of words it goes with (nouns, adjectives, or verbs), the prefix meaning, and examples of each prefix in a word.

Prefix Root Type Prefix Meaning Example(s)
a, an adjective without, opposite of atypique, anallergique
anté noun, adjective before, in front of antérieur
anti- noun, adjective opposite of, against antidater
auto- noun, adjective by itself, auto autobiographique
béné, bien adjective, verb good bénéfique, bienfaisant
contra, contre noun not, opposite of contraception, contrenquête
dé, dés, dis verb not separate from débrancher, désobeir, disculper
dys noun, adjective difficult, trouble with dyslexie
en, em verb into, in enfouir, embarquer
ex, ef, é noun, adjective, verb outside of exhumer, effeuiller, épiler
In, im verb into, in Insérer, immigrer
in, im, ir, il adjective not, opposite of incertain, illicit, irrégulier, impossible
mé, més, mal, mau noun, adjective, verb bad, mis- méconnaitre, mésentente, malheureux, maudit
pré- noun, adjective before préhistoire
re, ré, ra, r verb repeatedly, multiple, times refaire, redire,