Prefixes and suffixes are syllable stems, which when added to the beginning (prefix) or to the end (suffix) of the ‘root’ part of a word shape the meaning of the word in its entirety. Though this pattern/process you are to look for smaller words inside the word (root meaning) and identify common suffixes and prefixes to provide clues to what a word means.


A significant number of words, particularly academic words, in English are derived from Latin and Greek. Most of the more challenging multi-syllabic words in English are derived from Latin and Greek. School texts used in years 3–9 contain approximately 88,500 distinct word families with the majority of the new words encountered in these texts of Greek and Latin origin.

Using root words to foster word consciousness as a generative element of word learning supports etymological spelling and also helps students learn to look inside words for familiar meanings in addition to familiar sounds.

Easier prefixes
Prefixes Definition Prefixes Definition
a-, ab-, abs- away, from in-, im-, il- not (negative)
ad- to, toward, add to pre- before
co-, com-, con-, col- with, together pro- forward, ahead
de- own, off, of re- back, again
di-, dif-, dis- apart, in different directions, not tra-, tran-, trans- across, change
ex- out eub- under, below
in-, im-, il- in, on, into (directional) un- not (negative)

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: word hunt

The students brainstorm a list of words they can find in classroom texts either print of digital texts. The list is read together after it is compiled. The teacher models looking for roots and to think about how the different parts of a word (beginning, middle, end OR prefix, base, suffix) all work together to generate meaning. Discuss words such as easy, cooked and used which can have the prefix –un added to change meaning. Recreate sentences with substituted words. Discuss how meaning changes.

Activity 2

The students develop a list of words they can change with the prefix –un ~

The students verbalise how they recognised a new meaning by saying statements such as:

“If un- means not, what does unhappy mean?” “If un- means not, what does unchanged mean?”

Further prefixes to explore using Latin and Greek meanings:

Definition Latin prefixes Greek prefixes
under, below sub- hypno-
over super-, sur- hyper-
against contra-, contro-, counter- anti-
many multi- poly-
around circu-, circum- peri-

Activity 3

Repeat with suffixes – Easy suffixes can be introduced next, in a similar manner.

~er, [more],
~est [most/very];
~ful, [full of];
~less [without])

The students develop a list of words they can change with the suffix – ~less

The students verbalise how they recognised a new meaning by saying statements such as:

"If ~less- means without, then what does armless mean?” “If ~ful means full of, then what does armful mean?”

Activity 4: divide and conquer

Start with a list of approximately 10 words that have the same prefix (e.g. for the prefix re–: replay, rewind, reboot, recycle, redo, review, remind, recall, restate, and resell).

Read the words orally with the students. Have students choose one or two words from the list, identify the two basic units to each word, and speculate about what each means. As students offer explanations, reinforce the critical meaning of the prefix. Help students understand that meaning of the full word is obtained through the relationship of the base word with the prefix.

On an IWB or chart, as well as on individual student sheets, have students list each complete word, divide each into component parts (prefix and root), and then provide a personal definition for each word. An example follows:

  • replay, re + play, to play again.
  • reboot, re + boot, to start a computer again.
  • review, re + view, to look at once more.

Activity 5: word spokes and word charts

Begin the lesson by reviewing the roots or affixes that are the topic for the week, focusing on their essential meaning. Remind students, for example, that re– used as a prefix means “again” or “back”. Then, working alone, in small groups, or as a whole class, have students brainstorm words that contain the re– prefix and list them at the end of the spokes on the word spoke chart or paper. In addition to words used in the Divide and Conquer lesson, encourage students to think (or search) for other words, such as revisit, reenergize, or relocate.

Once the word spokes chart is developed guide students in a discussion of the meanings of the words.

Activity 6: word sorts

Three types of word sorts are useful to learn spelling: sound sorts (e.g. sorting by rhyme, number of syllables), pattern sorts (e.g. sorting by word families, rimes, vowel and consonant sounds), and meaning sorts (e.g., sorting by homophone, roots, stems, and affixes) are interesting, and fun because they involve hands–on and manipulative activities. Teacher or student made manipulatives (cards or interactive whiteboard activities) can be developed using individual or class spelling lists.


Australian curriculum

ACELA1513: Expressing and developing ideas: Understand how to use banks of known words, as well as word origins, prefixes and suffixes, to learn and spell new words.

NSW syllabus

EN3-4A: Outcome 4: draws on appropriate strategies to accurately spell familiar and unfamiliar words when composing texts (EN3-4A) - Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features: understand how to use banks of known words, word origins, base words, suffixes and prefixes, morphemes, spelling patterns and generalisations to learn and spell new words, for example technical words and words adopted from other languages.

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