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Word Formation: Negatives

Negative prefixes can be used with nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. For example: disapproval,
disapprove, disapproving, disapprovingly.

Words that take a– as a negative prefix always begin with a consonant: apolitical, asexual, atheist.

Words that take dis– as a negative prefix may begin with a vowel or a consonant: disagree, discomfort,
dismount, disorient.

Words that take il– as a negative prefix often begin with the letter l: illegal, illegible, illiterate, illogical (but
not always, e.g. unlikely).

Words that take im– as a negative prefix usually begin with the letter m or p: immobile, immoral, imperfect,
impossible, impatient (but not always, e.g. unpleasant).

Words that take in– as a negative prefix can begin with a vowel (except i or u) or a consonant: inaccurate,
ineligible, inorganic, indecent, insane.

Note: There are many words that begin with in– that are not words with a negative prefix. For example:
incline, indulge, insist, invoke.

Words that take ir– as a negative prefix often begin with the letter r: irrational, irreconcilable, irregular,
irresistible (but not always, e.g. unresponsive).

Words that take non– as a negative prefix may begin with a vowel or a consonant: nonconformist,
nonessential, nonfiction, nonsense.

Words that take un– as a negative prefix may begin with a vowel or consonant: unable, uninteresting,
unusual, uncomfortable, unhelpful, unprepared. If you can't remember, choose un - it's the most common
negative prefix.

Remember, not all words that appear to have a negative prefix are negative: alike, discuss, universe,
illuminate, important, involve, irrigate.

Usually -ful changes to -less (harmful - harmless) but not always (endless).

More examples:

un- in- dis- im- ir- mis- -less


unexpected inappropriate disapprove improbable irresponsible misbehave careless
unaware inefficient dislike impolite misunderstand helpless
unbelievable incapable disbelief misspell
unknown ineffective dishonest misuse