How We Teach Prefixes

How We Teach Prefixes - All About Learning Press

You know what a prefix is. And you might even be able to explain what a prefix is.

But do you know how to teach prefixes?

An understanding of prefixes is an important step toward proficient reading and spelling. This mini teaching guide will fill your teaching toolkit with tricks and tips that will help your children master this skill and become better readers and spellers.

So what is a prefix?

A prefix is a word part that is placed in front of a base word. A prefix usually changes the meaning of the base word. Take a look at the example below.

Think about the word happy. The prefix un placed in front of the word happy makes a new word with a new meaning—unhappy. The prefix un means not, so it changes the meaning of the word happy to not happy.

un + happy = unhappy

The Two Most Common Prefixes

The most common prefixes are un and re. These two prefixes are the most useful for beginning spellers to learn because they appear frequently and their meanings are easy to understand and remember.


Un means not (unhappy = not happy) or the reverse of or opposite of (as in untie).

3Re means again (redo = do again) or back (as in repay).

When teaching a skill, it helps to identify a few easy-to-remember tips that simplify the application of a skill. The tips below can make remembering how to add prefixes much easier for your child.

Handy Tips for Adding Prefixes

  • The spelling of the base word never changes. Simply add the prefix to the beginning of the base word, as in the word unhappy.
  • Be aware that double letters can occur. If you add the prefix un to natural, both the prefix and the base word retain their original spelling. The result is unnatural. Take a look at these other words where double letters occur:
    il + logical = illogical im + mature = immature il + legal = illegal un + necessary = unnecessary
    Other examples: unnoticeable, illiteracy, immaterial, immeasurable, immigrant, immobile, immoral, dissatisfy, disservice, dissimilar, dissolve, irreconcilable, irredeemable, irreducible, irregular, irrelevant, irreparable, irresistible, irresponsible, misspoke, misspell, misstep
  • Watch out for prefix look-alikes. Some words contain the same string of letters as a prefix, but upon closer examination you’ll find that they are not prefixes. The re in real is not a prefix.
    Other examples include: uncle, pretty, press, interest, reach, irony, dish, and antique.

A prefix is usually added directly to the base word, but sometimes a hyphen is needed. Following are six common rules for adding a hyphen between the prefix and the base word.

6 Rules for Using Hyphens with Prefixes

  1. Hyphenate the word when you add a prefix before a proper noun or a numeral.
    Examples: un-American, pre-1980
  2. Hyphenate the word when you add the prefix ex meaning former.
    Example: ex-president (Do not use a hyphen if ex means out of or away from, as in expel.)
  3. Hyphenate after the prefix self.
    Examples: self-respect, self-assured, self-control
  4. Hyphenate to separate two a’s, two i’s, or other letter combinations that might cause misreading or mispronunciation.
    Examples: ultra-ambitious, anti-intellectual, co-worker
  5. A hyphen may be used to separate two e’s or two o’s to improve readability or prevent mispronunciation.
    Examples: co-opt and co-owner vs. coordinate; de-emphasize vs. reenter
    (Note that many words with double e’s used to be hyphenated as a general rule, as in re-elect, re-establish, and pre-existing. However, current style manuals and dictionaries now tend toward “closing” the word except in cases where readability is affected. Both versions are currently accepted and listed in most dictionaries.)
  6. A hyphen is sometimes used after the prefix re to prevent misreading or confusion with another word.
    Examples: re-cover vs. recover, as in Re-cover the boat when you recover from the flu. re-lay vs. relay, as in Please relay the message that they will re-lay the tiles.

Activities for Learning Prefixes

By now you’ve probably realized that we take prefixes very seriously here at All About Reading and All About Spelling. And though this guide to prefixes may seem like a lot of information, you need to know that we don’t dump all of this info on your child at once. We teach just one small concept at a time, incrementally.

Here are a few prefix activities that you can try with your children.

  • Practice adding prefixes to base words to form new words. Start with a common prefix such as re and have students add the prefix to simple base words. Words for this activity can be written on index cards or slips of paper. Be sure to discuss the meanings of the new words. Once students are comfortable with the activity, they can practice combining other prefixes and words. re + do = redo re + build = rebuild re + open = reopen re + think = rethink re + fill = refill re + pay = repay re + make = remake re + move = remove re + place = replace re + turn = return
  • Use Word Trees to explore prefixes in a novel way. Working with Word Trees helps students see the patterns of and relationships between hundreds of words.
  • Create a prefix list. Start with a few examples and have students add to the list as they discover words with prefixes. Discuss the meanings of the words on the list as they are added.

To get you started, here’s a list of 90 prefixes you can download and print.

How We Teach Prefixes - from All About Learning Press

Would you like to look inside some of our lessons on prefixes?

Download Lesson 35 from All About Reading Level 3 to see how we teach prefixes in our reading program.

Download Step 5 from All About Spelling Level 4 to see how we teach prefixes in our spelling program.

Was this post helpful to you? Visit more of our “how to” posts!

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Leave a Comment

Anosha wissundara


Thanx a lot. ….you helped me lot

Lessa Smith Croley, MS,CCC-SLP


This is a great resource.

thanks prefixes you help me



We r studying this right now in AAR3. Love it!

Melinda Ryan


Yeah, this practical resource will help sell the active teaching of prefixes to our teachers.

Christina Smit


Thank you for the great teaching tips.



Thank you so much for creating such a wonderful curriculum that successfully teaches every aspect of reading and spelling – even prefixes! We love it!

Anne J


Great suggestions – thank you!



This is helpful and interesting. I am using pre reading and loving it. I think we are sticking with this for the long haul. Thank you!



We have been struggling with prefixes right now. Thanks for the info!

You are welcome. Let us know if there is any specific concepts are causing the struggles that aren’t covered fully here.

Martha England


Love this. Thanks!

Jill Morris


I’m learning more from your posts than I learned in public school!



Thanks for this! Bookmarking for when we’re studying prefixes.



Great ideas! thanks!



This makes prefixes so much more clear for me, which makes it in turn more clear for the kiddos. Thank you!

Audrey J.


This is helpful. Thanks.



This is very helpful! We have gone over a few Latin stems as prefixes in Language, but this makes it more clear. Thank you!

You’re welcome, Sherry. I hope you find it very helpful with your students.

pam havens


You guys make teaching easier thank you



So helpful. Thank you!

Alicia Kayser


Thank you. These are great tool for us that learn at home!



Thank you for sharing this great tip and also for the free list of prefixes..

christina davis


I love this program and love learning things that I don’t remember learning in school!

Sheila C


I love the All About Spelling program. My son is becoming a great speller and I’m learning things I never knew about spelling rules, too.



I am looking forward to include the All About Spelling in my classroom in order to assist my struggling students with an alternate approach.
Thank you.

This sound great! Let us know if we can help in any way. For example, we have a pdf document that discusses implementing All About Spelling in a classroom setting. If you email us at support@allaboutlearningpress.com, we can email it back to you.



This is our first year homeschooling and I can’t say enough about All ABout Reading. My son who used to have tears when it came to reading is now saying that reading is his favorite subject. Thanks you s o much for this awesome program!

This is wonderful! It really feels all of us here at AALP with joy to hear that we are helping to make this kind of difference in students! I’ll be sharing this with the whole team. Thank you.

Carmen Magargee


Thank you for the helpful information!



Thanks for the list and the information!



I keep hearing great things about this program. I can’t wait to try it out!

Sharon Pine


Yes, I think we would benefit from this.

Kim D


Yes and yes!



Great advice! Thanks!!!



This is good information! Very easy to understand in order to teach in a way that is also easy to understand. Thank you!



This is actually really important “word work,” and many students need to first come to grips with the fact that a prefix always comes before a word to extend or change its meaning. I like to have them learn the meanings of the prefixes, then try to create some of their own new words. I find that very often suffixes and spelling give them way more trouble, and starting with prefixes makes good sense.

Yes! We teach prefixes first, because they are simpler to learn and set the students up for understanding suffixes and the more complex rules about adding suffixes.

Robyn D


Yes! Love the prefix game. A good handle on prefixxes and suffixes helps so much with later reading comprehension, as well.



I also categorize ing and est, among others, as suffixes becuz they change the root word often. So the student encounters suffixes early too. It’s an intro only, but the terms become less scary the more you use them. Half the battle of any subject is the terminology. Here it’s the “grammar” of grammar lol but say, in biology, once you know the grammar–the terms, you’re a huge distance ahead.



I just received my first All-About-Learning product, today! I am so excited to start your spelling program with my 3rd grade daughter. Thank you for all your wonderful products and ideas. I know this info on teaching prefixes will come in handy!

Sarah H


Thank you. I absolutely love this blog, it is a valuable source which helps me to improve my homeschool outcomes.

Gail Timmer


I am so happy that I looked at All
About Reading. It fits perfectly into my thoughts on teaching reading and spelling. It is like finding a good friend!

Thank you VERY much for your excellent lesson plans and worksheets. I really appreciate your teaching resources and advice. I plan to use the vocabulary and spelling lessons with my adult ESOL students as well as adapt them for my K-2 students! Thanks, again, for sharing your work!

You are welcome. Thank you for all you do!



Excited to try the flippers with my daughter!



No-one taught me this, and I am excited to share it with my student. Thank-you very much for the information

Juli Vrotney


This is so needful. Thank you.

Lorraine Douglas


Thanks for sharing. It is great to have all this information in one place.

Rachel Forbes


This makes sense!

As a high school English teacher I see little things like this all of the time. It’s crazy. Thanks for sharing!

Sarah Marie


This is very, very helpful for both reading and spelling! Thank you for the handy list!

Noemi Enriquez


Thank you for this. Although I am not homeschooling my kids, I am always on the lookout on materials I can use to enrich their learning.

While most of our customers are homeschoolers, not all are. We aim to help parents, teachers, and tutors help their students, regardless of their schooling choices. Enjoy this lesson!

Brenda F.


My daughter and I just started AAS book 4. We’ll be tackling prefixes in a few weeks. Thanks for the tips and chart.

Bethany Bechtold


You’ve made it so much easier to understand when and when not to use a hyphen. Thanks!! We love AAR and AAS.



I love AAS! When I took my son out of public school, we started with level 1 and he has shown so much improvement! Thanks so much for these tips!

Christine Dean


These teaching tools have been a great help. We are new to homeschooling and it can be so overwhelming when you aren’t sure where to start or what to move on to next. Thanks again!



Thanks for sharing these teaching tools with us homeschoolers.



Thanks for all of the great extras that make your program even more user friendly!



Love this printable chart to keep for quick reference. Thanks!



I love your posts. My child with dysgraphia is doing so much better with your spelling program. The only concern I have is when I print your articles, like this one, it ALWAYS cuts off the last inch of the right column, which I hate. Your information is wonderful. Thanks for all the work you do.

Can you give us more details about this printing problem? I want our tech support to look into, but they will want to know what browser you are using and such. When you say print the article, do you mean the pdf in the article (the 90 prefixes pages), or do you print this blog post? I’m not sure what you mean by the right column either. Do you mean the side bar we have on the right that has links to other things, like our Dyslexia Resources page and Picture Book Review Library?

Hopefully, we can get this problem solved.

Laura N.


This was so helpful! I wish I had learned these as a kid!!



My daughter, who is 12 years old and has been recently diagnosed with Dyslexia. I am currently homeschooling her and she became very upset a couple of months ago when she was teased by first graders that she couldn’t spell. She asked me to teach her how to spell. The All About Spelling curriculum was recommended to me by my sister-in-law and I purchased Level 1. My daughter ABSOLUTELY LOVES THIS CURRICULUM! She asks to begin her day with Spelling! This curriculum has given her an excitement and the confidence to learn! I can’t begin to thank you enough for this curriculum!




Great information very concisely presented. Thanks!



All about Learning has been a game changer for me. In 1st grade my daughter was struggling to keep up in public school. Her self-confidence had been squashed and every subject was tears and hopelessness. My husband and I decided to bring her home and homeschool her. I started her with level 1 and now, 2 years later, she loves to read and spell because she gets it. Thank you for all you do.

Thank you so much for sharing your daughter’s reading and spelling success with us!



Wow this is so helpful, thank you!



I would like to know if I need to have all about reading to correlate with all about spelling? I used prek and level 1, and then found my children no longer needed help or training in reading, do to a classical method I use. We love the book readers. If the readers have the same words as the spellers I would like to know.I want to be fully prepared and fully backing up everything am doing.

You do not need to correlate your work in All About Reading with All About Spelling. There is a lot of overlap between the two, but it is best to allow the student to work at their own unique pace in each. Most children move faster in reading, but need more time to master spelling. This article, Why We Teach Reading and Spelling Separately, explains this further. This article, What’s the Difference Between AAR & AAS?, goes a step further and includes sample lessons from each program showing how they approach the concept of words with the KN phonogram differently.

I hope this helps, but please let me know if I can give more information.

Evelyn Barge


The information is informative and concise. Just the way I like it.

Sarah Jackson


We just started AAR and my son loves it! I can’t wait to get into AAS too!

Renee Seats


Thanks for this great post. I love your program.

Mahmoud Sultan


Thank you very much for your kind and constructive efforts

Maria Martinez


Great lesson, thank you Marie!



Thanks for the list of pre fixes. It will be very helpful for all age in our house.



Thanks so much! You always have the best bonus resources!

Kerrie Craig


Thank you, this will help!

Amanda Carnes


This is so awesome to try new things when homeschooling. I love doing hands on with my children and using visuals to capture their attention.

T. McD.


Thank you for the Prefix list. My child took a school test and there were some questions on prefix. Unfortunately he didn’t know it, and it made me feel so bad. This list came just on time! I am going to work on them with him. Your blog posts are very helpful.

You’re welcome! I think if you work through the information in this post that your child will have a better understanding of prefixes than most. I’m glad it was timely for you.



It feels odd or bad that I don’t remember ever being taught this in school. I understand the general principle, but I don’t have any memory of lessons on it.



We excited to use AAR 2 and AAS1 this fall. Thank you for the explanation and the list. I actually was unaware of the 6 Rules for Using Hyphens with Prefixes.

I know! I learned a thing or two in this blog post as well!

Robyn D


Great resource list! Excellent guide for teaching prefixes. Thanks for sharing.



My son enjoys the AAS lessons and is really learning a lot!

Colleen Hosey


Thanks for the ideas. I didn’t realize there were so many prefixes. We will be starting on them next week.

Stephanie Miller


I love AAS. It has really helped my dyslexic daughter with her spelling and reading!

Sarah Rottman


Thank you for the great ideas!

Missy Wainman


So excited to start AAR soon! Just ordered it and got confirmation of it being shipped. Looking forward to adding AAS to our routine too! Level 1 would be great!

Jaime Schmidt


Thanks for the list and review of how to teach prefixes! Discussing the meaning of the prefix helps :)

Melissa G


This could definitely make things easier!

Dee Neal


Love all about reading! Using it right now with my 3rd grader & will begin level 1 with my 1st grader in the fall. Would love to win all about spelling level 1 for my 1st grader! :)



I don’t recall ever being taught prefixes, but I think my students will really benefit from it!

Angela Roman


I love all about learning!



Love All About Reading. Thanks for all the great tips!



Great tips! Love this!

Cher Adams


Thank you so much for making my children AND me love reading and spelling lessons!



Tons of great tips, thank u!

Paige Newcomb


I love your tips



I love your blog posts explaining things like this! There’s going to be a lot of learning happening around here – and not just the kids! I’m actually looking forward to learning this (over again) for myself!



love the list! This will be a great help!



Can’t wait to try this out.

Tracy Kocsis


this is a fabulous resource to use both at school and when homeschooling my own children. Thanks so much!

I just printed this out to use with a small group of kids I work with. I know that recognizing suffixes quickly is the best first step to help the words to “fall apart” in front of their eyes into meaningful parts instead of just a jumble of meaningless/confusing letters.



Thank you for the resources! New customer here. :)



Thank you for all the resources you provide that help augment and support the program! I am only three weeks into the homeschooling adventure, and I am so grateful my friend and neighbor shared your program with me. The light bulbs going off in my 2nd grader’s head are 100 watts, for sure! She has had an articulation disorder since age 3, so spelling has always been her Achilles heel, since she pronounced words differently. Segmenting and rules are simple as when to use /c/ and /k/ to produce the /s/ sound have been life savers for both of us. This is one more tool that I am confident will aid in her success. Thank you, sincerely.

I’m so glad we can be a help and support to you as you begin your homeschooling journey! Please let us know if we can help you in any way.

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