第358課: Prefixes

     Prefixes, 接頭語, are key to understanding hundreds of phrases in Japanese. If you are unable to find a word in a dictionary, it is probably because the word you are looking for has a prefix or a suffix.

What is a Prefix?

     A prefix attaches to the front of words to add a given meaning. Different from suffixes, a prefix will never change the part of speech of a word. In terms of etymology, there are three kinds of nouns in Japanese: native, Sino-Japanese, and loan word. Likewise, this also reflects in prefixes. However, nouns and prefixes are not limited to each other based on etymology.

Prefixes Attached to Nouns & Adjectives

     Although there are some that may have a few possible purposes, prefixes are generally one phrase definitions or are taught as such. The chart below illustrates the most common and easy prefixes you will see and should know in Japanese. Definitions of example words should show whether the word is a noun or an adjective.

 Prefix 仮名 Meaning(s) Examples
 亜 あ To apply to; sub-; semi- -ous acid 亜熱帯(あねったい) Subtropics
 相 あい TogetherAdds a formal nuance to a word. 相等(あいひと)しい Equal to each other
 空き あき Empty 空き缶(あきかん) Empty can
 空き瓶(あきびん) Empty bottle
 幾 いく How many? 幾久(いくひさ)しく Forever
 薄 うす Light 薄明(うすあ)かり  Dim light
 小 お Small; thin 小川(おがわ) Brook
 御 お See Lesson 127 
 大 おお Big; wide; a lotSubstantially; utmostRespectfully shows praise 大違(おおちが)い Completely different
 御 お(ん)み See Lesson 146 
 御 おん See Lesson 146 
 過 か Excessive 過保護(かほご) Over-protection
 各 かく Each 各国(かっこく) Every nation
 金 きん Placed before a money amount 金1000円(きんせんえん) Cash 1000 yen
 小 こ SmallShows scorn or hateAround 小雨(こさめ) Shower
 小賢(こざか)しい Smart-alecky
 御 ご See Lesson 146 
 再 さい Re- 再選挙(さいせんきょ) Reelection
 最 さい -est 最高級(さいこうきゅう) Top-class
 純 じゅん Pure 純愛(じゅんあい) Pure love
 準 じゅん Semi- 準決勝(じゅんけっしょう) Semifinal
 諸 しょ Every; all 諸国 (しょこく) Every nation
 新 しん New 新世界 (しんせかい) New world
 全 ぜん All; whole 全責任(ぜんせきにん) Full responsibility
 総 そう All 総利益 (そうりえき) Gross profit
 第 だい Number… 第3(だいさん) Number 3
 大 だい A degree, scale, or situation is severeExcellent; high in rank 大首都圏(だいしゅとけん) Greater metropolitan area
 築 ちく Years since construction 築5年 Five years since construction 
 超 ちょう Over- 超大国 (ちょうたいこく) Superpower
 当 とう This Our 当問題 (とうもんだい) This issue
 共 とも Together 共働き(ともばたらき) Both working
 初 はつ A firstFirst in the year 初霜(はつしも) First frost of the year
 反 はん Anti- 反政府(はんせいふ) Anti-government
 半 はん Half; incomplete; small 半ズボン(はんずぼん) Shorts
 非 ひ Un-; non-; an- 非公式(ひこうしき) Informal
 一 ひと One; a little
Shows a past time
 一時(ひととき) A time
 不 ふ Un-; non- 不必要 (ふひつよう) Unnecessary
 無・不 ぶ Un-; non- 無意識 (むいしき) Unconscious
 不可 ふか Can’t do 不可思議(ふかしぎ) Mysterious
 古 ふる Old 古本(ふるほん) Used book
 古新聞(ふるしんぶん) Used newspaper
 本 ほん This Real, true; main 本店(ほんてん) Home office
 真(ん・っ) ま(ん・っ) Really, genuine; right in the Relating animals 真ん丸 (まんまる) Perfect circle
 毎 まい Each time 毎年(まいとし) Every year
 豆 まめ Small 豆鉄砲(まめてっぽう) Popgun
 丸 まる Whole; all 丸キロ(まるきろ) Whole kilogram
 御 み See Lesson 146 
 未 み Not yet; un- 未完成 (みかんせい) Incomplete
 明 みょう The next 明後日 (みょうごにち) The day after tomorrow
 無 む Un-; non- 無意味(むいみ) Meaningless
 物 もの Whole thing feeling a certain way 物悲(ものがな)しい Melancholy
 諸 もろ All; both, together 諸刃(もろは) Double-edged
 手 て Strengthens meaning of an adjective. 手厚(てあつ)い Cordial
 手強(てごわ)い Formidable
 手緩(てぬる)い Lenient
 悪 わる UnpleasantTo go overboard 悪足掻(わるあが)き Useless efforts

Prefixes with Verbs

     Unlike for nouns, there aren’t that many prefixes that attach to verbs. Of the ones that do exist, there are often variants. Below is a chart that illustrates basically all the prefixes you’ll see before a verb in Japanese–there’s just not that many of them. 

Note: あい- from above may also be used with verbs. 

 Prefix 仮名 Meaning(s) Examples
 打ち うちA little 打ち明ける (うちあける) To confide
 押し おし To do strongly; to do purposelessly 押し上げる (おしあげる) To boost
 押っ おっ At once; with vigorStrong expression of chasingCompletely 押っつける (おっつける) To force 
 掻き かき To do all at once 掻き集める (かきあつめる) To scramble
 差し・っ さし・っ Completely; positively 差し伸べる (さしのべる) To reach out
 すっ すっ Strengthens meaning すっ飛ぶ (すっとぶ) To rush away
 立ち たち Strengthens meaning or emphasis 立ち向かう (たちむかう) To stand up to
 突き・っ・ん つき・っ・ん Strengthens the meaning of an action 突き刺す (つきさす) To stab
 取り・っ とり・っ Sets up and strengthens one’s emphasis 取り戻す (とりもどす) To recover; get back
 引き・っ・ん ひき・っ・ん Puts more stress on something 引き留める (ひきとめる) To keep back
 ぶち・ぶっ・ぶん ぶち・ぶっ・ぶん Strengthens the meaning of an action ぶち抜く (ぶちぬく) To break in
 吹っ ふっ To do well vigorously 吹っ飛ぶ (ふっとぶ) To blow off
 罷り まかり To strengthen one’s stress on something 罷り通る (まかりとおる) To be justified

Prefixes for Loanwords

     With the influx of foreign expressions, so have the amount of foreign prefixes. Below is a list of some of the most commonly seen prefixes for loan words in Japanese.

 Prefix Meaning(s) Examples
 アンチ Anti- アンチテーゼ Antithesis
 インター Inter- インターセプト Intercept
 ウルトラ Ultra- ウルトラマリン Ultramarine
 エレクトロ Electro- エレクトロニクス Electronics
 オート Auto- オートショー Auto-show
 グッド Good グッドデザイン Good design
 サンタ Saint サンタクロース Santa Claus
 スーパー Super- スーパーマーケット Supermarket
 セミ Semi- セミプロ Semipro
 トリプル Tri- トリプルプレー Triple play
 ネオ Neo- ネオコン Neo-con
 ノン Non- ノンストップ Nonstop
 パン Pan- パンアメリカニズム Pan-americanism
 プレ Pre- プレオリンピック Pre-olympics 
 ポスト Post- ポストモダニズム Post-modernism
 マクロ Macro- マクロウィルス Macro virus
 マイクロ Micro- マイクロチップ Microchip
 マルチ Multi- マルチタスキング Multitasking
  ミニ Mini- ミニカー Minicar
 ギガ Giga- ギガバイト Gigabyte
 キロ Kiro- キログラム Kilogram
 デカ Deca- デカグラム Decagram
 デシ Deci- デシミリ Decimeters
 テラ Tera- テラバイト Terabyte
 ナノ Nano- ナノメートル Nanometer
 ピコ Pico- ピコメートル Picometer
 フェムト Femto- フェムトメートル Femtometer
 ヘクト Hecto- ヘクトメートル Hectometer