Jul 15, 2022 | Posted by Jennifer

If you are a logophile and the thought of digging into the technicalities of the English language energizes you, then today’s blog is for you! In the blog post “Meet the Mighty Morpheme,” I presented the idea of breaking down longer words into their respective meaningful components, known as morphemes. These components include free morphemes (which can appear as a word all on their own, e.g., star and cord) and bound morphemes (which need to be combined with other morphemes in order to make sense, e.g., “ject” or “ing”). Bound morphemes include roots that come primarily from Latin, Greek combining forms, and affixes, i.e., prefixes and suffixes. When teachers help their students to recognize the morphological elements hiding within longer words, they are proverbially “teaching them to fish versus feeding them a fish.” In other words, as students become proficient in recognizing various morphemes, they will begin to notice that these morphemes appear in a broad variety of words, will be able to consider the meanings of the respective morphemes, and will have scaffolding upon which to pin comprehension.

In today’s blog post, I wanted to focus on one particular type of morpheme: prefixes, specifically assimilated prefixes. Sometimes referred to as “chameleon prefixes,” these morphological units stealthily blend into their surroundings, taking on a characteristic of the base word they connect with. The meaning of the prefix, however, is maintained across the permutations. To get us started, let’s take a peek at an example: the prefix ad, which means “to or toward.” Depending upon the base word it’s connected to, the prefix assimilates to the base, which makes it easier to pronounce. Let’s look at how this plays out by looking at some examples. Although adjusted to accommodate the base, the prefix appears in all of these words listed below:











If you will spend a bit of time looking over the list, you will notice that in almost every case, the prefix’s final letter corresponds to the first letter of the base. The exception to this is with the prefix ad-, which is the default prefix for all other bases that begin with letters outside of <c>, <f>, <g>, <l>, <n>, <p>, <r>, <s>, and <t>. This particular collection of assimilated prefixes is quite large; in others the list is much more compressed.

How does recognizing assimilated prefixes assist our students? In addition to assisting in comprehension, it also helps in spelling. Recognizing a prefix’s meaning in a word supports students to spell it correctly when pronouncing the word is an unreliable way to accurately spell it. Recognizing a word’s blend of a base plus a prefix reminds the student to remember to double the consonant so that one appears with the prefix and one with the base.

By helping our students learn to identify the meaningful bits in words, we are assisting our students to recognize that English is a logically arranged system that demonstrates order and reliability and is not nearly as haphazardous as they might have imagined. It frees them up to begin a lifetime of fishing fun in the linguistic pond!

* The prefix ac- is also used with the letters <qu> (e.g., acquiesce).

Jennifer Mauser has always loved reading and writing and received a B.A. in English from the University of Kansas in 1991. Once she and her husband had children, they decided to homeschool, and she put all her training to use in the home. In addition to homeschooling her children, Jennifer teaches IEW classes out of her home, coaches budding writers via email, and tutors students who struggle with dyslexia.

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