第301課: Prefixes

     Prefixes, 接頭語, are key into 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
  •  Together
  • Adds 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 lot
  • Substantially; utmost
  • Respectfully 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
  •  Small
  • Shows scorn or hate
  • Around

 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 severe
  • Excellent; 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 first
  • First 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
  •  Unpleasant
  • To 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 vigor
  • Strong expression of chasing
  • Completely
 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

Exercises

1. In terms of etymology, what are the three kinds of nouns?

2. What may prefixes attach to?

3. Try making your own words out of prefixes and give a definition. Then, check and see if the word is real by using online or book sources!