Love a Mystery? Here are Some Clues

girl with fan

I’ve always thought of those magic bits – prefixes – the beginnings of many words, as clues to the mystery of what in the world that word could mean.

For one example: You go to the doctor. Your doctor says you are suffering from hypothyroidism. Does that mean you will get a prescription and be taking thyroid pills for it?

For another: If someone tells you, “That was an atypical result.” What should you expect the next time?

Let’s look at a few common prefixes:

• Hypo – as in hypodermic, or hypothyroidism. The prefix “hypo” means “under.” So it’s easy to figure out that, for example, hypodermic means under the skin (“hypo”=under, and “derm”=skin).

In similar fashion, hypothyroidism must mean that you have under (or less than) the required amount of thyroid. Your doctor could decide to write you a prescription.

• Under is also a prefix that means beneath. For example, underground, or underlayment.

• Hyper – as in hyperactive. The prefix “hyper” means “over or above.”

• A (as well as “an”) means not, or without. So, if you got an atypical result, you would not necessarily assume you would get the same result next time. In fact, it would be “atypical” if you did!

(Note that il, ir, in, and im also mean “not.” For examples, illegal, irregular, incorrect, and immoral.)

• Ante means “before,” as in antedate, or anteroom. But note that:

• Anti means “against” as in anticommunist. “Ant” also means “against,” as in antacid.

• Multi and Poly both mean “many,” as in multiply, or multiform; or polygon (a figure with many sides.)

• Extra and Extro mean “beyond, or “outside.” Examples are extraordinary, extrovert, and extracurricular.

Numbers also come into play. For example:

• Deca means “ten,” e.g., decade.

• Di means “two, or twice,” e.g., divide, dioxide, ditto.

• Hex means “six,” e.g., hexagon, a six-sided figure.

Words can be fun to investigate – to put the clues together to solve the mystery. First, of course, comes the prefix. “Pre” meaning “before.” The prefix, depending on its meaning, has the power to change the intent, or the sense of the root, or base word.

Next comes the root – the base on which to build other words. We’ve mentioned a few of the root words in the examples above. Finding the root of the word is a major clue to solving the word meaning mystery. We’ll save that for another discussion.

The final clues come with the suffix. This final bit at the end of the word (e.g., “ly,” “ology,” “al”), can be very helpful in telling what kind of a word it is – a noun, adverb, adjective, and so forth – as well as adding to the reader’s understanding of the meaning of the word.

There you have the clues to solve the mystery. Happy sleuthing!

We invite you to subscribe to our blog, and to our newsletter.

Gail Tycer offers business writing workshops and presentations, executive coaching, consulting, and writing services. To discuss how we can help, call Gail at 503/292-9681, Toll-free at 888-634-4875 or email