How to Pronounce Prefixes

Identifying the main stress in a word is sometimes difficult. Fortunately, when it comes to prefixes this task becomes a little easier. Prefixes are letters which are added to the beginning of root words to create a new word, such as adding ‘im‘ to the word ‘possible‘ to create the word ‘impossible‘.

Most prefixes are unstressed.

The good news is most prefixes don’t change the stress of the words they can attach themselves to. So even if you’re talking about a child that ‘behaves‘ well or ‘misbehaves‘, the stress will remain in the same place (‘beˈhave’, ‘misbeˈhave’). As a rule of thumb, it is far more likely that prefixes will be unstressed than stressed. Have a listen to the recording for more examples of prefixes.

Prefixes are stressed when we want to make a contrast.

Sometimes prefixes are stressed when we want to emphasise a contrast between two opposite meanings. You might do this when you want to be 100% sure of what someone is telling you. Notice how the prefix is stressed in ‘misunderstood’.

A. I thought you underˈstood me?

B. No, I ˈmisunderstood you. 

A similar use of stress for contrast is used in the sentence below to show disagreement with what has been said:

A. What a ˈgraceful dancer he is! I wish I could dance like that.

B. Ha! Compared to Kandinsky he’s ˈdisgraceful rather than ˈgraceful.

Some prefixes are always stressed.

Some pairs of 2 syllable words that are spelt identically are stressed differently. Listen to the pronunciation of the word ‘discharge’ in the recording:

A. A dishonourable ˈdischarge is a huge disgrace for a soldier.

B. Never disˈcharge them without making sure they’ve got transport home.

As nouns these words will use first syllable stress and as verbs they will use second syllable stress. In fact there are many verbs and nouns which behave in this way, but they do not all have prefixes. Some that do are: ‘refill‘, ‘replay‘ and ‘imprint‘.