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Negation prefixes: un-, dis-, a-, in-, …

The prefix un is commonly used to negate a word, but is is quite rare with words that start with the letter p; the prefix im seems more common. For example:

  • Impossible
  • Implausible
  • Imperfect

But there are certain p words whose opposite is prefixed with un, such as:

  • Unpolluted
  • Unpolished
  • Unplugged

Is there any rhyme or reason as to when to use un versus when to use im?

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marked as duplicate by JSBձոգչ, Marthaª, Rhodri, MrHen, kiamlaluno Jul 13 '11 at 4:14

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2 Answers

I believe that the following other question will help you: Negation prefixes: un-, dis-, a-, in-, ....

In short, it shouldn't matter what letter a word starts with. What matters is where the word came from--its origin affects its proper negation. As the accepted answer (posted by Daniel) said,

In general, words take un- when they are of English (Germanic) origin and in- if they come from Latin. (The forms im-, il-, and ir- are variations on in-.) Apart from that, there’s really no good guide to which one you should choose.

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Simchona linked a good reference, but I do see a small difference in the examples you listed.

Polluted, polished, and plugged are all results of physical actions. Plausible, possible, and perfect are all conditions, or adjectives. It makes sense to me that they would be negated differently.

Done - Undone
Spent - Unspent
Paid - Unpaid
Pinned - Unpinned
Hinged - Unhinged

Proper - Improper
Movable - Immovable
Balanced - Imbalanced
Material - Immaterial
Measurable - Immeasurable

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