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I am looking for a prefix to express the meaning of something possibly belonging to a class / category, or being a candidate for the concept in question.

For instance, a "[...]-solution" would be some statement or proposition that could be a solution for a given question, albeit its status of being so or not has still to be established. A "[...]-pathogen" would be a germ whose pathogenic character is still unclear; a "[...]-perpetrator" an alleged perpetrator and so forth. (Actually, I am mostly interested in a more abstract use of the prefix-root-combination).

The prefix should function in the same way as "pseudo-", "quasi-" etc. It would be nice to find something of Greek or Latin origin, but other proposals are fine as well.

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    Welcome to the site! I don't think there is such a prefix. Why not use an adjective? – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Oct 17 '13 at 16:34
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    You're talking about Modality here. Modals are very peculiar and there are so many of them because they're quite different in affordances and uses. As Cerberus suggested, it's more efficient to use an adjective, rather than depending on the vagaries of fossilized morphology. Luckily, there appears to be none. A likely/probably/possible/conceivable solution/perpetrator/pathogen expresses variation in expectation of likelihood (and doesn't allow the author to escape responsibility for the expectation). – John Lawler Oct 17 '13 at 17:18
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    @megob: Now I am wondering about the specific usage you have in mind and why you decided on it... – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Oct 17 '13 at 21:30
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    I know of no such prefix. I use the adjective putative for many such cases. – Colin Fine Oct 17 '13 at 22:57
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    Not a prefix, but scare quotes (and the accompanying intonation and gesture!) sometimes serve this role: The "pathogen" behind mad cow disease; the "perpetrator" was observed near the scene. Interestingly it's the very vagueness of these scare quotes that makes them so annoying, which makes me think that John L is on the right track in preferring something more specific (and thus more useful). – Merk Oct 19 '13 at 10:22
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The most common phrasing is simply using "possible". It isn't a prefix but it is rather clear:

This is a possible solution to our bug problem.

John Doe is a possible suspect in the ongoing mystery of the missing cheese.

It isn't as sexy as a prefix would be but English doesn't always offer us exactly what we want.

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Does or can 'would-be' accomplish what you want?

The online OED says 'would-be' is "often derogatory" and the only examples are of people who 'would-be' what they are not.

The OED I have installed on notebook has the same definition but without the example, and without saying it is often derogatory. (My local and the online version are usually identical.)

M-W gives the definition as "desiring, intending, professing, or having the potential to be "

"Would-be" does usually refer to a person -- basically, an older form of 'wannabe' -- but there's no reason it couldn't be used (at least with a bit of anthropomorphic license) to describe the potential of an inanimate thing to be something it has not yet proven itself to be. In this case, because the word is typically association with a person, it also subtlety points to those behind the efforts to realize that potential.

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  • "would-be" seems (often) derogatory to me as well. "Could-be" would be [!] a better solution probably - but both are too long. Maybe I should contract this to "coubby"? Coubbypathogene ... Coubbyperpetrator ... ; ) - it's a coubbysolution at least. – megob Oct 24 '13 at 8:01

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