I didn’t know the word, “asymptomatic” to my shame, until I heard the following narration in AP Radio news aired on October 27 through AFN network:

“Dr. Anthony Fauci with the NIH says CDC guidelines for monitoring health workers back from West Africa are enough to prevent them from spreading the disease. “Guidelines regarding how you handle people who coming back should always be based on the science, and the science tells us that people who are asymptomatic do not transmit.”

I took ‘asymptomatic’ as ‘a symptomatic,’ when my friend in ESS corrected me and told that it’s ‘asymptomatic’ accompanied with prefix “a” meaning “no, non.”

She was right, then I asked her other examples of the words using negative prefix “a,” which I later found Greek origin. She said she knew some, but can’t reel off them off-hand. Coming home, I tried to find out the samples through Google Search by naively inputting keywords like “negative prefix, a, words." It didn’t work.

Would you suggest me some samples of words that come with negative prefix “a” other than “asymptomatic” and “apolitical,” which I found in SummyB’s previous (Feburuary 2014) question, “If the prefix “a-” means not, shouldn't “await” or “awaiting” mean, “Not waiting?”

  • 5
    Next time, you could try looking up the prefix on Dictionary.com by searching for "a-": dictionary.reference.com/browse/a- As you can see, there are 6 unrelated prefixes a-, but the one meaning "not" is also there. You will see a few examples of each. Oct 31, 2014 at 6:19
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    This question is atypical.
    – Fattie
    Oct 31, 2014 at 8:11
  • @Joe Blow. Is is good or bad? Oct 31, 2014 at 21:14
  • 1
    Hey Yoichi - do you mean "is the word atypical good or bad?" "atypical" has neither positive nor negative connotations. generally, it would be used in rather technical discussions. if it was being used by - let's make an example - a film or TV critic .. it would be rather like using the word "iconclastic". it would perhaps more likely be used in a positive than negative sense ("New actress X is atypical - she's fresh and, I like her! Thumbs up!") You can probably google many uses of "atypical".
    – Fattie
    Nov 2, 2014 at 8:34
  • (Just a footnote on "atypical". People people - have I mentioned? - are incredibly silly with language in English, many users confuse "atypical" with meaning "a .. typical". Not unlike "penultimate" is often confused with something about "good, excellent", or people swap "brought" for "bought". Anyways.)
    – Fattie
    Nov 2, 2014 at 8:35

3 Answers 3


A- :

  • prefix meaning "not," from Greek a-, an- "not," from PIE root *ne "not" (see un-).

There are quite a lot, but many of them are not common. Here is a list.

As for await:, the suffix 'a' has a different origin, from 'ad' (meaning 'to').

  • early 13c., awaiten, from Old North French awaitier (Old French agaitier) "to lie in wait for, watch, observe," from a- "to" (see ad-) + waitier "to watch" (see wait (v.)). Originally especially with a hostile sense. Related: Awaited; awaiting.


  • word-forming element expressing direction toward or in addition to, from Latin ad "to, toward" in space or time; "with regard to, in relation to," as a prefix, sometimes merely emphatic, from PIE *ad- "to, near, at" (cognate with Old English æt; see at). Simplified to a- before sc-, sp- and st-; modified to ac- before many consonants and then re-spelled af-, ag-, al-, etc., in conformity with the following consonant (as in affection, aggression). In Old French, reduced to a- in all cases (an evolution already underway in Merovingian Latin), but written forms in French were refashioned after Latin in 14c. and English did likewise 15c. in words it had picked up from Old French. In many cases pronunciation followed the shift.
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    A- in asymptomatic is not from Latin a(b)(s) "off, away from", but from Greek a(n)- "not", which is a different entry in Etymonline. Incidentally, what they say about "Greek a-, short for apo" is wrong, as far as I know: apo exists and is related to Latin a(b)(s), but it is not shorted to a- (only to ap-/aph-). Oct 31, 2014 at 6:10
  • Now it's all correct! +1 Oct 31, 2014 at 6:17
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    And sometimes we don't even use the positive form of the word (e.g. anarchy or apathy) in itself. Await isn't the only example of a different etymology either, words like asleep, aplenty, arise, abide, asunder, aplomb and of course akimbo are derived from various sources.
    – biziclop
    Oct 31, 2014 at 11:52
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    @Josh61. Thanks for giving me valuable input and letting me know of very helpful source – ‘English word information.’ I found there a lot of English words prefixed with negative a, though most of them are unfamiliar to me. It’s quite a good learning. Oct 31, 2014 at 21:03

a-words used for negation: asexual, atheist, atypical, apolitical, asymptomatic

a-words not used for negation: afoul, aground, afloat, adrift, afoot, asleep, aplenty, aside

English is a weird language.


They must be adjectives to take "non" meaning, so many of the words being contemplated are verbs which are not marked for the negative "a" morpheme. There's no shame in asking such a question. My Japanese wife just asked me the exact same question.

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