I've seen several threads about the prefix "a" and its various uses. Can we simply add this prefix to change the meaning of words to mean "not"? ie. asymmetrical, apolitical etc. As long as the word does not have origin in another language, we should be able to "make up" new words to have this "not" meaning. I'm trying to think of words to add this to, and the only one I can think of right now would be "perfect". This would be (pun intended) the perfect use of this prefix to mean "not". Aperfect

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    But we already have a word that means "not perfect": imperfect. – Nicole Mar 6 '15 at 15:23
  • I'll leave a formal answer to the experts, but I think prefix 'a' [or 'an' before a vowel, as in 'anarchy'] is normally used for words of Greek origin. Doubtless there are lots of exceptions ['amoral' - I'm sure that 'moral' is Latin], but I'd hesitate to use it freely with non-Greek words, since it would probably be misunderstood. – David Garner Mar 6 '15 at 15:24
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    Alpha-privative works with certain nouns and adjectives but not with others. A few examples: asymmetry but not atelemetry, atonal but not aclonal and asymptomatic but not atraumatic. There's a method in the madness. – TRomano Mar 6 '15 at 15:46
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    Only if they're Greek words. The prefix a- is the Greek cognate of Latin in- and English un-, which all come from a Proto-Indo-European negative prefix. That's why some words (borrowed from Latin) have in-, and other words (not borrowed from Latin) have un. But only Greek words have negative a-. So you can use it, if you know it's a Greek word. – John Lawler Mar 6 '15 at 16:26

I would not try to form compound words of your own as word formation is not systematic. There are too many possibilities with word elements from various languages and formations from different times. The only thing you can do is to try to understand the meaning of the various morphemes (elements of word formation). But it is no use trying to make one's own compound words.


Not quite. a- is a prefix of Greek origin. It may be applied to words with Greek origin in order to invert meaning.

Because perfect has a Latin origin, a Latin-derived prefix must be used for this purpose; in this case, that prefix is im-.

Imperfect is the correct word.

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