I've read carefully this question posted 4 years ago: Adding "re" prefix

You can't use the prefix re- in any verb. Rebe, rebelieve, rehave, etc.
However there are plenty of verbs that use such a prefix.

The dictionaries do not help:

Relearn does not appear in online dictionaries such as:

Macmillan (http://www.macmillandictionary.com/spellcheck/british/?q=relearn)

or Cambridge (http://dictionary.cambridge.org/spellcheck/english/?q=relearn).

Unlearn , for instance, appears in both :)

It seems a trivial issue for a native speaker but sometimes is hard for an English learner to guess whether verbs can have the re- prefix or not.

  • Yes:) But even so, it seems that its presence in dictionaries is arbitrary.
    – viery365
    Sep 3, 2015 at 20:14
  • Relearn Ngram: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – user66974
    Sep 3, 2015 at 20:17
  • 1
    First consider whether doing something again makes any sense semantically. I find it difficult to imagine a case where you could "re-be" something. Same with to re-have and re-believe. But it does make sense to re-learn something that you learned long ago but have since forgotten. Generally, if it makes semantic sense to use the construction it will be allowed/understood by the listener.
    – Jim
    Sep 3, 2015 at 20:39
  • I had a lucky coin, then I lost it, and then I re-had it.  Makes at least as much sense as "regain" and more than "recover". Sep 4, 2015 at 0:51

2 Answers 2


In general, you cannot use re- with stative verbs (those which designate states rather than events, such as know, be, believe) or with atelic eventive verbs (activity verbs, verbs which do not have a 'built-in' sense of an end or goal, such as dance or sing). These verbs will not usually bear a sense of repetition.

However, many verbs may be used in both telic and atelic senses, typically coupled to transitivity—the transitive sense will often be telic. For instance, we don't ordinarily say things like He re-sang to great applause, but we do say He re-sang the refrain to great applause.

These are just rules of thumb though; English will tolerate violating any rule if the result is useful.

  • 1
    Indeed, English will forgive and reforgive: "rebelieve" shows up in admonitions to apostates in religious tracts (You must rebelieve the Gospels). I also found it in a novel to describe a recurring and astounding event: "Maybe I have to rebelieve it every time I see it."
    – deadrat
    Sep 3, 2015 at 20:39
  • 1
    Rebeen there, redone that.
    – TimR
    Sep 3, 2015 at 21:20
  • @deadrat Yes, we constantly encounter statives 'recategorized' as eventives, as when we say "I suddenly believed him". Sep 3, 2015 at 22:26

Wiktionary offers some interesting usage notes:


  • The pronunciation varies depending on the word, with /ɹiː/, /ɹɪ/(some pronunciations), /ɹɛ/ found in words like replay, resist and revolution, respectively.
  • The hyphen is not normally included in words formed using this prefix, except when the absence of a hyphen would make the meaning unclear. Hyphens are used in the following cases:

    • Sometimes in new coinages and nonce words. stir and re-stir the mixture
    • When the word that the prefix is combined with begins with a capital letter. re-Christianise
    • In British usage, when the word that the prefix is combined with begins with e. re-entry (North American: reentry)
    • When the word formed is identical in form to another word in which re- does not have any of the senses listed above. The chairs have been re-covered (covered again) The chairs have been recovered (obtained back)
  • A dieresis may be used instead of a hyphen, as in reëntry. This usage is now rare, but extant; see dieresis: orthography for examples and discussion.

  • re- is highly productive, to the point of being almost grammaticalized — almost any verb can have re- applied, especially in colloquial speech. Notable exceptions to this include all forms of be and the modal verbs can, should, etc. This usage of the prefix is always pronounced /ɹiː/.
  • Thank you! It was very helpful: the last paragraph and the 'bonus' explanation about the usage of the hyphen (which was starting to become an issue seeing the re- examples of this very page)
    – viery365
    Sep 4, 2015 at 7:09

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