Ex-wife, ex-boyfriend.

Does ex have a full form?

Google dictionary has this information about the origin of ex:

enter image description here

But what is the origin of the usage as a prefix in the words like ex-wife, ex-boyfriend?

  • this a duplicate of a duplicate. Use the search, young padawan.
    – vectory
    Mar 29, 2020 at 11:13
  • @vectory, not able to locate the original. Mind giving the link please?
    – aarbee
    Mar 31, 2020 at 10:48

3 Answers 3


The prefix ex- is of Latin origin but the words ex-wife, ex-boyfriend are an extended use of Latin phrases such as ex consule, ex magistro equitum, (one who) from being consul, master of knights (where ex- is prefixed to titles of office or dignity). Later such phrases were being replaced by exconsul, exmagister. They are formed in the same manner as the compounds proconsul, propraetor which had been developed from the older pro consule, pro praetore.

OED explains further how the adapted forms passed into other languages and when it have become common in English:

In medieval Latin this usage was greatly extended, such forms as ex-Augustus (‘ex-emperor’) being of frequent occurrence. Some words of this formation (e.g. ex-professor) passed in adapted forms into Italian and French, and on the analogy of these ex- was prefixed to Romanic words. The English use, imitated from French, seems to have first become common towards the end of the 18th cent.

OED's earliest citation is from 1398:

Ex~consul is he that leuyth the offyce of Consul.

J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomew de Glanville De Proprietatibus Rerum (1495) xiv. xlviii. 484

Note: De Proprietatibus Rerum (On the Order of Things) is an encyclopedia dating from the 13th century. Although it is often described as a bestiary, its focus encompasses theology and astrology as well as the natural sciences (as understood in 1240). [Source: http://spcoll.library.uvic.ca/]

  • I can't see how ex consule, meaning (one who) from being consul, is to be interpreted as former consul. Am I misreading or is there a sentence that, if inserted, would make it more obvious to slower souls like myself? I'm sensing that the key lies in leuyth which I'm guessing to be a conjugation of lay... Or am I totally off? Dec 27, 2015 at 18:22
  • 3
    @KonradViltersten I think leuyth comes from leve, leave. "Ex-consul is he that leaveth the office of Consul."
    – augurar
    Dec 28, 2015 at 2:19
  • @augurar Oh, that makes perfect sense. At least for what the 98's definition considers. However, it still doesn't explain how ex mean former - be that former consul, former wife or whatever. Care to shed some extra light to assist my grey cells in the process, please? Dec 28, 2015 at 9:45
  • 1
    @KonradViltersten I don't understand the problem…if one "comes from" being a consul, that means one has left being a consul. Used to be a consul and isn't anymore. Dec 31, 2015 at 16:17
  • @JohnPeyton Oh, I realized it the way you mean. For me, coming from something is being it. Might be influenced by "he comes from money" meaning "he is rich". But I see how you meant. Got it now. Thanks! Dec 31, 2015 at 16:19

ex- is defined as:

a prefix meaning “out of,” “from,” and hence “utterly,” “thoroughly,” and sometimes meaning “not” or “without” or indicating a former title, status, etc.

Origin of ex-

ex- is a word-forming element, which in English simply means "former" in this case, or mainly "out of, from," but also "upwards, completely, deprive of, without. It most likely originated in Latin, where ex meant "out of, from within," and perhaps, in some cases also from Greek cognate ex, ek.

  • 1
    In latin, one the multiple meanings of the word "ex" (written "e" before a conson) is "out of", e.g "ex urbe exire" [to go out of the city] or "e vita exire" [to die]. Ex has a different sense in "ex-libris" where it means from within.
    – Graffito
    Dec 21, 2015 at 17:22
  • 2
    It most likely originated in Latin. Why only most likely? it is the same word, has the same meaning, it exists identically in Latin languages, and a lot of words originate from Latin. Plus the source you cite indicates its origin is Latin.
    – njzk2
    Dec 21, 2015 at 20:52
  • @Graffito Ex has at least a dozen different meanings in Latin, but none of them is "from within." The ex in ex libris means "from" in the sense of origin. So "ex libris John" means "from the library of John"; it's a common expression founds on bookplates.
    – deadrat
    Dec 27, 2015 at 5:27
  • Exodontist (medical expert who is a specialist of taking teeth out of gums), extract (taking out of something), excreta (waste matter coming out of our body) are etymologically based on this meaning of ex- that you have mentioned in your post.
    – RBT
    Apr 1, 2017 at 1:41

Defining "ex," with or without the hyphen, solely as a reference to "past" or "former," ignores its use in an entirely different direction and intent. "Ex" is used (without a hyphen) in commonly used Latin phrases, and almost never suggests "former" or "past." In such uses, "ex" denotes present tense. For example:

  • ex Deo — from God
  • ex parte — by one party or for one party
  • ex tempore — this instant, right away, or immediately

Another Latin phrase is "ex officio," which one frequently finds written with the hyphen inserted erroneously. This Latin phrase means from the office, in reference to someone who presently has a right or privilege because of an office currently held. It is regularly used correctly today in business, academics, and law for serious purposes.

Written as "ex-officio," though, it conveys, roughly, the opposite (only roughly because it is not proper Latin). It is used in this way where it should not, such as in news stories, magazines, and books. Some dictionaries actually define it as "former official," with no reference to its real meaning. Allowing this isn't word creep or poisoning a dry well. It is tantamount to poisoning a well filled with fresh water.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.