I have a negative connotation for the "ex-" prefix, which I can only explain by pointing to the contexts that it's often used in. However, it seems harmless I can't think of a real reason for it to offend in any way.

Is there a negative connotation with it?

  • 2
    do you mean the ex in "ex-girlfriend" or the ex in "extrude"
    – Slepz
    Oct 3, 2016 at 21:28
  • @Slepz With the dash. Ex-girlfriend, ex-employee, etc. Maybe it's not called a "prefix" in this case?
    – davidtgq
    Oct 3, 2016 at 22:21
  • @EdwinAshworth You've put into words exactly what was in the back of my mind when I wrote this question. I think I may use "former" instead. Thanks. If you write an answer I'll accept it.
    – davidtgq
    Oct 3, 2016 at 22:30
  • @Slepz Why not both? She could be a calender girl. Oct 3, 2016 at 23:59
  • @David That's not a dash (—). That is a hyphen (-). A dash would be wrong there.
    – RegDwigнt
    Oct 4, 2016 at 10:01

3 Answers 3


The term 'connotation' refers to the communication of a secondary meaning, hint, impression ... which is essentially dependent on both the word etc itself and the emotional / mental state of the hearer, their education, their place in society, their experiences ... So there is subjectiveness involved. The Dictionary.com definition, sense 2, and its accompanying example, bring out this duality (though it could be explained more clearly):

connotation 2.

something suggested or implied by a word or thing, rather than being explicitly named or described:

“Religion” has always had a negative connotation for me.

M-W gives definitions stressing (1) the purely objective and (2) both the objective and the subjective flavours involved (re-ordered & re-numbered):

(1) something suggested by a word or thing

(2) an idea or quality that a word makes you think about in addition to its meaning

CDO seems to add a further layer of complexity (associated thoughts ---> triggered reactions):

The word "lady" has connotations of refinement and excessive femininity that some women find offensive.


If a word produces negative feelings with you, it has a negative connotation. That's not to say that it will have that effect on the vast majority of the population. Some words do, but some words have a negative connotation for just a handful of people. Denotations are far less subjective.

For a person who's had a messy divorce, even an innocuous 'ex-' may well trigger a strong negative response, though logically 'ex-serviceman' say might be expected to trigger more noble sentiments.


As an aside, one can easily end up treading on eggshells if one carries the fear of saying something potentially offensive or otherwise upsetting to someone to extremes. Some areas are obviously best avoided in almost all situations, and some in known temporary circumstances, but I've known the mention of the word 'pink' cause a (thankfully humorous) strong reaction in one person. You can't really find a workaround for 'X-ray'.

  • "You can't really find a workaround for 'X-ray'." The obvious workaround is calling it Röntgen, after the guy who discovered it, which is indeed the standard in at least some non-English-speaking countries.
    – oerkelens
    Oct 4, 2016 at 11:21
  • You go to the hospital and double your waiting time if you like; I'll ask for an X-ray (courtesy of the excellent Herr Röntgen). Oct 4, 2016 at 12:05
  • A more straightforward alternative to an X-ray (as in the scan) in English would be radiography, which is sometimes used for the scan as well as the technique. Oct 7, 2016 at 8:38

ex does not necessarily have negative connotations.

From Etomonline, ex

word-forming element, in English meaning usually "out of, from," but also "upwards, completely, deprive of, without," and "former;" from Latin ex "out of, from within,"

The Etomonline definition continues with the Proto-Indo-European root, and the equivalent word in other languages, and finishes with

Often reduced to e- before -b-, -d-, -g-, consonantal -i-, -l-, -m-, -n-, -v- (as in elude, emerge, evaporate, etc.)

An example of ex in a phrase that will have a positive connotation for some people, a negative connotation for other people and neither a positive nor a negative connotation for still others is:

ex cathedra, definition from Dictionary.com

from the seat of authority; with authority: used especially of those pronouncements of the pope that are considered infallible


I don't think there is necessarily any negative connotation, but it seems to be neutral at best and could be negative. Even uses that would seem to be positive or neutral like ex-con, ex-priest, or ex-lover are not.

I prefer to use erstwhile or former if it could be interpreted negatively (and that is not intended).

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