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English has prefixes to denote opposition as well as absence.

For example:

  • 'gnostic' vs 'agnostic' (having knowledge vs absence of knowledge)
  • 'social' vs 'asocial' vs 'anti social' (being social, not being social, being against society)

However there is a subtle difference between the absence of something and being neutral towards it. For example let;s say that I want to indicate that I am a little bit social, but not too social.

I am not 'asocial' because it's false that I am not social. But I am also not fully social. Rather I am something in the middle.

The above is just an example, it doesn't have to be the word 'social' I just want to know whether English has a prefix to explicitly convey the subtility of neutrality.

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  • For any contrast (including 'un-', 'ab-', etc.) that establishes a gradation between poles, there may be a zero point in the middle, or two separate zeroes at each opposing end, so prefixes like 'sub-' or 'semi-' will be ambiguous. The best way to express the subtlety of neutrality is simply to not mention the quality at all.
    – AmI
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 21:49
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    The difficulty here is the way you've worded your premise, as "something in the middle" doesn't necessarily equate to "neutral". The former would be covered by semi-, but I suspect neutrality is too nuanced and context-dependent to have given rise to a specific prefix. Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 22:00
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    Not everything can be expressed well in one word. Here's a related question with, in my opinion, fairly unsatisfactory answers: Is there a suffix like “phile” or “phobe” for don't care?
    – herisson
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 1:26
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    Macmillan gives -neutral as a suffix and gender-neutral as an example. However, it can be considered a compound noun also. [This might not be exactly what you ask for]
    – ermanen
    Commented Feb 26, 2020 at 21:53
  • There are lots of prefixes that might do in some context, but there's no general prefix. For instance "hypo-" meaning less than normal (often in science or medicine); "semi-" as mentioned or the similar "demi-" (e.g. "demisexual"); "para-" which means near, apart from, or resembling amongst other meanings (e.g. "paralegal"); "pseudo-" which can mean false but can also mean resembling or like; or in some cases even "de-", "dis-", or "un-".
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 9:41

4 Answers 4

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You can go with quasi-

M-W.com

resembling in some degree

Lexico

1.1Being partly or almost.

This is demonstrated well by your own example of social

quasi-social

(Of an activity or relationship) having some but not all of the features that would identify it as genuinely social; having a social aspect but with some other purpose or motivation; Zoology (especially with reference to insects and spiders) exhibiting some of the characteristics of social organization, especially cooperative brood care.

This would work for many examples (quasi-literate, quasi-real, quasi-federalist), but it wouldn't work so well with gnostic because capital-G Gnostic has such a specific meaning. Quasi-Gnostic has the meaning, resembling or having some parts of Gnosticism. But I'm not sure there is a need to need to distinguish between the literal meaning of gnostic and agnostic in any event. These usages are uncommon and likely to be confused if you try to find a middle ground. Either you have knowledge, or you do not. In real world usages, agnostic is already a midway point between theist and atheist.

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Prefixes that denote the concept of “both” — rather than neutrality — are sometimes used in situations similar to that in the poster’s example. In addition to “bi-” (which is more strongly associated with the number two) these include:

amphi-

Greek, meaning 'both' or 'on both sides'. Chambers

ambi-

Latin, from ambo both. Chambers

The are relatively few examples, many of which are technical or scientific. Examples are

  • amphibious (able to operate both on water and on land)
  • amphiphilic (of molecule etc. having both hydrophibic and hydrophilic components)
  • amphimixis (fusion of male and female gametes)

and

  • ambidextrous (able to use both hands equally)
  • ambilateral (relating to both sides)
  • ambivalent (one person having opposing attitudes towards something)

As a pedantic traditionalist, I am not an advocate of inventing words, but it struck me that ambisocial had a plausible ring to it. So plausible, it turns out, that it appears in something that goes under the name of Urban Dictionary. The choice is yours.

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English has lots of negative prefixes and other negative words that color the grammar and meaning in strange ways. This does not mean that it has prefixes for "opposition", or "absence", let alone "positive", or "neutral". It doesn't; negation is enough to do the job.

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    With 'a little bit social', OP seems to want a prefix indicating 'about 10%'. Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 16:12
  • I don't know anything like that, @Edwin, do you? Why do people think there's one magic word (or prefix, even!) for every teeny little variation they can think of? Has anybody ever heard of phrases? Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 21:11
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    Moving on quickly (before somebody invents one). Commented Jul 6, 2021 at 10:32
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I Think Your Looking For Neutro.

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    This would benefit from a reference. Please see the tour and FAQ. You are encouraged to edit your answer.
    – livresque
    Commented Jun 5, 2021 at 4:06

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