Consider the following two sentences:

People in North America are predominantly English speakers.

People in North America are dominantly English speakers.

Merriam-Webster defines predominantly as "for the most part; mainly"; and while it doesn't directly define dominantly, the definition for dominant is "commanding, controlling, or prevailing over all others". Therefore, I would take dominantly to mean "in a commanding or controlling manner".

What I don't understand is how adding the prefix pre- changes the meaning of dominantly to the aforementioned definition.

  • Nice explanation at thefreedictionary.com/dominant for the synonyms dominant, predominant, preponderant, paramount, preeminent. – JeffSahol Jan 25 '12 at 19:19
  • This simply tells me that appending the prefix "pre-" changes the meaning of dominantly. It doesn't explain why. – Meta Jan 25 '12 at 19:24
  • One meaning of the prefix pre- is "surpassingly, to the highest degree" (also in pre-eminent, for example). I think this is general reference. It's just by extension from pre- = before in time, rank, order, position, etc. – FumbleFingers Jan 25 '12 at 19:34
  • Agreed; it looks like pre- is basically an intensifier here. If anything, the word predominantly seems to, well, predominate, when you talking about numbers. – JeffSahol Jan 25 '12 at 19:42
  • Does that mean that dominantly can be used interchangeably with predominantly? – Meta Jan 25 '12 at 19:45

Rather than being a function of its etymology, predominantly sounds to this linguist like an analogical neologism based on the following relationships: dominate : dominant : dominantly : -- where all three refer to POWER -- : predominate : predominant : predominantly -- where all three refer to NUMBER. Of course, there is power in numbers, but not always. For example, Old English was the predominant language of England after the Norman Conquest, but because French became the dominant language, Old English was largely relexified to become Middle English, which can thus be seen as at least in part a French creole.


Predominant came into English fully formed, so you'd have to look to its French and Latin forebears for an explanation.

  • This doesn't answer my question in any way. – Meta Jan 25 '12 at 19:56
  • 5
    It makes your question moot -- if "pre" is not a prefix in this case, then asking how "pre" changes "dominantly" is an unanswerable question. Kind of like how you can't figure out what the "pre" is doing in "preemption" because "emption" isn't a word in English -- "preemtion" came as a whole word from Latin and trying to break it into parts just doesn't work. – J.T. Grimes Jan 25 '12 at 20:11
  • "... trying to break it into English parts just doesn't work." – Joachim Sauer Feb 7 '12 at 13:45

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