TheRE and Back Again


Quick Summary

Prefixes are key morphemes in English vocabulary that begin words. The prefix re-, which means “back” or “again,” appears in hundreds of English vocabulary words, for example: reject, regenerate, and revert. You can remember that the prefix re- means “back” via the word return, or turn “back;” to remember that re- means “again” consider rearrange, or arrange “again.”

Prefix "Re-"

Today we will focus on the prefix re-, which can mean “back” or “again.” Prefixes are morphemes which begin words, attaching to a word’s main part, the “root” or “stem.” For instance, in the word return, re- is the prefix, and “turn” is the root or stem.

One meaning of the prefix re- is “back.” For instance, when you reject a plan, you throw it “back.” When a man’s hair recedes, his hairline continues to move “back” as he loses hair. When you reduce the amount of money you spend, you lead it “back” to a smaller amount. When light reflects off a surface, it bends “back.” When you are returning home from an outing, you are turning “back” home. And when a criminal reverts to being good again, he turns “back” to morally upright behavior.

Another primary meaning of the prefix re- is “again.” For instance, when you rearrange the furniture in a room, you arrange it “again” into a different configuration. A marathon runner can become rejuvenated or etymologically made young “again” by sleeping and eating after a long race. Some newts regenerate limbs once they’ve lost them; that is, they grow them “again.” When a teacher recapitulates something she’s just taught, she goes over it “again” by summarizing it. Some religious faiths believe in reincarnation, or the taking of a body “again” after death to live another life.

In a few rare instances the prefix re- adds a “d” to make a word easier to say; this occurs before some vowels some of the time. The word redeem, for instance, as in to redeem a coupon, adds a “d” because reeem would have an unpronounceable 3 es. In the same vein, redundant is much better than “reundant.”

Now your brain will never reject that the meaning of the prefix re- is “back” or “again.” Reflect upon re-, and your vocabulary prowess will never regress!

  1. reject: throw ‘back’
  2. recede: move ‘back’
  3. reduce: lead ‘back’
  4. reflect: bend ‘back’
  5. return: turn ‘back’
  6. revert: turn ‘back’
  7. rearrange: arrange ‘again’
  8. rejuvenate: make young ‘again’
  9. recapitulate: say ‘again’, going ‘back’ to the head of what you’re saying
  10. reincarnate: return into a body ‘again’
  11. redeem: buy ‘back’
  12. redundant: flow ‘again’ unnecessarily

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