Grammar · Vocabulary

Russian Prefixes, Derivational Morphology

In this post we are going to learn about how a few affixes can drastically alter the meaning of a word. Affixes are small words that are attached before a word (prefixes) or after a word (suffixes). In Russian, these affixes may be attached to nouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs, you name it…

*Note: when referring to prefixes and suffixes collectively, I will use the term affix.

The linguistic term for this is derivational morphology. That basically means forming words by derivation (prefixation and suffixation). In Russian, compound prefixes and suffixes are allowed. This means that more than one of these may occur in a word. This also happens in English.

Let’s take a look at an example:



In the example above: со “co-; together” is the prefix and ник “-er” is the suffix. These affixes are added to a basic root: труд “work; labor”, forming the word: сотру́дник “coworker.”

In this post, we are going to learn about a few of the major prefixes. We will save the suffixes for a later post :). I will cover some of the native Slavic prefixes in this post. There are plenty of other native and non-native prefixes such as анти- “anti-“, архи- “arch-“, вице- “vice-“, квази- “quasi-“, между- “inter-“, после- “following”, etc…

Where are prefixes used?

Okay, you have seen one example: сотру́дник “coworker”, but where else are prefixes used? They are probably most infamous in the verbs of motion. There are several forms of verbs of motion that are called “prefixed verbs of motion.” These verbs add prefixes, which then add increased meanings to that verb.

For example, the verbs ходи́ть/идти́ add several prefixes:

в ‘in’ + ходить/идти ‘to go’ = входи́ть/войти́ ‘to enter; to go in”
с ‘down’ + ходить/идти ‘to go’ = сходи́ть/сойти́ ‘to go down; to descend’

As you can see, в was added and it changed the verb ‘to go’ to ‘to go in’; с was added and it changed the verb ‘to go’ to ‘to go down.’ Quite amazing and SIMPLE, right?! 🙂

Well, prefixation doesn’t end there. It encompasses most major parts of speech including nouns, adjectives, adverbs, and verbs (not just verbs of motion). Many words are changed entirely with one simple prefix. Let’s take a look at ход. This word has many meanings, but its basic meanings are movement or passage. Here’s how it changes with prefixation:

ход ‘movement; passage’
вход ‘entrance’
вы́ход ‘exit’
исхо́д ‘outcome’
отхо́д ‘departure’
перехо́д ‘crossing’
подхо́д ‘approach’
прихо́д ‘arrival’
расхо́д ‘consumption; expense’
сход ‘descent’
ухо́д ‘escape’

As you can see, these words are all very different, but they share a common root: ход. The prefix distinguishes the main meaning between them all. This means that prefixes are extremely important!

Prefixation also occurs in some adjectives and adverbs. Let’s take a look at the word вперёд “straight ahead.” This word is an adverb, but it is derived from a prefix (в ‘in’) and a noun (пе́ред ‘front; fore-part’). There is also впервы́е “for the first time.” This is also an adverb, but is derived from a prefix (в) and an adjective (первый ‘first’). Quite interesting, right?! 🙂

And as mentioned earlier, verbs other than verbs of motion may take prefixes. A great example that I always like to use is the verb дохну́ть “to breathe.” It takes several prefixes to denote breathing in, out, etc. Let’s take a look:

вдохну́ть ‘to breathe in; to inhale’
вздохну́ть ‘to sigh; to take a breather’
вы́дохнуть ‘to breate out; to exhale’

Notice how three basic prefixes change the meaning? в+дохну́ть = ‘in+breathe’; вз+дохну́ть = ‘upwards+breathe’; вы́+дохнуть = ‘outwards+breathe’.

So there you have it. The absolute basics of prefixation in Russian… Not as bad as you thought, eh? Well, now that we have learned all of this – let’s take a look at the most basic Russian prefixes. The prefixes listed below are extremely easy to remember and they are very common in the Russian language! I’ve also provided some examples :).

Basic Russian prefixes

Prefix English meaning Examples
в(о) in; into вход “entrance” – вперёд “straight ahead” – въе́хать “to enter”
вз/вс/воз/вос upwards; re- взгляд “glance” – взлета́ть “to take off” – возрожде́ние “rebirth” – воссозда́ть “to re-create”
вы outwards вы́ход “exit” – выходно́й “day off” – вы́дохнуть “to exhale”
до up to; until; addition доба́вка “additional helping” – довое́нный “pre-war” – довести́ “to lead to”
за begin; beyond; closing закры́тые “closure” – запустить “to launch”
из(о)/ис(о) ex-; out исключе́ние “expulsion” – изби́ть “to beat; to wear out”
на on; onto нау́шник “earphone” – наши́ть “to sew on”
над(о) above надсмо́трщик “warden” – надре́зать “to make a cut on top”
не not непра́вда “untruth” – нездоро́виться “to not feel well”
о/об(о) encompassing; around; avoidance объе́дки “leftovers” – объе́зд “detour” – обсуди́ть “to discuss”
(о)без without; take off; remove безвла́стие “anarchy” – обезгла́вить “to behead”
от(о) away from отхо́д “departure” – оторва́ть “to tear off”
пере across; re- перехо́д “crossing” – переда́ть “to pass on” – переигра́ть “to re-play”
под(о) under; sub; sham подмы́шка “armpit” – подло́г “forgery” – подкупи́ть “to bribe”
пре trans-; excess преувеличе́ние “exaggeration” – преврати́ть “to transform”
пред pre- предысто́рия “pre-history”
при arrival; attachment приземле́ние “landing”
про through; past про́пуск “pass”
раз/рас spread; reversal распростране́ние “dissemination” – разверну́ть “to unfold; to unroll”
с(о) together; down спуск “descent” – сотру́дник “coworker”
у away ухо́д “escape” – увольне́ние “dismissal”

Did you enjoy this post?…Keep an eye out for future derivational morphology posts by following my blog! And if you have other friends learning Russian, please tell them about this blog :).

Thank you for reading!

10 thoughts on “Russian Prefixes, Derivational Morphology

  1. привет . спосибо . можно задовать несколько придложения . Гол Гол из Ирана .

  2. Dear Cory,
    You referred to the fact that you would cover “suffixes” in a later post. Have you in fact been able to do so?! I haven’t managed to locate such a post.
    Hamish Sutherland

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