I thought we could start having a look at Prefixes this month.  No, these are not anything to do with keeping your dentures in place, although that is a good idea too when you are speaking Spanish.   Prefixes are things that are stuck (so yes, ‘fix’ did give us the clue) onto the front of words to change their meaning in some way.

There are many of Prefixes, but first we’ll look at one of the most obvious and useful prefixes:  des– which creates an opposite meaning, similar to un– or dis– in English.  Here are some examples:  

  • Gustar – to please
  • Desgustar – to displease
  • Igual – equal, same
  • Desigual – unequal, different
  • Aparecer – to appear
  • Desaparecer – to disappear
  • Obedecer – to obey
  • Desobedecer – to disobey
  • Enfadado – angry
  • Desenfadado – easy-going, cheerful

I really like the word desenfadado – (unangry)!  We just don’t have the equivalent in English!  

As you may have already realized, all you really need to do is pick up a dictionary and look under ‘des’ and you will find many more words that do the same thing.  However, be careful because sometimes the root word itself just happens to start with ‘des’ which is not a prefix.

For example:  desastre (disaster).   As far as I know this word has never been the opposite of ‘astre’, which doesn’t exist and I don’t know how the word came about in the first place!

If you like word games, you might like this one. A clothes shop near my house called De-sastreSastre means ‘tailor’, so De-sastre means ‘of the tailor’ and also ‘disaster’.  I don’t generally buy anything there!

Another thing to watch out for is not to confuse des with dis which does not carry this opposite meaning.  I learnt this distinction when I accidentally said desfrutar instead of disfrutar (meaning ‘to enjoy’) in a class.  One of my Spanish students said that desfrutar sounded like ‘unfruit’ and proceeded to mime taking all the fruit off a tree.   It’s funny how we are all afraid of being mocked, but when it happens we never make the same mistake again.

It is interesting to see how these words often coincide with English and can help us to understand our own language. 

For example:

Esperar means ‘to wait’ and also ‘to hope’.

Desesperar means the opposite – and in English when we lack hope we ‘despair’.   The word ‘despair’ clearly comes from the same Latin root as desesperar, although in English the word ‘pair’ definitely doesn’t mean ‘to hope’!

Jane Cronin’s “Step by Step Spanish” articles are available as e-books at www.janecronin.eu where you can also obtain Jane’s “Step by Step Internet Spanish” course.