The Use of Prefixes in Spanish

24029697.thb_-300x243One of my recurring doubts when writing a text in Spanish has to do with the correct use of prefixes. It often happens that I have to go back to the Diccionario panhispánico de dudas of the Real Academia Española to resolve these prefix dilemmas. For some reason, it occasionally happens that a particular rule, a piece of information or detail cannot find a permanent place in one’s memory, and that is exactly what happens to me with the rules that govern the use of these useful language particles. Hence I decided to write this entry in the vain hope that the act of committing it to “paper” (again…) will help me retain it. If I fail, I will still have the consolation of knowing that the dictionaries are standing by ready to clear up our doubts.

As a general rule, the Real Academia indicates that the prefixes “are joined directly to the base word (antinatural, prerevolucionario, etc.)” However, in cases where the prefixes precede a word that is written with a capital letter (such as a name or an acronym), the correct thing is to use a hyphen. So we have examples like those offered by the RAE: anti-OTAN, anti-Mussolini. In addition, the hyphen is also useful to coordinate prefixes associated with the same base word, as in Se harán descuentos en casos de pre- o recontratación de servicios (Discounts will apply in cases of pre- or rehiring services).

In some cases, the prefixes are written separate from the lexical base, but the separation is only a space, no hyphen in between. This happens when the base of the prefix is made up of more than one word, as in these examples: el ex alto cargo del FMI (the ex high-ranking FMI official), los grupos anti pena de muerte (the anti death penalty groups). These prefixes are quite common and are known as separable prefixes.

Finally, a comment regarding the accent mark on prefixes: these are unstressed elements lacking prosodic accent, so they never have an accent mark (not even in those cases where they separated from their lexical base).

I hope this brief overview will help us remember the rules on the use of prefixes and save us the occasional need to consult a reference source!

To read the original Spanish post go to:
“El uso de los prefijos en español”