Hindi Language Blog

Improve Your Hindi Vocabulary: Prefixes, Part 1 Posted by on Sep 30, 2018 in Uncategorized

If you’d like to improve your Hindi vocabulary, one of the best ways to do so is to study prefixes. Like many languages, English included, Hindi contains a wide variety of prefixes, even more so because it is a highly mixed language (or, खिचड़ी भाषा/khichdi baashaa) with a lexicon that derives from numerous other languages, which typically have distinct prefixes and suffixes. If you’re wondering what a prefix is, it is simply a particle attached to the beginning of a word that changes its meaning (drastically or subtly, depending on the word), hence the particle “pre” at the beginning of this word. Sanskrit, one of Hindi’s major source languages, contains a plethora of prefixes and suffixes, so it is then no surprise that Hindi, which partially derives from it, does as well. Learning prefixes is a great way to improve your vocabulary because it helps to structure the learning process – instead of attempting to learn a slew of seemingly random words, you can learn an important part of those words (that is, the prefix) and, once you know its meaning, you can guess the meaning of unfamiliar words that you may encounter in the future.

Image by saamiblog on Flickr; licensed under CC BY 2.0. This is an image of a “chakra,” (चक्र) or wheel, an important part of the iconography of Hinduism and Buddhism, amongst other South Asian religions. Significantly, the wheel image symbolizes the cycle of rebirth and redeath or “संसारा.” Chakra is a word in and of itself as well as a prefix that lends additional meaning to any word to which it is appended.

अनु / anu

The first important prefix I’ll mention (अनु/anu) is from Sanskrit. You may be familiar with it, having seen it in words like “अनुसार” (according to). The prefix itself means “after,” “according to,” “one by one,” “in sequence” and “repeatedly.” Thus, this prefix gives the sense of a defined, linear order amongst several things in which some of those things may be repeated, while still falling into a rigid order. Even in the word “according to,” you are using the opinion or ideas of a person or persons to then make a conclusion or elaborate on an idea of something, thus following from the first source (the subject of “according to”) to the succeeding elaboration of ideas. Other common words that include this prefix are the following: अनुकरण (following the example of, imitation, mimicry), अनुकाल (timely, appropriate), अनुकूल (conforming to, in accord with, favorable/helpful) and अनुवाद (translation; that is, a version or interpretation of the original material that has been altered, thus following the step-by-step process described above).

उदाहरण/udaaharan (example): राहुल के अनुसार, कल का मौसम बाहर जाने के लिए अच्छा नहीं होगा ।

आत्म / aatma

You will certainly have seen this prefix, as it is used to create Hindi words such as “आत्मविश्वास” (lit. self-belief, fig. self-confidence) and “आत्मसम्मान” (lit. self-respect, fig. self-esteem). This word has several meanings, the most important of which are “soul, spirit, the self, the individual.” Thus, it refers to an essential part or identity of an individual and, therefore, often refers to the particular qualities of an individual rather than a group of people. Some common words that begin with this prefix include: आत्मीय (one’s own, special, close/intimate), आत्मकथा (lit. one’s own story; fig. autobiography) and आत्महत्या (lit. murder of the self, fig. suicide).

उदाहरण: सभी के लिए, लेकिन खासकर के जवानों के लिए, आत्मविश्वास बहुत अहम बात है – छोटी उम्र में बड़ों और साथियों के दबाव भी बहुत ज़्यादा मेहसूस होता है; लेकिन, अगर आपके पास काफ़ी आत्मविश्वास हो, तो दूसरों के दबाव के कारण आसानी से झुक नहीं जाएँगे ।

इक / ik

You may recognize this prefix for its similarity to the numeral एक/ek (“one”) and, indeed, its use in poetry and songs as a more melodious substitute for this numeral (with the same meaning). Indeed, this prefix connotes “one” – single, solitary, unique. Some words in which you can find this prefix include “इकलौता” (only child, as in “इकलौता बेटा” or “only son”), इकतारा (an instrument with a single string), इकतरफ़ा (one-sided, unbalanced), इकतार (continuous, monotonous) and इकट्ठा (assembled, gathered; that is, many different things gathered into one group). This prefix is not to be confused with words that begin with the letters “इक़” – “क़” is a distinct letter from “क,” although people often do not differentiate between them in pronunciation. “क़” was introduced to the Hindi syllabary because it is a sound used in Persian and Arabic that was deemed essential in Hindi as well when the language and its varying forms began to adopt a more Persian and Arabic-derived lexicon.

उदाहरण: इकलौती बेटी होने की वजय से, प्रियंका अपने माँ-बाप से जो भी माँग लेती है, वही हमेशा उसको मिलता है ।

उप / up

उप/up has the connotation of “lesser, vice, subordinate,” as can be seen in the word उपाध्यक्ष/उपराष्ट्रपति or “vice president” or उपनाम (nickname or pseudonym). Other meanings include “near to” or “resembling,” but always in the sense of being inferior or subordinate to the thing resembled. With the previous example, “vice president,” this prefix is used to connote that the Vice President is “like” the President or resembles the President but is a step down in the hierarchy. Similarly, a nickname is like a proper name or a name used in formal settings, but is inferior to it because it is often used in informal settings and is not usually considered someone’s “real” or “proper” name. Some other words that feature this prefix include the following:  उपभाषा (dialect), उपकथा (episode in a longer story) and उपनगर (suburb).

उदाहरण: भारत में, बहुत सारी भाषाएँ और उपभाषाएँ भी हैं । लेकिन, कभी कभी लोग आसानी से पहचान नहीं सकते कि कौनसी भाषाएँ और कौनसी उपभाषाएँ हैं; इसका कारण यह है कि भाषा विज्ञान में भी कोई ठोस परिभाषा नहीं है उपभाषा की; दरअसल, कहा जाता है कि भाषाएँ असल में उपभाषाएँ हैं जिनके पास सेना और नौसेना भी है ।

कम / kam

Unlike the other prefixes mentioned thus far, this prefix is from Persian (کم). As you would expect, like the word “کم/कम” itself, it connotes “less, few, a small amount, deficient,” as in कमज़ोर (weak or, literally speaking, “less strong”). There are numerous words that feature this prefix, but here are just a few: कमअक़्ल (stupid, foolish; literally, having “less brains”), कमउम्र (of a young age), कमख़र्च (thrifty, preferring to spend less money) and कममेहनती (lazy, laziness).

उदाहरण: आदित्य बहुत कमहिम्मत तरह का इंसान है; वह पायल को कभी नहीं बताएगा कि वह उससे कितना प्यार करता है ।

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About the Author: Rachael

नमस्ते, मेरा नाम रेचल है/السلام علیکم، میرا نام ریچل ہے۔ Hello, my name is Rachael, but I also on occasion go by Richa––an interesting story for another time :) My two great loves are Hindi and Urdu. I first traveled to India (Jaipur, Rajasthan) in college on a Hindi study abroad program. A little over a year later, I returned to the same city to study Hindi in a yearlong program. I've also spent a summer in Kolkata, West Bengal learning Bengali, and I studied Urdu at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a graduate student in South Asian Studies. I hope to share with you the fascinating world of Hindi and Urdu literature, society, culture and film through my blogs!


  1. Parmendra Mishra:

    अच्छा लगा पढ़ कर।

    • Rachael:

      @Parmendra Mishra बड़ी खुशी हुई कि आपको अच्छा लगा!